FOXBORO MA - SEPTEMBER 26: Steve Johnson #13 of the Buffalo Bills is congratulated by teammate Andy Levitre #67 after Johnson a touchdown against the New England Patriots during on September 26 2010 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro Massachusetts. The Patriots defeated the Bills 38-30. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Well, that's strictly not true. He was introduced as part of the starting lineup. After that, however, he was never mentioned - and he had a Chris "Even I Can't Believe They Keep Giving Me Contract Extensions" Kelsay-esque stat line: 0 tackles, 0 assists, 0 sacks, 0 INT, 0 forced fumbles.
While it took me a couple of days to get to review the game, I was extremely interested in what happened. I thought I'd see nothing but double teams all game long, but couldn't figure out how Buffalo managed that while succeeding in the run game.
Chan Gailey regularly left either Geoff Hangartner, Eric Wood or Andy Levitre with Vince Wilfork one-on-one. Buffalo's interior linemen were up to the task. God, that felt insanely good to type. I had thought that Hangartner was a serviceable center, but one who had reached his ceiling. Not so. He did a very good job against a very good defensive tackle, and graded out higher than any Bills center I've ever graded. The interior of Buffalo's line appears to be set; Hangartner can deal with upper echelon DTs, while Levitre and Wood can both drive and pull. Tons of data and analysis after the jump.
|Individual Run Grades - Week 3|
|Individual Run Grades - 2010 season-to-date|
I really wasn't sure what the Bills were doing during the game with some of the offensive line substitutions. At first, I thought that a player might have had an issue. However, some of the substitutions were made and then unmade later in the drive when the Bills reached scoring range. It appeared that Gailey was trying to get game reps for Kraig Urbik and Cordaro Howard. Urbik filled in for Wood, who was having a terrific game. Howard subbed for Bell and Green, sometimes on the same drive. I like the idea of getting reserve players some game reps... just not when the game is in doubt. Put them in when the game is a blowout one way or another. The reps are still live, even if the game has a somewhat different feel.
I had speculated last week that Buffalo might have a somewhat easier time running the ball on the edges against the Patriots. My rationale was that New England was no longer a true 3-4 team. Buffalo did, indeed, have some success running wide, to the tune of 8.8 yards per attempt running left and 4.5 running right. What impressed me about Buffalo's rushing attack in Foxboro was that the Bills averaged better than 3.5 YPA in every gap. (Contrast that to the -2.5 YPA in the right B gap against Miami, or the 1.25 YPA in the A gap while in Green Bay.) Buffalo was able to hang with the Pats because the Bills were able to run the ball almost at will. The Patriots helped out by loading the box on just two of 22 rushes. I suspect that this was due to the youth in New England's secondary; protecting the secondary meant giving them some extra manpower at the expense of the rush defense.
|Run Direction Success, Week 3|
|Run Direction Success, 2010 season-to-date|
For the season, you can see that Buffalo is running best on the edges. Part of this is due to Wood and Levitre, who often pull to lead a run. Sometimes, Corey McIntyre is right behind Levitre or Wood, which has the potential of taking out two defenders at the point of attack.
|Individual Pass Grades, Week 3|
|Individual Pass Grades, 2010 season-to-date|
Green is still a liability, while Bell is clawing his way back to an acceptable range. The interior linemen have done quite a bit better in pass protection. It's not a surprise to see that the interior linemen grade out higher in both run and pass plays. The five sacks allowed by the tackles compared to the one given up by the interior linemen puts an exclamation point on the data.
|OT vs. G/C, 2010 season-to-date|
|Pos.||Run Grade||Pass Grade|
Buffalo had 10 total drives, though one was a kick return for a touchdown. On the other nine drives, the Bills scored a pair of touchdowns and a trio of field goals. I initially thought Ryan Fitzpatrick killed four drives (two FG drives and two INT). Upon further review, I owe Fitz an apology. While he killed the two FG drives (first drive overthrew Lee Evans, fifth drive threw behind David Nelson) and the last drive (INT - overthrow to Nelson), he wasn't responsible for the first INT. Spiller didn't stop a blitzer from hitting Fitz as he threw. While the ball may not have been a completion (we'll never know), the defender hit Fitz and the throw was both above and behind Roscoe Parrish.
Fitz did okay against eight blitzes, netting 42 yards, three first downs and a TD. He took one sack and had a pair of incompletions. He can look forward to a much more aggressive defense this Sunday against the Jets. While the Patriots were content to blitz just once every four pass plays, a difference between Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan is that Ryan views blitzing as a way of protecting the secondary.