Notes from the Bills' O-Line: Week 7 at Carolina

Like the announcers (Steve Tasker is one of my favorite color guys even if he does butcher names on occasion), I spent most of the game absolutely certain that the Carolina Panthers would run all over the Buffalo Bills in the fourth quarter. The time of possession at times favored the Panthers 3-1, and there were times in the games where the Panthers had four times the yardage of Buffalo.

It all spelled doom, but then a funny thing happened: Ryan Fitzpatrick made a pair of clutch throws, including an astounding rocket pass to Evans for a touchdown. Like many of you, I thought Fitzpatrick would lead the team to a 2-5 record, and, like many of you, I suspected the offensive line wouldn't exactly help matters. It turns out that I was only half right: Fitzpatrick was just barely good enough to win, while the line continued to kill plays with frightening regularity.

Before diving into the heavy stuff (which is all after the jump), here's a brief reminder: based purely on grades and ease of mind, Jonathan Scott is absolutely the best man for the right tackle job at this juncture.  A review of Jamon Meredith's second performance is after the jump, along with everything Week 7-related that you need to know about Demetrius Bell, Andy Levitre, Geoff Hangartner and Eric Wood.

Drive 1
For reasons that are unclear, the Bills game didn't start up on DirecTV until the end of the first series. Other guys who have DirecTV on Rumblings seemed to be getting the feed, but I do live in the sticks. I gave everyone a mark of decent for Run 1 (Marshawn Lynch, 1 yard), Pass 1 (Terrell Owens drop of a 20ish yard gain), and Pass 2 (Fitzpatrick scramble for 5 yards), as it would be peevish to penalize guys without the facts.

Blitzes: 0
Stacked box: 0
Drive killer: T.O.'s drop

Drive 2
Pass 3: Incomplete to Lee Evans

Derek Fine pushed 96 inside and Bell kept him there. 92 pushed Levitre back, cut inside of him and hit Fitzpatrick as he threw - causing the wounded duck. Hangartner stopped 75, while Wood and Meredith doubled Julius Peppers.

Run 2: Lynch 8 yards through the right B gap
Bell took 96 on a wide circle upfield. Levitre hit 52 at the second level and didn't sustain his block. He did keep him out of the play. Hangartner got no real push on 75, but 75 couldn't chase the play because of a pile up created by Wood and Meredith. They had blown 92 off the line and to the inside and into 75. Peppers got off of Fine's block to get in on the tackle.

Pass 4: Incomplete
Bell stopped 96. Levitre kept 92 away from Fitzpatrick, though 92 spun late and did get around him. Hangartner waited for a blitzer and then helped Wood stuff 95. Meredith beat 90 to the corner and reacted quickly when Peppers tried to jump back to the inside.

Blitzes: 0
Stacked box: 0
Drive killer: Fitzpatrick's pass to no one

Drive 3
Run 3: Lynch no gain through the left B gap

Bell went to the second level and pushed 30 to the outside to open a run lane. Unfortunately, 92 got inside of Levitre's block to make the tackle and kill the play. Oh, and it looked like Levitre was holding. Hangartner blocked 75 down the line and tripped over some random feet. Wood went to the second level but there was no one to block. Peppers sliced inside of Meredith's block to almost get a tackle for loss (TFL). Fine did an okay job on 96.

Run 4: Lynch 7 yard TD through the left C gap
Bell forced 96 inside to seal the edge and drove him 4 yards. Levitre and Hangartner had an initial double team on 75. Levitre kept driving 75 inside and Hangartner picked up a filling 59. Wood drove 92 3 yards down the line and back one more. Meredith popped Peppers hard enough to rock him back on his heels. Fine helped Meredith with Peppers. I'm not sure what happened to the Panthers defense on the play. It looked like they sold out on a run to the right so no one was home when Lynch took it off left tackle.

Blitzes: 0
Stacked box: 0
Drive killed by: N/A

Drive 4
Pass 5: Josh Reed drop

The entire line blocked like it was a run to the right and the quick pass went out to the left. It looked like Fitzpatrick was supposed to hand off but threw it out to Reed when he saw that the coverage was playing off. It was a nice theory...

Pass 6: Incomplete to T.O. (underthrown) against a blitz
Bell took 59 around the corner. Levitre stopped 96. Hangartner and Wood doubled 93. 92 spun away from Meredith and decked Fitzpatrick. Fine picked up 95. Had Fitzpatrick gotten the ball away on time, it was a likely completion, as T.O. had beaten his man. Instead, Fitzpatrick waited a beat too long and got whacked for it.

Pass 7: Evans 6 yards
91 spun inside away from Bell's block to hit Fitzpatrick. Levitre and Hangartner doubled 96. Wood got in 95's way. Peppers got under Meredith's shoulder at the corner and got a hit on Fitzpatrick.

Blitzes: 1
Stacked box: 0
Drive killed by: Fitzpatrick's underthrown ball to T.O.

Drive 5
Run 5: Fred Jackson -2 yards for a safety through the right B gap

96 shot inside of Bell and got in on the tackle. 75 got the safety when he knocked Levitre back and then lurched down the line to hit Jackson. Wood and Hangartner doubled 93. Wood drove 93 3 yards down the line after Hangartner left to pick up Jon Beason. Meredith locked up a linebacker at the second level. Fine was pushed back into the Jackson/75/96 pile by 95. I'm not sure why the handoff took as long as it did. It wasn't a draw and you'd figure the offense would want the ball out of the paint as quickly as possible...

Blitzes: 0
Stacked box: 0
Drive killed by: Levitre's pathetic attempt to block 75

Drive 6
Run 6: Lynch -1 yard through the A gap

Bell danced around 33. Levitre and Hangartner had an initial double team on 75. Levitre got under 75's shoulder and drove him 2 yards. Hangartner tried to peel and pick up 52, but was too slow. Beason got the TFL. Wood pancaked 92, exactly how he had flattened a guy last week though this time he wasn't pelted with a yellow hanky. Meredith and Fine doubled Peppers and kept him out of the play.

Run 7: Lynch no gain through the A gap
Bell kept 96 on the edge of the line of scrimmage (LOS). Levitre took 92 on an arc well upfield. Hangartner got no push at all and Lynch ran right to him and the waiting arms of the defensive tackle. Wood never locked up 90, whose effectively unblocked presence forced Lynch to take it back inside. Meredith went to the second level and whiffed on 59. Fine stumbled and was too late to catch Beason.

Pass 8: T.O. 18 yards
Bell pushed 91 past Fitz after losing the race to the corner. Levitre and Hangartner doubled 94. Wood stopped 96 and Meredith stuffed Peppers with help from Jackson. It was a nice reception, the kind T.O. was brought in to make and all too often seems to drop.

Pass 9: Sack -9 yards
Bell and Levitre let 59 and 96 rush while they got out of the screen. The problem was that they didn't even try to slow them down, even a little. 96 got the sack. Hangartner turned 75 away from the screen. Wood and Meredith doubled 92. Fitzpatrick seems to hold onto the ball a beat too long again, though it's questionable whether he could have gotten it past 96.

Pass 10: Reed 6 yards
Bell and Levitre kept 96 and 75 on the LOS. Hangartner and Wood doubled 92 and put him down. Meredith got help with Peppers and even then Peppers almost got past the block.

Pass 11: Incomplete to Jonathan Stupar
Bell beat 91 to the corner. Levitre and Hangartner doubled 95. Levitre left 95 to pick up 91 when he tried to get inside of Bell. Wood had no one to block. Meredith pushed Peppers around the corner and past Fitzpatrick, who threw the ball behind Stupar. Had the pass been on target, Stupar would have had a first down. If Stupar had dropped it then he would have killed the play, but as it happened the fault was Fitzpatrick's.

Blitzes: 0
Stacked box: 0
Drive killed by: Fitzpatrick's inaccurate pass to Stupar
Halftime

Drive 7
Pass 12: Fitzpatrick scramble 4 yards

Bell danced with 96. Levitre and Hangartner doubled 75. Wood and Meredith doubled 96. When 75 tried to twist away from Hangartner and Levitre, Wood picked him up. Fine did a great job blocking Peppers.

Run 8: Lynch 8 yards through the left B gap
Bell hit 52 at the second level and drove him 5 yards, but he was still in on the tackle. Levitre turned 75 inside to open the run lane. Hangartner helped with 75 and then picked up a linebacker. Wood got good push on 92. Meredith sealed 53 inside of the pile. Fine was rolled up on while ably blocking Peppers and left the game with an injury. Talk about being snake bit at a position!

Pass 13: T.O. drop
Bell really didn't need help from Lynch to stop 92. Levitre and Hangartner doubled 75. Wood and Meredith doubled Peppers. T.O. had first down yardage.

Pass 14: Incomplete long pass to T.O. against a 6 man blitz
Bell was driven back by 92. Levitre pushed the DT down the line and into the pile. Hangartner picked up a blitzing Beason. Wood stopped 95 and threw him onto the pile. Meredith took 59 to the corner. Stupar had a non-block on 96 who hit Fitzpatrick, possibly contributing to the bad bass.

Pass 15: Fitzpatrick scramble for no gain
Bell picked up 91 after he got past Stupar. Levitre stopped 95. When the DT lost his balance and fell Hangartner flopped down on him and laid there. Wood picked up Peppers when he got past Meredith to save the sack. Meredith's poor block on Peppers caused the scramble.

Blitzes: 1
Stacked box: 0
Drive killed by: T.O.'s drop of a pass for first down yardage.

Drive 8
Run 9: Lynch 4 yards through the A gap

Bell went to the second level and tapped 59. Levitre got under 75's shoulder but he was still in on the tackle. Hangartner shoved 92 and then hit Beason at the second level but he was still in on the tackle. Wood kept 96 locked up as they turned in circles. Meredith kept 95 on the edge of the LOS.

Run 10: Jackson 1 yard through the A gap
Bell kept 96 on the edge of the LOS and semi-cut him at the end of the play. 92 got inside of Levitre to make the tackle. Hangartner got a small piece of 59 at the second level. Wood got no push on 75 at all. Meredith hit a linebacker at the second level but he spun away.

Pass 16: Incomplete
Bell stopped 92. Levitre waited for a blitzer and Hangartner stuffed 96. Wood had no one to block. He could have given Meredith a hand as 95 blew past him to hit Fitzpatrick. Jackson and Lynch tag teamed Peppers. It looked like a miscommunication between Fitzpatrick and Evans.

Blitzes: 0
Stacked box: 0
Drive killed by: Fitzpatrick and Evans miscommunication

Drive 9
Run 11: Lynch 5 yards through the left B gap

Bell turned 59 and kept him there, creating the run lane. Levitre had a 3 yard drive on 96. Hangartner blocked 75 down the line and shielded him from the play. Wood got inside of 92 and kept him out of the play. Meredith cut off 53's backside pursuit. Fine was back in the game and jumped inside of 90 then kept him on the edge of the LOS.

Pass 17: T.O. 4 yards against 5 man blitz
Bell and Levitre doubled 96 while Wood and Hangartner doubled 75. Meredith pushed 92 inside and away from the throwing lane.

Run 12: QB sneak 1 yard through the A gap
The line got a general 1 yard push, which is pretty impressive just considering how rotund 75 is.

Run 13: Lynch 2 yards through the A gap
Bell went to the second level and pushed one linebacker into another, causing one to trip. Levitre backed up like he was blocking for a pass. Hangartner stood up 75. Wood turned 93 out to open the run lane but didn't sustain his block. Meredith let 90 go upfield and kept him there. Fine blocked 20 then took a gratuitous shot at 30's knees.

Pass 18: Fitzpatrick scramble for 2 yards
Everyone blocked like it was a run to the left. Meanwhile, 59 was all over Fitzpatrick as he wasn't fooled by the bootleg in the least - just like no one else has been fooled by the bootleg for the past three games. Fitzpatrick's receiver, Corey McIntyre, was blanketed so Fitzpatrick tucked it and ran. AVP NEEDS TO RIP THIS PLAY OUT OF THE PLAYBOOK!

Pass 19: Incomplete overthrow to Evans
91 zipped past Bell to hit Fitzpatrick while he was throwing, leading to the high pass. Levitre and Hangartner doubled 92. Wood and Meredith doubled 95. Lynch and Fine doubled Peppers. Had Bell made his block the Bills had a shot at a first down. Instead we were treated to a graphic which showed that Buffalo had more punts than first downs in the game.

Blitzes: 1
Stacked box: 0
Drive killed by: Bell's non-block on 91

Drive 10
Pass 20: Incomplete (thrown away)

Bell took 96 around the corner. Levitre and Hangartner doubled 85. Wood kept 92 near the LOS. 95 eventually got inside of Meredith but Fitzpatrick had already decided to throw the ball away.

Pass 21: Evans 14 yards against a 6 man blitz
Bell pushed 92 inside and then picked up a blitzing Beason. Levitre stopped 75. Hangartner helped Wood with Peppers until 92, shoved inside by Bell, tried to stunt through the middle. Hangartner then stopped 92. Meredith took 59 to the corner.

Pass 22: Evans 3 yards
The pass was gone so fast there wasn't time for anyone to get out of their stance. It appeared to be another of those quick hitters thrown when a DB was playing well off the LOS.

Pass 23: T.O. 6 yards against a 5 man blitz
Bell stuffed 59 at the corner. Levitre let 96 blow right past him to deck Fitzpatrick. Hangartner stopped 93. Wood did an okay job on 92's bull rush. Meredith picked up a blitzing LB. Jackson, in the backfield to pick up blitzers completely missed 96 after he ran past Levitre.

Run 14: Jackson no gain through the right B gap against an 8 man front
Bell shoved a couple of guys but never really engaged. Levitre turned 92 out and circled him away from the play. Hangartner and Wood doubled 93. Hangartner was too slow to pick up a filling Beason while Wood pushed 93 into the end zone. Meredith cut 90.

Pass 24: Evans 3 yard TD
It looked like another sight adjustment by Fitzpatrick. The ball was gone almost as soon as he had it in his hands so everyone barely had time to get out of their stance. It was, quite simply, an amazing pass by Fitzpatrick. He rocketed it between two defenders, each of whom was turned towards the ball

Blitzes: 2
Stacked box: 1
Drive killed by: no one

Drive 11
Pass 25: Evans 50 yards against an 8 man blitz

Bell stuffed 92's spin move. Levitre put 75 down when he tried to spin. Hangartner picked up a blitzing LB. Wood stuffed Peppers and Meredith took a LB around the corner. McIntyre and Jackson each picked up a blitzing LB. The Panthers sold out on the blitz and got burned badly.

Run 15: Lynch 1 yard through the A gap
Bell got under 92's shoulder. When 92 tried to spin Bell got on his back and stayed there, which isn't blocking in the back since Bell didn't start the block that way. Levitre and Hangartner doubled 75 and drove him 4 yards. Peppers knifed inside of Wood and almost had a TFL. Meredith got away with a hold on 59. Fine did an okay job on 96.

Run 16: Lynch -3 yards through the left B gap
Bell pulled wide and cut 59 in space. Levitre kept under 96's right shoulder. Hangartner went to the second level and slowed 53. Wood got under 75's shoulder and kept him turned. Meredith cut 92. McIntyre helped Levitre instead of picking up a filling Beason. Had McIntyre gotten Beason the run would have been for no gain at the worst. The negative play pretty much doomed the drive.

Pass 26: Lynch 6 yards
Bell beat 91 to the corner. Levitre and Hangartner doubled 95 while Wood and Meredith doubled 90.

Blitzes: 1
Stacked box: 0
Drive killed by: McIntyre's non-block on Beason

Drive 12
Run 17: Jackson 1 yard through the left B gap

Bell kept 96 turned out of the run lane. Levitre tried to turn 92 inside and couldn't. It looked like he held when 92 got around him. Hangartner stood up 75. Wood chucked 75 then hit 43 at the second level. Meredith turned Peppers out and kept him there. Fine hit a guy in the secondary. Lynch acted like a lead blocker. Unfortunately, he specifically emulated Darien Barnes so he didn't actually hit anyone.

Run 18: Jackson 2 yards through the left C gap
Bell and Levitre drove 92 inside and away from the run lane. Bell kept on 92 and Levitre caught 59 in the wash. Hangartner stood up 75 and moved laterally to the right. Wood kept popping Beason but never locked him up. Meredith kept Peppers on the edge of the LOS.

Run 19: T.O. 1 yard reverse through the right C gap
Bell blocked like it was a pass. Levitre turned 96 away from the play. Hangartner turned 92 away from the play and let him go into the backfield after T.O. was past. Wood turned Peppers inside and away from the play. Meredith pushed Peppers and then hit 59. Lynch whiffed on 91 in the backfield. 91 sent the play deeper than it should have gone and cost Owens first down yardage.

Blitzes: 0
Stacked box: 0
Drive killed by: Lynch's non-block on 91.

Drive 13
Run 20: Lynch for -1 yard through the right C gap against an 8 man front

Bell missed a cut on Peppers. Levitre and Hangartner each missed cutting 75. Wood turned 93 inside and away from the play. Meredith went to the second level but didn't really block anyone. Fine took a DB 10 yards downfield and Stupar blocked a DB in the secondary.

Run 21: Lynch 4 yards through the left C gap against an 8 man front
Bell went to the second level but not fast enough to lock up a linebacker. He did slow one down a bit. Levitre jumped inside 93 and shielded him from the play. Hangartner blocked 75 down the line and was eventually tripped up. Wood cut 92 and Meredith had no one to block. Fine kept Peppers from turning to chase the play. Stupar locked up 26 at the second level.

Pass 27: Reed 8 yards against a 5 man blitz
Bell, Levitre and Hangartner easily handled Peppers and 93. Wood was pushed back to Fitzpatrick by 92 but stopped him. Meredith beat 95 to the corner. This was a clutch throw and catch by a pair of much-maligned Bills. It really was the backbreaker.

Run 22: Lynch 4 yards through the left C gap
Bell buried 95 when Lynch cut back. Levitre got 02 turned and drove him into the pile. Hangartner picked up Beason in the wash. Wood got great drive on 93, pushing him all the way to the sideline. Meredith turned 26 into the pile to seal the edge. Fine wrestled Peppers to the ground at the edge of the LOS.

Run 23: Lynch no gain through the A gap against an 8 man front
96 got inside of Bell. Levitre helped with 75 and then got a pice of Beason at the second level. Hangartner got no push on 75 while Wood moved 92 back 2 yards. Meredith kept 90 on the edge of the LOS. Fine crossed the formation to pop 59 hard enough to put him off balance.

Run 24: Lynch 1 yard through the A gap against an 8 man front
Bell went to the second level and popped 26. Levitre turned 92 out and Hangartner turned 75 to the left to open the hole. Wood pitched into 75 as well and Meredith missed the cut on 90. Fine gave 91 a minor shoulder and then went to the second level. Meanwhile 91 chased the play down from behind.

Blitzes: 1
Stacked box: 4
Drive killed by: play calling

Drive 14
3 kneel downs

Blitzes: 0
Stacked box: 0
Drive killed by: end of game

A couple of people on the game thread were unhappy with the play calling at the end of the game. The last drive was clearly managed to kill the clock. I give Dick Jauron credit for milking as much time off as possible and setting up a high percentage field goal. It put the Bills up by 11 with just under 2 minutes to go. Meanwhile, the Panthers had burned all of their time outs. I understand the apprehension of Buffalo fans given the Bills' penchant for improbably blowing wins in the last two minutes, but Jauron played the odds and it worked out. Now if the Panthers had blocked the field goal, tied the game and won it in overtime, then Jauron would be lambasted for his conservative play calling at the end of the game. But that didn't happen. So there.

For the second straight week, the Bills have field position to thank for the win. Even with the drive that started at the Buffalo 4 factored into the mix, the average starting field position was the Buffalo 38. Three of the four scoring drives began in Panthers' territory. (The other was the 50 yard pass to Evans.) The defense - primarily Jairus Byrd - did a tremendous job of setting up the offense in prime field position. While the offense can't seem to move the ball more than about 30 yards, the defense, and to a lesser degree the special teams unit, made sure the offense didn't have to.

The Panthers didn't bring any sort of pressure against the Bills' offense. They loaded the box on 4 of 24 runs and blitzed on 6 of 27 pass plays. If you trudged through my play by play, however, you see that they generated hits on Fitzpatrick with just their front four. They were also able to limit the run game with as few as 6 guys in the box. Yikes. Look for Houston to employ a similar overall defensive strategy. After all, the Texans aren't saddled with Jake Delhomme.

Also, look for the Texans to get a turnover when Buffalo inevitably trots out that god-awful bootleg none-yard pass to the TE play. They've got some defenders who are fast enough to hit Fitzpatrick before he can even turn around to see that his TE is thoroughly covered.

The run yards were few and far between in the Panthers game. As you can see, the Bills really didn't have stellar YPA anywhere along the line and some places were downright abysmal. Keep in mind that the Panthers weren't loading the box until the end of the game. A quick glance at the linemen grades helps explain the ugly run numbers.

Gap Att-Yds YPA
Left C 3 - 13 4.3
Left B 6 - 19 3.2
A 10 - 10 1.0
Right B 2 - -2 -1.0
Right C 3 - 4 1.3

No one on the line covered himself with glory in Carolina. Levitre and Hangartner were well below their season averages. To make matters worse, the Bills' linemen killed 5 run plays and 3 pass plays. Those 8 plays (Buffalo averages 7.8 killed plays by linemen per game) - 5 run, 3 pass - amounted to just under 16 percent of the offensive snaps. The killed plays included the safety, which really could have been a momentum changer if the Panthers had a real QB. While the penalties abated - hopefully for good - the killed plays haven't. For the year, the Bills' linemen have 19 killed run plays and 36 killed pass plays. The line can't continue to kill an average of 8 plays per game via mistakes and penalties. Well, actually, it can, I guess, though Buffalo won't win many more games if it continues.

Player Run Grade Pass Grade
Demetrius Bell 75.0 73.5
Andy Levitre 72.5 73.5
Geoff Hangartner 72.5 75.0
Eric Wood 75.8 75.0
Jamon Meredith 73.3 72.0
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