Bills vs. Chiefs: Notes From The O-Line, Week 8

KANSAS CITY MO - OCTOBER 31: Fred Jackson #22 of the Buffalo Bills is stopped during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs on October 31 2010 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Well, that was certainly a new way to lose a game. I can't recall the last time that the Buffalo Bills lost a game on a last-second field goal in the fifth quarter. One of the reasons that Buffalo was able to keep the game going that long was that the team did a good job of converting on third and long; I can't recall the last time the Bills did that with any regularity, either. The Bills, by my count, converted five third-and-seven or longer situations in Kansas City.

It was apparent to many during the game that Cordaro Howard was having a rough outing. Several posters on the live game thread were using terms like "owned," and at least one pined for the return of Cornell Green. (Yes, really.) I was curious to see why Howard was having such a tough time after putting together a semi-competent game in Baltimore. It became apparent quickly that Buffalo did not carry through on the blocking scheme implemented in Baltimore. The Bills, for whatever reason, chose not pull a guard on passing plays in order to freeze linebackers in place. Buffalo did slant their lines to the left or right in pass protection, but many times the Bills just expected the linemen to handle the guy in front of them. I don't know that that's necessarily reasonable to expect given Howard's inexperience. (Demetrius Bell's, too, for that matter.)

I was fascinated by Buffalo's run blocking scheme, as well. The Bills didn't pull the guards on run plays as often as in previous games. Again, the expectation on many run plays appeared to be that the linemen would win their matchups and simply overpower the Chiefs. That approach didn't work out very well, and hopefully will be a short-lived experiment. Buffalo tried, tried and tried some more to run to the outside. At some point, the Bills wised up and started to pound the ball up the middle instead. It was maddening to watch the Bills have success up the gut and then have Gailey call pass after pass even though the score, clock and down and distance didn't require any such abandonment of the run.

Individual Run Grades - Week 8
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Grade
Bell, D. 1 25 1 0 75.0%
Levitre, A. 3 24 0 0 77.2%
Hangartner, G. 1 24 2 0 74.3%
Wood, E. 6 19 2 1 77.9%
Howard, C. 2 24 1 0 75.7%
Individual Run Grades - Season To Date
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Grade
Bell, D. 11 120 15 3 74.5%
Levitre, A. 31 88 10 2 78.3%
Hangartner, G. 13 130 10 1 75.4%
Wood, E. 33 104 11 2 77.9%
Howard, C. 6 78 7 3 74.8%
Run Direction Success, Week 8
Gap Att Yds YPA
Left C 9 29 3.2
Left B 2 6 3.0
A 7 33 4.7
Right B 2 8 4.0
Right C 7 9 1.3
Run Direction Success, 2010 season-to-date
Gap Att Yds YPA
Left C 42 200 4.8
Left B 13 54 4.2
A 43 150 3.5
Right B 20 71 3.6
Right C 37 145 3.9

The Bills' linemen collectively screwed the pooch on 13 of 59 (22.0%) passes. Having at least one guy mess up on one of every five passes just isn't conducive to an efficient passing game. Howard, as you can see below, led the way with 12 bad pass plays. He also killed 3.5 pass plays and allowed 2.5 sacks. Did I mention that he had a bad day? Bell allowed a half-sack (pass 7) and three of his bad pass plays were on plays that Howard underperformed as well.

Individual Pass Grades, Week 8
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Sack Help Grade
Bell, D. 1 54 4 1 0.5 5 74.0%
Levitre, A. 1 55 3 0 0 0 74.3%
Hangartner, G. 0 58 0 0 0 0 74.7%
Wood, E. 1 57 1 0 0 0 75.0%
Howard, C. 0 47 12 4 2.5 1 70.9%
Individual Pass Grades, Season To Date
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Sack Help Grade
Bell, D. 3 238 20 5.5 3.5 12 73.7%
Levitre, A. 6 235 13 5 0 0 74.5%
Hangartner, G. 5 269 8 4 2 0 74.8%
Wood, E. 9 240 10 4 0 0 74.9%
Howard, C. 0 135 24 4.5 2.5 3 72.0%

Buffalo mounted a dozen drives in Kansas City, with just one drive ending in the promised land. The OTs combined to kill drive one by allowing a sack, while Howard killed the second drive all on his own by allowing a second sack. (He also had an uncalled hold on third down on that drive.) Ryan Fitzpatrick killed the third drive by missing C.J. Spiller on a perfectly timed screen pass. Six blitzers equals five defenders downfield, yet Spiller had three blockers in front of him. Ah, what could have been...

Fred Jackson killed the fourth drive by trying for the corner instead of just turning upfield and lowering his head. Howard killed the fifth drive by letting Tamba Hali run right through him for a sack. Howard's false start and Fitzpatrick's bad passing killed the sixth drive, which did net a field goal. Steve Johnson killed the seventh drive by getting destroyed by Mike Vrabel on a running play, which netted -1 yard, meaning Fitzpatrick's subsequent scramble came up one yard shy of the first down.

Fitzpatrick's stunningly awful interception killed the ninth drive, the final possession of regulation. He then killed the tenth drive (first in OT) by leaving the pocket for no discernible reason (and then throwing it away) and then missing Lee Evans, who would have been near first down yardage. Fitzpatrick kept his streak alive and killed the eleventh drive (missed FG) by overthrowing Spiller (would have been TD) and then missing Shawn Nelson. The final drive was killed by Howard. His defender went right through his block and forced Fitzpatrick's intentional grounding. That removed the possibility of Buffalo going for it on fourth and 10, which Gailey might have done as there was no way Buffalo was getting the ball back with about 90 seconds left in the game.

Green and Howard have each played about the same number of snaps. We don't have a lot of data for either of them, but just to give you an idea, here is a comparison of the two of them:

Individual Run Grades - Season To Date
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Grade
Green, C 7 78 10 1 74.4%
Howard, C 6 78 7 3 74.7%
Individual Pass Grades, Season To Date
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Sack Help Grade
Green, C 1 122 31 3 1 7 71.1%
Howard, C 0 135 24 4.5 2.5 3 72.0%

As you can see, there really isn't all that much difference between the two RTs from a statistical standpoint. In both the run and pass aspects of the game, they grade out very similarly. True, Howard is coming off an atrocious performance. I would still argue for starting him over Green simply because Howard might improve, while Green pretty much is what he is at this point in his career. I am struck by the lack of help the struggling RTs have been given; they're assisted on just one out of every 31 (roughly) pass plays. As I pointed out, Gailey helped Howard last week via clever blocking schemes, but in neither week has a back or tight end routinely chipped Howard's guy.

Regardless of who is starting, look for the RT to get some more assistance on passing downs in the coming weeks, particularly with Julius coming to town. Or look for Brian Brohm to get some playing time after Fitzpatrick's corpse is dug out of the turf.

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