Bills vs. Steelers: Notes From The O-Line, Week 12

ORCHARD PARK NY - NOVEMBER 28: Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Buffalo Bills throws against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Ralph Wilson Stadium at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 28 2010 in Orchard Park New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

I normally put the drive killers at the end of my ramblings, but this week that section merits prominence. Buffalo Bills wide receivers Lee Evans and Steve Johnson each killed drives with costly drops. That's putting it mildly.

The drops started out early, as Johnson's drop of the second throw of the game (and a pair of inaccurate passes by Ryan Fitzpatrick) doomed the first drive. Evans killed the fourth drive with a fumble in the red zone, costing Buffalo at least three points. Johnson killed the eighth drive by letting a ball bounce off his hands and into the arms of Troy Polamalu. Every first pass of overtime was a drop by Evans, which would have put the Bills in business at the 10-yard line. (I'll take Rian Lindell for the win at that range, thank you.) Buffalo's final drive was killed when Johnson dropped one of the easiest reception opportunities he has seen this season - no defender was within five yards of him.

One of the comments after one of Johnson's drops was along the lines of, "Time to get serious." Hopefully Johnson takes the sentiment to heart. His stat line for the game was 7 receptions for 68 yards. It should have been 12 receptions for 145 yards and 1 TD. If you looked at my notes from last week at Cincinnati, you know that those numbers would have been enough for Johnson to surpass T.O.'s 2009 numbers for receptions, receptions for 25+ yards, total yards and touchdowns. In just 11 games.

Moving on.

In the spirit of the backwards nature of my post, I had speculated that the blitz-happy Pittsburgh Steelers would go after Fitzpatrick. Imagine my surprise when the numbers didn't bear that out. The Steelers blitzed on only 17 of 50 (34%) pass plays. Fitzpatrick had 94 yards, four first downs and a TD (as well as a sack, an INT, two bad passes, two dropped passes and two passes batted down at the line). Oh, and if you take out the 65-yard, very-strangely-designed screen to Jackson, the numbers are 16 passes for 29 yards and three first downs. Putrid.

I was surprised at how little help the OTs got during the game. More often, the line slid to the left or right and one or two backs were expected to stuff guys like James Harrison. By and large, it worked, as the Steelers recorded just one sack (Andy Levitre's fault, though Geoff Hangartner didn't exactly cover himself with glory on the play either), and Fitzpatrick generally had enough time to find a receiver. I was pretty impressed with how well Mansfield Wrotto did with cutting defenders, but was not quite as impressed with his multiple uncalled holds. I believe that Wrotto would have been called for one of them if the play hadn't led to a punting situation.

Individual Pass Grades, Week 12
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Sack Help Grade
Bell, D. 0 46 4 0 0 0 73.4%
Levitre, A. 1 44 5 1 1 0 73.4%
Hangartner, G. 1 47 2 0 0 0 74.6%
Urbik, K. 2 44 4 2 0 0 74.2%
Wrotto, M. 4 41 5 0 0 0 74.6%
Individual Pass Grades, Season To Date
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Sack Help Grade
Bell, D. 6 387 34 9.5 3.5 34 73.7%
Levitre, A. 9 388 23 7 1 0 74.3%
Hangartner, G. 8 425 15 5 2 0 74.7%
Urbik, K. 2 72 7 2 0 0 73.8%
Wrotto, M. 5 129 14 4 1 8 73.8%

The Bills didn't run the ball particularly well against the best rushing defense in the league. However, the Bills ran it well enough to make the Steelers worry about it. In fact, on that first pass of overtime (which would have given Buffalo the ball at the 10 if Evans hadn't dropped it), Levitre pulled and the Steelers linebackers surged forward to stop the expected run. With all that being said, the Bills did run the ball where they needed to - up the middle - about half the time. Throw in the B gap runs and 10 of the 16 runs were between the tackles.

Run Direction Success, Week 12
Gap Att Yds YPA
Left C 3 8 2.7
Left B 1 5 5.0
A 7 25 3.6
Right B 2 16 8.0
Right C 3 17 5.7
Run Direction Success, 2010 season-to-date
Gap Att Yds YPA
Left C 59 281 4.8
Left B 20 88 4.4
A 65 217 3.3
Right B 28 97 3.5
Right C 71 326 4.6

Levitre was a big reason why the Bills were able to run up the middle with a degree of consistency. He treated Nick Eason like a little girl on roller skates for much of the afternoon. His run grade is, I believe, the highest I've ever seen for a Bills lineman. Kraig Urbik had a mistake-free day on run plays. Hangartner had as many bad run plays as the rest of the linemen, with two. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Individual Run Grades - Week 12
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Grade
Bell, D. 0 15 1 0 73.8%
Levitre, A. 8 8 0 0 85.0%
Hangartner, G. 2 12 2 0 75.0%
Urbik, K. 2 14 0 0 77.5%
Wrotto, M. 0 15 0 0 74.6%
Individual Run Grades - Season To Date
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Grade
Bell, D. 16 200 18 3 74.8%
Levitre, A. 53 149 15 4 78.5%
Hangartner, G. 21 204 16 2 75.4%
Urbik, K. 4 24 3 1 75.7%
Wrotto, M. 7 66 11 5 74.1%

The line did its part to get a win over an upper-echelon opponent. I'd argue that the defense, for all the yards surrendered, did well enough to win as well in holding the Steelers to 16 points in regulation. Fitzpatrick put the ball where it needed to be for enough of the game. This week it was the receiving corps that let Bills fans down.

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