It looks like I'm not going to have time to go through the games to analyze the line until Friday afternoons or Saturdays this season. Last season I was typically able to do it on Sundays and sometimes even have the write up done by the end of the day. It would be better to have it done on Sunday (or Monday at the latest) as that allows info about the line to be added to everyone's take on the game as a whole but I now work on Sunday nights. Enough whining. I'll talk about the Bills' DTs first because it's much shorter than the offensive line bit.
Stroud and Williams were on the field for runs 1, 2, 5 and 6. Williams drew a single lineman each time while Stroud was doubled on all but the 2nd run. Stroud made them pay. He shed his block and ran down Willie Parker (!) from behind for a short gain. While the Steelers clearly didn't game plan for the Bills they knew Stroud well enough to double him on runs 75% of the time. When doubled, by the way, Stroud *can* be moved. In fact on the first running play he was moved all the way back to where the Bills huddle was going to be on the next play. It took the guard and center (Hartwick, not Mahan who graded very well against Buffalo last year and played with the 2nd unit....man, a trade would be great) to do it allowing other defenders to fill and stop the play for no gain. When Stroud is in the game, watch him at the snap. If two guys engage him it's a run. If one guy engages him it's most likely a pass. Williams will be one of the main beneficiaries in terms of seeing his tackle numbers go up. Run 6 was a good example. Williams held his ground in the run lane, shed the guard and stopped Parker for a 1 yard gain.
Williams and Stroud were in on passes 1 through 8. Williams was doubled on passes 5 and 6 while Stoud was never doubled. Passes 4 and 7 were screens so you wouldn't expect any of the linemen to be doubled. On passes 1, 2, 3 and 8 the Steelers apparently (rightly) believed that Williams isn't *that* much of a pass rushing threat.
There were some real oddities on the offensive line. I'll note them as I go. People who have read my ramblings for some time will no doubt recall my utter disdain for the abandonment of the A-gap on run plays. It's almost exclusively due to the subpar play the team has at center. (Mahan was playing 2nd string....trade! Trade now!) The Bills attempted to compensate for the weakness at center by employing a blocking scheme that resembled an 'L'. For a run to the right the LT, LG and C more or less stood their ground, though sometimes the LG pulled. The RG and RT attempted to crash down the line towards their left. So, the LT, LG and C formed the bottom of an (inverted in this case) 'L' while the RG and RT formed the side. A tight end, WR, back and/or pulling LG would then form a parallel line to the 'L' in order to create a rushing lane. If it sounds needlessly complicated (particularly on short yardage plays) it is. It would be far more straightforward (offensive line pun!) to plunge into the A-gap and get the needed yard. The good news is that I didn't see that particular blocking pattern employed once against the Steelers. It's looking more like a traditional reliance on the winning of individual battles. Naturally, the blocking scheme will take into account particularly disruptive players, like Wilfork, so we'll see Fowler get plenty of help from Dock and/or Butler.
There's more good news, at least of a sort. The Bills are willing to attempt some A-gap runs. No, they're not working very well (2.5 yard average against Pitts' first stringers) but Turk isn't completely abdicating the gap either. By the gap, the Bills averaged 5.0 in the left C-gap, 5.0 in the left B-gap, 2.5 in the A-gap, 11.5 in the right B-gap (much of it on the strength of a single 16 yard run--3.5 with that run averaged out), and 6.6 in the right C-gap. Take a second to marvel at that. Buffalo ran the ball at will through 4 gaps against the 3rd rated rush defense (1st overall) in the NFL last season. Even taking the left B-gap at 3.5 yards per carry that's still enough to move the chains.
Walker had an up and down night with run blocking. He had two good runs, 1 and 7, and two bad runs, 2 and 3. He did decently on 5 runs. On runs 2 and 3 he was beaten on the first step. The LB ran right past the RB on run 2 and chased the play from behind on run 3. On run 1 Walker drove the DE 5 yards down the line away from the play and on run 7 he tossed a LB out of the run lane. That first step almost cost the Bills dearly on pass 7. The DE blew right past him and sacked Edwards, almost causing a fumble on the 2 yard line. Walker was helped only once, and then he really didn't need it. It looks like Turk has a degree of confidence in his ability to adjust to speed rushers. I'm not as convinced.
Dock, the subject of much discussion the past couple of days, had a really good day on run plays. He had good plays on runs 1, 3, 7 and 8 weighed against zero bad plays. In each of those plays he took on LBs either in space or removed them from the hole. He was solid, but not spectacular, on all 13 of the pass plays he was in the game.
Fowler, well, is Fowler. He had a good play (run 4) where he went to the 2nd level and *drove* a soon-to-be-humiliated-in-a-film-session LB out of the hole. He also had a bad run play (run 1) where he didn't do anyone much good, particularly Butler who really needed a hand on the play. His 6 pass plays were all decent. Fowler, for whatever reason, left the game after the first series and was replaced by--wait for it--Duke Preston. Ugh.
After the first run play, in which he was driven into the backfield and discarded like a recently murdered Juarez whore, Butler turned in an okay performance. He had a couple of good run plays (4 and 5) in which he turned and--to a limited extent--drove the DT out of the hole without assistance. He did fine on his 13 pass plays, but nothing special.
Chambers may not be the drag on the run game that many of us thought he would be. He had 1 bad run play (and he was in for 18 of them) where he never really blocked anyone. He watched Butler get his flying lesson and then milled around in the 2nd level without ever hitting anyone. (I'm still not sure how Lynch got 7 yards running right on that play.) Chambers balanced that with the 6th run play where he chipped a DE and then put a LB on the ground. He was helped on 2 pass plays out of the 20 he was in the game. While the team would be better off with Peters (if for no other reason that Walker's move to LT means he'll have to deal with speed rushers), if they miss the playoffs it won't be because Chambers is dreadful. He's a very average lineman but the fact that the team ran most effectively to the gaps surrounding him (right B and C) speaks well for him.
Using Chambers as a pivot of sorts I'll go RG-C-LG-LT with the 2nd unit. I only tracked their play through the first drive of the 2nd half, when there weren't any starters out on the field.
Whittle came into the game and did what he does. He didn't have any good or bad plays in either the run or pass facets. He did an okay job across the board, exactly what you'd expect from a back up.
Preston came into the game earlier than I expected. He replaced Fowler after the first series and did better than I thought he would in the run game. Of course, better than I thought was merely average. He, like Whittle, had no good or bad run plays. If you want to break down the A-gap runs between Fowler and Preston, Fowler had 1 for 1 yard (1.0) while Preston had 3 for 9 yards (3.0). I don't know that it means much as Preston's defenders were increasingly second string guys. Preston had back to back bad pass plays. On one he and McCaskill wiped each other out, blocking no one in the process--unless you count the pile people had to run around. On the next Preston missed a block and Losman was sacked right at 2 seconds after the snap. I'm actually hoping that the team put him in early to verify a decision they've made to cut him.
Gaddis came in for a series, gave way to McCaskill for the next, and was then in until I stopped analyzing the line. I'm not sure if the coaches wanted to see McCaskill against the dwindling number of starters the Steelers had on the field or if Gaddis needed to come out for a series for some kind of equipment issue. Gaddis had one bad play (where he tried to pull and simply plowed into the back of his own linemen instead of continuing on until he could hit someone wearing white--Steeler, spectator or official, I'm not a picky man) and a good one in which he chipped a DE and then took out a LB at the 2nd level--which allowed Wright to get 10 more yards on the run. McCaskill was in for 3 runs and was just kind of there. McCaskill and Preston took one another out on a pass play but other than that neither back up LG stood out for good or ill.
Bell had a pretty solid outing for a rookie. He didn't have any bad or good plays (run or pass). Granted, he was facing 2nd teamers but he only looked kind of lost once. In his defense, so did most everyone else--on both teams--on that play. It was kind of like everyone except the back and a couple of LBs thought they were going to a TV break.
I saw Hardy make a good block on a run play and then completely whiff on another. Barnes seems to fall down almost as often as he crashes into a defender. Lynch missed one blitz pick up but followed it up the next play with a good blitz pick up. Losman took two sacks, one which was on Preston and the other was completely on Losman--at 4+ seconds the ball has to be gone. I suspect Bad JP was holding out for a long pass pattern.