Notes from the Bills' Line: Hall of Fame Game

I keep telling myself that it's early; that it's just the first pre-season game. The Buffalo Bills' new players are still all finding their way at new positions and/or against NFL competition for the first time. As NBC's Cris Collinsworth referenced several times during last night's Hall of Fame Game telecast (the Bills lost to the Titans 21-18, by the way), the offensive line was over-matched against a re-worked Titans defensive front. Each offensive lineman took his turn looking bad, and each of Buffalo's rookie linemen killed a drive. While it wasn't the auspicious beginning we'd hoped for, it was still the beginning. Let's hope the finished product is vastly improved and ready for the Patriots.

I broke down only the first two drives, as the Titans pulled their starters and Buffalo had pulled C Geoff Hangartner and LT Langston Walker by that point.

Drive 1
Run 1:
Marshawn Lynch, 3 yards through the right C gap.
- Walker and LG Andy Levitre initially doubled 97. When Walker peeled off to pick up 52, Levitre blocked 97 across the formation. Hangartner was beaten by a counterclockwise circling move by 91, who got a hand on Lynch. RG Eric Wood went to the second level and turned 50 in a circle. RT Demetrius Bell, playing in place of injured starter Brad Butler, got under the shoulder of 90, who had slanted towards the inside, and wouldn't turn him loose. TE Derek Fine did an okay job on 93.

Pass 1: Terrell Owens, 15 yards against a safety blitz.
- 93 started to the outside of Walker but then jumped back inside. The move was too quick for Walker to counter, and it looked like Walker may have had a slight hold. The three interior linemen formed a good wall. Bell did a very good job of popping 90 and pushing him inside to Wood in time to reset and pick up a stunting 91.

Run 2: Lynch, 3 yards through the left B gap.
- Walker did a nice job on a DB in space. Levitre made a pathetic attempt to cut 97, who didn't even slow down. 97 was then inadvertently cut by a pulling Hangartner. Wood jumped inside of 91 and was doing an okay job of slowing him down until he fell backwards over a prone Levitre. Bell sprinted into the second level and chased 50, never catching him, but re-routing him well away from the play. Fine pulled a three stooges move on 93, using Levitre's prone body to topple 93 over.

Pass 2: Owens, 11 yards.
- 93 got under Walker's pads and turned the corner, possibly forcing another mild hold. Levitre had no one to block so he helped Hangartner with 97, who did an okay job even though 97 appeared to have illegal hands to Hangartner's face. Wood was beaten by 91's swim move after an initial good pop. 91 did appear to use Wood's shirt to pull him forward so he could swim by. 90 went right inside of Bell and got a hand on QB Trent Edwards, forcing what looked like a hold.

Run 3: Lynch, 0 yards through left C gap (against eight-man front).
- Walker put 97 down and laid on him after 97 got his feet tangled with 91. Levitre went to the second level and hit 52, but didn't sustain the block. He just kind of stood there. Hangartner stood up 91, who got his feet tangled with 97, allowing Hangartner to put 91 on his knees. Wood gave Hangartner a hand with 91 and then went to the second level but was caught in the wash. Bell and Fine took 90 off of his feet and then dogged him until the end of the play. TE Derek Schouman, who was on the field quite a bit for a guy who wasn't supposed to play at all, killed the play by whiffing on 93, who almost had a tackle for loss.

Pass 3: Fine, 7 yards.
- 93 again turned the corner on Walker, and this time Walker wound up on the ground. Levitre had no one to block. He looked to help Hangartner, but it was too late. 97 got a good bull rush on Hangartner. Wood did a good job on 91 and kept him from elevating into the passing lane. Bell rode 90 to the ground after he had turned the corner. Lynch should have helped Bell, but just kind of watched instead of keeping 90 from turning the corner in the first place.

Pass 4: Edwards scramble for 8 yards (against a blitz).
- 93 tried a spin move on Walker, to no avail. Levitre locked up 97. A linebacker waited for Levitre to commit before blitzing. (Lynch should have been there for the blitz pickup, but he instead released to the outside.) Hangartner and Wood doubled 91 and Bell beat 90 to the corner.

Run 4: Fred Jackson, 1 yard through the A gap.
- Walker looked at 98 for a second before he went to the second level and tapped 53 on the shoulder. Levitre pulled to the right C gap and locked up 50, driving him around in a circle. Hangartner was stood up by 96, who slid off of him to get in on the tackle. Wood and Bell doubled 75. Schouman had a half-hearted block on 95, who was in on the tackle.

Pass 5: Edwards INT on long throw to Lee Evans.
- 93 got under Walker again and around the edge. It looked quite a bit like a hold, with Walker's forearm across his throat. Levitre was bull rushed into Edwards by 96. To be fair, 96 did have his hands under Levitre's chin, which is illegal. Hangartner and Wood doubled 75. Bell rode 95 in a circle, but 95 did get around him at the end. It may have been a hold.

Drive killed by: Levitre (and the lack of a penalty for illegal hands to face).
Drive stats: Two Titans blitzes, one stacked box.

Drive 2
Run 5:
Jackson, -1 yard through A gap.
- Walker pushed 93 inside with help from Fine. Levitre went to the second level and fell down. (I guess it comes with wearing Fowler's old number.) Wood and Hangartner doubled 97 and shoved him downfield. Unfortunately, Wood completely ignored 91, who got to Jackson. Bell popped 90 and kept him out of the play. WR Josh Reed made no attempt to block 53, who got the tackle for loss.

Run 6: Jackson, 3 yards through left B gap.
- Walker pulled but wasn't fast enough to get out in front of the play, so he never blocked anyone. Levitre was pushed into the backfield by 93 and 97, which disrupted the timing of the play. Hangartner went to the second level and chased 52. He never caught him, but did send him far upfield. Wood tried to jump inside of 90, who went around him but couldn't catch the play. Bell went to the second level but wasn't fast enough to cut off 50. Rookie TE Shawn Nelson had a poor block on 31, who was in on the tackle. Reed had a good block on 53.

Pass 6: Ryan Fitzpatrick scramble, 0 yards.
- Walker and Levitre did a good job handling a stunt by 97 and 93. Hangartner helped Levitre with 97. 91 blew right past Wood to force the scramble. Bell did a good job on 90.

Drive killed by: Wood.
Drive stats: Zero blitzes, zero stacked boxes.

General Impressions
I'm worried about Bell and Walker. Each of them demonstrated that they were vulnerable to speed rushes. It appeared that each of them could have been called for holding on a couple of occasions. When the Bills are facing the rush linebackers common to 3-4 defenses, it may be necessary to give both of them (TE or RB) help, or at least a solid chip.

Wood needs to work on countering swim moves, including illegal maneuvers like having his jersey used to pull him forward to enable the swim move. He also needs to get more comfortable with identifying his responsibilities, as there was simply no one else to block 91 on run five. Levitre seemed to lack a killer instinct. I'm really puzzled as to why he didn't sustain the block on run three. I'm not as worried about the bull rush which led to the INT. (Kudos to Edwards, by the way, who in a post game interview took the blame for the INT when Levitre clearly slammed into Edwards before the ball was gone.)

I'm worried about how Hangartner will do against guys like Vince Wilfork. He had a tough time dealing with the Titans' defensive tackles. They aren't anywhere near as formidable as the nose guards Hangartner will face when the Bills play the better 3-4 defenses in the league - like in Week 1, for example.

Fine again demonstrated that he's a better blocking TE than Schouman. If Schouman is going to be the nominal starter, it will be based on his all-around ability as opposed to his stellar blocking. Don't get me wrong; Schouman isn't a terrible blocking TE, but Fine is better. The coaching staff must see a decided advantage to Schouman as a receiver. Nelson definitely needs to work on his blocking.

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