Notes from the Bills' O-Line: Week 8 vs Texans

Well, it took a while coming, but the Buffalo Bills ran into a team that refused to sink into mediocrity for an entire game. The Houston Texans shot themselves in the foot for the entirety of the first half, but during halftime, someone in their locker room said something to the effect of, "Hey, we're better than this." Sadly, a corresponding comment in Buffalo's locker room went something more like, "Keep on keeping on."

While it is small consolation, the Bills' offensive line actually improved in one key area: killed plays. While the line has been averaging 7.8 killed plays per game, that number dropped to 5 against Houston. Every lineman but one killed a play. You'll no doubt be surprised to learn that the lone exception was one Kirk Chambers.

I knew that Mario Williams had a quiet day, but I was stunned to see that he didn't even show up on the stat sheet. Yeah, weird. I'm guessing that Williams was slipping in a pool of his own drool as he salivated at the thought of going up against Buffalo's below-average tackles. Super Mario did have an impact, even if it didn't make for a line on the stat sheet, it just wasn't as much as could have been foreseen.

Drive 1
Pass 1: Josh Reed 4 yards

Demetrius Bell sealed 91 inside where Andy Levitre was waiting for him. Geoff Hangartner and Eric Wood doubled 95. Marshawn Lynch chipped Willams for Jamon Meredith, though it didn't look like Meredith really needed the help. Derek Fine let 94 move to the inside and kept him from getting back to the outside to chase Ryan Fitzpatrick on the rollout. By the way, I was absolutely delighted to see that Buffalo finally caught on to the fact that everyone else had caught on to the naked bootleg to the right/none-yard pass to the TE. The Texans seemed genuinely surprised when Fitzpatrick rolled to his left and threw the ball to a WR instead. Way to (finally) adjust!

Run 1: Lynch 8 yards through the right C gap
94 knocked Bell backwards and knifed inside to chase the play. He almost had a tackle for loss (TFL). Levitre went to the second level but had no one to block. Hangartner and Wood doubled 91. Hangartner blocked him down the line while Wood peeled and tried in vain to pick up 56 in the second level. Meredith tapped 59 in the second level but didn't lock him up. Fine let Williams rush upfield and kept him out of the play.

Run 2: Lynch 8 yards through the left C gap
Bell pushed 91 inside to seal the edge. Levitre helped with 91 then hit 59 in the second level. He then, possibly against explicit directions to the contrary since no one else did for most of the day, sustained his block until Lynch was past him. Hangartner and Wood doubled 95. While Hangartner moved him to the right, Wood peeled and hit 56. Meredith let Williams go upfield and then stoned him when he tried to chase the play. Fine jumped inside of 94 and rode him around on a circle away from the play.

Run 3: Lynch -1 yard through the right C gap
Bell chucked Williams then hit 59 in the second level but didn't sustain his block. Levitre stood up 91 and then got a two-yard push on him. Hangartner and Wood doubled 95 and drove him three yards to the left. Meredith ignored 94 to go hit 31. 94 killed the play by sending Lynch deeper than he should have had to go. However, Lynch avoided 94 and could have easily picked up the 2 yards needed for a first down by simply plunging straight ahead. Instead, he danced as he tried to spring it for a bigger gain. He's got to understand that getting the first down gives Buffalo three more chances to pick up a big play. In theory. Stop laughing! It could happen. Well, you can't rule it out at any rate... Meanwhile, Fine got under Williams' right shoulder and kept him on the edge of the LOS.

Pass 2: INC bad pass to Reed against a blitz
Bell pushed 99 past Fitzpatrick. Levitre and Hangartner doubled and stuffed 94. 91 spun inside of Wood and got into the pocket. Wood stuck with him and pushed him past Fitzpatrick. Williams got around the corner and hit the QB after the ball was away. Lynch picked up 59 who came in late, but only because Lynch had stayed in to block.

Blitzes: 1
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: Lynch's decision to dance instead of crash forward for easily attainable yardage

Drive 2
Pass 3: Terrell Owens 3 yards

Williams got around Bell and got a hand on Fitzpatrick after the throw. Levitre and Hangartner kept 95 on the line of scrimmage (LOS). Wood and Meredith doubled 94 and Lynch picked up 91 when he stunted. Meredith was hurt on the play, bringing Chambers in for the balance of the game. Yes, Buffalo has been snake bit at the tackle position...

Run 4: Lynch no gain through the right C gap
Bell kept Williams on the edge of the LOS. Levitre chucked 95 and was then too slow to catch 56 at the second level. (56 is Brian Cushing, by the way, and he's really fast.) Hangartner helped 95 go to the left and thus out of the play. Wood rode 91 down the line and to the ground. Chambers didn't really block anyone. He tried to help Wood with 91, but Wood was already taking him away from Chambers. Had Chambers instead shot into the second level, he could have picked up 59, which would have gotten Lynch a yard or two. Fine rode 94 to the inside to set the edge.

Pass 4: Steve Johnson 5 yards (on third and 7)
Bell beat Williams to the corner. Williams shoved Bell further upfield to get inside of the pocket, but too late. Levitre and Hangartner doubled 94 initially. Hangartner kept his head moving and saw that Wood needed to release 95, so Hangartner left Levitre and picked up 95. Wood had to release 95 to keep 99 from cutting inside of Chambers. It was an example of excellent communication by the offensive line. Meanwhile, Johnson had to come back from beyond the sticks to catch the misplaced pass by Fitzpatrick. Had Fitzpatrick put the ball where it needed to be (instead of two yards short of the line to gain), Johnson would likely have had first down yardage.

Blitzes: 0
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: Fitzpatrick's bad pass

Drive 3
Run 5: Fred Jackson 3 yards through the right C gap

Bell let Williams go upfield and kept inside of him until the play was over. Levitre went to the second level and hit 59, but didn't sustain his block. Hangartner got a little push on 92, but 92 swam past his right shoulder to get inside and chase the play. Wood chucked 91 and then popped Cushing, but didn't sustain his block. Cushing slowed Jackson down. Chambers drove 91 inside and down. Fine pushed 29 all over the field. Jonathan Stupar had a slow motion cut attempt on 94. 94 never went down, but it really slowed him down.

Run 6: Jackson 4 yards through the left B gap
Bell hit 54 and pushed him inside. He didn't sustain his block and 54 was in on the tackle. Levitre hit 54, but didn't sustain that block either. Hangartner jumped to the left of 92 and kept him from chasing the play. Wood pushed 91 to the right, then went upfield and abused 26 deep in the secondary. Chambers doubled 94 with Fine and kept him on the edge of the LOS.

Pass 5: Sack -8 yards against a 5 man blitz
Williams blew past Bell which forced Fitzpatrick to step up and into Cushing. Levitre kept 94 from working his way inside. 94 spun and got free, but too late to make a difference. Hangartner tossed a blitzing 59 to the ground. Wood and Chambers doubled 94. Fine and Stupar doubled 98. Had Bell made his block, Fitzpatrick could have drifted to his right, as there was good protection to that side. Cushing would have had to slow to turn the corner and Fitzpatrick would have had time to get his pass off. Possibly the most galling thing about the play is that the Bills had 7 blockers and still gave up the sack.

Blitzes: 1
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: Bell's non-block on Williams.

Drive 4
Run 7: Owens 29 yard reverse for TD through the left C gap

Bell went to the second level and missed the cut on 54, but got enough of him to slow him down. 54 was about 2 steps too late to push Owens out of bounds. Levitre pushed 95 to the right. Hangartner let 95 penetrate to the right and chase the fake. Wood submarined 91 and put him down. Chambers turned 94 away from Owens and kept him there. Fine had no one to block, and Stupar tapped 56. Evans sprang the play when he came back to pick up the defensive back, sealing him off from Owens' run lane.

Blitzes: 0
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: N/A

Drive 5
Pass 6: Fine 9 yards

Everyone blocked like it was a run to the right. Fitzpatrick again rolled out to the left, which again caught the defense off guard.

Run 8: Jackson 3 yards through the left C gap
Bell pushed 91 to the inside to set the edge. Levitre went to the second level and stuck to Cushing, who still managed to get in on the tackle. Hangartner stood up 95. Wood helped with 95 and then popped 59, but he didn't sustain his block, instead moving on to hit 54. Chambers turned Williams upfield and kept him from chasing the play. Fine locked up 29 and wrestled him around the secondary. Stupar had a beautiful cut on 94 to open the run lane.

Pass 7: INC against a 5 man blitz
Bell handed 94 to Levitre to pick up a blitzing Cushing. Unfortunately, Levitre was helping Hangartner with 91 and never even looked at 94. 94 decked Fitzpatrick while he was throwing, leading to the INC. Wood stuffed 95 and Chambers stopped Williams at the corner. This was not a display of effective communication. Levitre should have kept his head moving.

Run 9: Jackson 3 yards through the A gap
Bell and Levitre doubled 91. Hangartner and Wood took 95 three yards off the line. Wood then picked up Cushing and battled him in the second level. Chembers got inside 94 and kept him on the edge of the LOS. Stupar hit 59 in the hole, kind of like an effective fullback. (I wish Buffalo had one of those.) Fine stuffed Williams on the edge of the LOS.

Pass 8: Reed 15 yards against a 6 man blitz
Bell stuffed 98. Levitre, Hangartner and Wood easily handled a pair of defensive linemen. Chambers effortlessly beat Williams to the corner. Fine stopped 59 and Jackson picked up a delayed blitz by Cushing.

Run 10: Jackson 4 yards through the left C gap in Wildcat formation
Bell went to the second level and hit Cushing but didn't sustain his block. Levitre kept under 95's left shoulder to slow him down. Hangartner went to the second level and didn't hit anyone, never mind that 59 was right in front of him. Wood got a three-yard drive on 92. Chambers tapped 54 but didn't sustain his block. Fine blocked 93 at the edge of the LOS and slowed him down enough to open the run lane.

Run 11: Jackson 1 yard through the left C gap in Wildcat formation
Bell drove 95 inside to set the edge. Levitre helped with 95 but then wasn't fast enough to catch anyone in the second level. Hangartner worked 92 down the line to the right. Wood turned 54 away from the play in the second level. Chambers kept Williams on the edge of the LOS. Fine didn't really block 93 on the edge of the LOS and then also didn't really block a LB in the second level.

Pass 9: Sack -2 yards against a 6 man blitz
Bell fought Williams to the corner. When Fitzpatrick stepped up in the pocket, Williams shed the block and got in on the tackle. Levitre stopped 94, but 94 was in on the tackle when Fitzpatrick tried to scramble. Hangartner let 59 shoot right past him and then curiously set up to pick up any blitzer. Wood did an okay job on 91. 98 went to the corner and easily beat Chambers back to the inside with a spin move. Jackson did a pretty good job picking up 59, all things considered, though 59 did cause Fitzpatrick to pull the ball down and try to scramble.

Blitzes: 3
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: Hangartner's non-block on 59 on third and 5

Drive 6
Pass 10: Lynch -2 yard screen

Bell let 98 push him upfield then jumped outside to seal him away from the screen. Levitre semi-shielded 91 but didn't keep him from disrupting the play. Hangartner ran outside and pushed Cushing past the play. Wood couldn't get inside or under 91, even with Levitre slowing him down. Chambers got inside Williams and kept him sealed away from the play.

Run 12: Lynch 5 yards through the left C gap
Bell went to the second level and tried to keep Cushing away from the run lane. Levitre turned 94 and drove him three yards down the line. Hangartner chucked 91 and hit Cushing in the second level as well. Wood got inside of 91 and kept him away from the play. Chambers stopped 98 on the edge of the LOS. Fine crossed the formation to hit Williams, who still got in on the tackle.

Pass 11: Reed 9 yards
Bell stopped Williams. Levitre helped Hangartner with 94 and then, by staying aware of what was going on around him, helped Bell with Williams. Wood took 91 on an arc away from the QB and stuck with him after 91 tried to throw him off. Chambers kept 98 down after he slipped while trying to turn the corner.

Run 13: Lynch 14 yards through the A gap
Bell went to the second level and hit Cushing, turned him around, and then put him down. Levitre dropped back and blocked Williams like he was in pass protection. He then went to the second level but couldn't find anyone to hit. Hangartner turned 94 to the left to set one wall of the run lane, while Wood turned 91 to the right to set the other wall. Chambers had no one to block and wandered into the second level. Fine pushed 98 upfield and around the corner. The hole was so big that Lynch had plenty of room to juke 59. The hole was so enormous because the Bills caught the Texans in a blitz.

Pass 12: INC tipped pass against a 6 man blitz
Bell stuffed 98. Levitre was crushed by 94, who barely broke stride. Hangartner picked up a blitzing 59 and turned him out to open the throwing lane. Wood picked up 91, but let him get a hand up to tip the pass. Chambers neutralized Williams. Jackson stopped Cushing.

Pass 13: Evans 5 yards
Bell and Levitre doubled 94. Hangartner stopped 91. Wood had no one to block and kept looking from 91 to 90 to pitch in if he was needed. Chambers pushed Williams well past the corner.

Pass 14: INC to Owens in end zone against a 6 man blitz
This certainly appeared to be a called run play to the right, and everyone blocked like it was. Had Fitzpatrick handed the ball off to Lynch, it looked like he had a clear path to the pylon for a TD. Instead, Fitzpatrick threw the ball on a sight read. Unfortunately, he threw the ball two beats too late. If he'd thrown it on time, Owens would have had a TD pass in his (stone) hands.

Blitzes: 1
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: Fitzpatrick's poorly timed throw to Owens

Drive 7
Run 14: Lynch 3 yards through the left B gap against an 8 man front

Bell turned 93 out, but he slid back inside to chase the play and get in on the tackle. Levitre drove 91 three yards to open the hole. Hangartner chipped 91 and went to the second level where he tapped 54. 95 went down the line with Wood and was in on the tackle. Wood just couldn't cut him off. Chambers hit 31 at the second level. Fine hit Cushing and kept himout of the play. Stupar crossed the formation to hit Williams.

Pass 15: INC long pass to Owens
Bell did a good job not letting Williams get upfield. Hangartner and Levitre doubled 93. Wood did a good job taking 91 past Fitzpatrick and Jackson helped Chambers with 94.

Pass 16: Lynch 5 yards
Bell beat Williams to the corner and reacted well to his attempt to move back to the inside. Levitre and Hangartner doubled 94. When 91 twisted, Levitre picked him up. Wood helped Hangartner with 94 when 91 twisted away from him. Jackson chipped 98 on the way out to the flat for Chambers. Lynch didn't run his pattern past the sticks. He was tackled immediately and two yards short of the first down.

Blitzes: 0
Stacked box: 1
Drive Killer: Lynch's decision not to run his pattern to the sticks

Drive 8
Run 15: Lynch 4 yards through the left B gap

Bell fell on 29, who was just trying to absorb a blocker. Levitre pulled and cut Cushing in space. Hangartner pulled and inadvertently shielded 91 from the play. Wood hit 95 but lost him in the wash, while Chambers had no one to block. Stupar missed a cut on Cushing and Fine jumped inside of 94 to keep him from chasing the play.

Pass 17: Scramble 3 yards against a 5 man blitz - Lynch called for holding
Bell handled Williams. Levitre danced with 54 who never sold out on the blitz - possibly waiting to cover Lynch if he left the backfield. Hangartner and Wood doubled 95, but Wood kept his head turned towards 91 in case Chambers needed help. Chambers didn't need the help. The holding call was pure BS. 59 blitzed and plowed into Lynch. His momentum caused both players to go down in a heap.

Pass 18: Owens 10 yards
Lynch was assigned to help Chambers, but it really wasn't needed. Levitre gave ground to a bull rush by 95, but 95 lost his balance and fell forward. Hangartner was ready to help with 91 or pick up a blitzer. Wood took 91 upfield and Chambers stuffed 94.

Pass 19: INC Lynch drop against a 6 man blitz
Bell almost put Williams down. Levitre pushed 94 inside and got out for the screen. He then pushed 54 past Lynch. Hangartner was ready to block downfield. Wood let 91 go upfield but stuck with him in order to block him if he chased the play. 98 wound up tripping, so Chambers kept him down. It was the perfect play call, and if Lynch hadn't dropped it, he had all kinds of room in front of him. There were only 5 defenders downfield and Lynch had a couple of linemen in front of him.

Blitzes: 2
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: Lynch's drop

Drive 9
Run 16: Jackson 4 yards through the right C gap

Bell locked up 94 on the end of the LOS. Levitre tried to turn 91 away from the play. He didn't succeed, but he kept under his pads and slowed him down considerably. Hangartner pushed 91 and wasn't fast enough to catch the linebackerss. Wood pushed 92 to the inside and away from the play. Chambers missed a block on 54 in the second level. Fine didn't get much of a block on Cushing. Stupar crossed the formation and cut Williams.

Run 17: Jackson 4 yards through the left C gap
Bell sealed 94 inside with Levitre's help. 91 shot inside of Hangartner and should have had a TFL. Wood hit 54 in the second level. 54 threw off his block, but Wood circled back and nailed 54 again. Chambers hit 92 but couldn't stay with him due to the wash. Stupar kept after Cushing and kept him out of the play. Fine hit 59 and stopped him in his tracks.

Run 18: Jackson no gain through the right C gap
Bell tried to cut 54 in the second level and wasn't fast enough. He did slow him down. Levitre cut 94 immediately. Hangartner went to the second level and rode 59 down. Wood got wiped out while blocking 91 by the Hangartner/59 pileup. 91 went down as well, but got up to get in on the tackle. Chambers pulled to lead the play and pushed Cushing out of the way. Fine was chopped down in the wash. Stupar killed the play by being driven 4 yards upfield by 98. That sent Jackson way too deep to get back to the line, and let the secondary react and make the tackle for no gain.

Blitzes: 0
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: Stupar

Drive 10
Run 19: Lynch 5 yards through the left C gap

Bell and Levitre pushed 91 three yards to the right and into the wash. Hangartner held his ground against 98. Wood chipped 98 and went to the second level, but had no one to block. Chambers kept Williams on the edge of the line. Perhaps he was just frustrated, but Williams didn't really seem particularly motivated on the play.

Pass 20: INT
94 got past his block, fell, got up and hit Fitzpatrick below the knees. Levitre tried to help with 94, but was shielded from him by Bell. Hangartner kept 91 on an arc away from Fitzpatrick. Wood and Chambers doubled 98, while Wood stayed alert for any blitzers. Jackson and Lynch picked up a stunting 98. T.O. broke off his pattern, so there was no one deep except Texans. However, the drive was actually killed by the refs. There's no excuse in the world for the refs not throwing a roughing the passer flag on the Texans. It was the exact same hit that put Brady out for the year in 2008 and is supposed to be a point of emphasis with officials. Funny how that doesn't seem to apply to Buffalo's quarterbacks.

Blitzes: 0
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: ref's non-call of a blatant roughing the passer penalty

Drive 11
Pass 21: Owens 14 yards

Bell pushed 98 past the corner. Levitre stuffed 94. Hangartner and Wood doubled 91, while Hangartner kept looking for blitzers. Chambers beat Williams to the corner.

Pass 22: Owens 8 yards
Bell pushed 98 to the inside to Levitre and picked up a twisting 94 from him. Hangartner and Wood doubled 91. Chambers stuffed 90 at the corner.

Pass 23: Lynch 3 yards
Bell stopped Williams. Williams worked back to the inside and Bell wouldn't have been in position to stop him if the QB had held the ball. Levitre pushed 91 upfield and away from Fitzpatrick. Hangartner had no one to block. Neither did Wood, so he helped Chambers with 94.

Pass 24: Owens 4 yards
Bell and Levitre pushed Williams past the corner. Hangartner had no one to block. Wood handed 91 to Chambers in order to pick up a twisting 94.

Pass 25: Evans 24 yards
Bell and Levitre doubled 94 while Hangartner and Wood tag teamed 91. Chambers took Williams all the way around the corner.

Pass 26: INT off tipped pass
Bell hit 56 and pushed him downfield, where he was in perfect position to tip the pass and make the INT. Levitre had no one to block. Hangartner was driven back to Fitzpatrick by 93's bull rush. Wood picked up a stunting 95 and Chambers easily handled Williams. Fitzpatrick didn't keep track of Cushing and threw the ball without realizing he was in the throwing lane.

Blitzes: 0
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: Fitzpatrick's INT

On the third drive of the second half, the crowd really hated the third consecutive running played that was called (Run 18), but I didn't. Buffalo was trying to impose its will on Houston, and the previous 9 non-Wildcat runs had gained at least 3 yards. Buffalo was running the ball reasonably well, and a run on third and 2 against a 7 man front was a high percentage play. It just so happened that Stupar didn't do his job. The only way you can pin that one on Dick Jauron or Alex Van Pelt) would be to blame them for not doing a better job of coaching Stupar during the week... but even that rings hollow as Stupar, by and large, had a pretty good day blocking on run plays.

You can blame Jauron for the fake punt following the Stupar debacle. After all, the Bills were only down by 7. However, the Bills' offense had done nothing (again), and it seemed pretty clear that the defense had been worn down to a nub (again). In this case, blaming Jauron for his preparation during the week seems more reasonable. After all, it's not like the offensive woes are a new phenomenon.

Is anyone else wondering if Buffalo - in ‘win now' mode during the off season - erred by picking Aaron Maybin instead of a guy like Cushing? Cushing looked terrific and super fast. Yeah, I know. If Buffalo had picked him he'd be on IR due to the defensive injury curse that seems to hang over the Bills. Still, the guy has been productive, while Maybin has yet to contribute.

People might point to Buffalo's low rushing output, but consider that Buffalo averaged 5.4 yards per attempt against the Texans. Throw out Owens' reverse, and it's still a respectable 4.1-yard average. 30 runs would have put the Bills on pace for about 150 yards. Unfortunately, the miscues (bad passes, drops, missed blocks) meant that the Bills didn't have those extra 10 downs. I was both surprised and disappointed to see Buffalo essentially abandon running between the tackles for the game. Yes, the way to attack a 4-3 is on the edge, but that doesn't make it alright to abdicate the middle.

Left C Left B A Right B Right C
9-64 3-11 2-17 0-0 5-10
7.1 3.7 8.5 0.0 2.0

After a disastrous outing in Miami, Chambers bounced back to have a very average game. He did a good job containing Williams (as did Bell), sometimes with assistance and sometimes on his own. This was the Chambers of previous years, the one who was good enough to fill in for starters. Let's hope he's back to stay instead of just visiting, since it seems likely that Buffalo will be calling on him again soon.

Don't get too excited about the high run grade for Levitre or the low run grade for Hangartner. In each case, the small number of run plays magnifies the good/bad plays. Levitre had 4 good run plays against no bad ones, while Hangartner had 3 bad run plays against zero good ones. When I do the mid-season grades write up, you'll see that Levitre isn't that good and Hangartner isn't that bad when viewed over time. (Also, Meredith had only 3 run plays and 3 pass plays and had 1 bad play in each category.)

Player Run Grade Pass Grade
Demetrius Bell 75.0 73.5
Andy Levitre 79.2 72.7
Geoff Hangartner 71.8 74.2
Eric Wood 76.1 72.7
Kirk Chambers 75.0 74.1
Jamon Meredith 68.3 68.3
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