The week that Chris Brown at BuffaloBills.com puts up an article about the improvement in Buffalo's running game, the Bills put up a meager 46 yards on the ground - and nine of those came on a scramble by Ryan Fitzpatrick. While the Bears have a good rushing defense, I was curious to see why Buffalo did such a poor job on the ground. On Buffalo's 18 run plays, would you be surprised to find that at least one lineman had a bad play on five (27.8%) of them? When you shoot yourself in the foot a quarter of the time, well, you can't expect good things to happen.
I have grumbled about the yo-yo approach Chan Gailey had adopted with various offensive linemen during the season. He stated that he intended to swap out Cordaro Howard and Mansfield Wrotto at right tackle. I immediately had visions of seemingly random substitutions - Wrotto for the third and fifth drive, for example. I almost fell over when Wrotto was indeed on the field for the third and fifth drives. But then Wrotto stayed on the field for the rest of the game. It was almost, but not quite, a case of giving one guy the first half and the other the second half. That makes more sense to me - each guy had time to settle in and get accustomed to playing alongside the starters.
As you can see below, Wrotto led (so to speak) the team with three bad run plays and two killed run plays. That's not an auspicious start to his Buffalo career, and Wrotto takes some of the blame for Buffalo's failed two point conversion attempt. Howard didn't have any bad run plays, but then he was only on the field for four of them.
|Individual Run Grades - Week 9|
|Individual Run Grades - 2010 season-to-date|
As you can see, Wrotto grades out significantly below Howard on run plays but slightly better on passing downs. Keep in mind, however, that Wrotto has only played in roughly a half, while Howard has quite a few more snaps under his belt. It will take a while before we will know if there's really any difference between Gailey's Georgia Tech scrubs.
|Run Direction Success, Week 9|
|Run Direction Success, 2010 season-to-date|
The Bears were able to defeat Buffalo's run game by loading the box on 7 of 18 rushes (38.9%), but there was more to it than that. Indeed, Chicago tended to load the box when the Bills were in third and short or on the goal line. Buffalo generally didn't ask the linemen to handle the defensive tackles without any help. Instead, the lineman responsible for a DT could more often depend on another offensive linemen to chuck his guy. That second lineman was then expected to get to the second level and engage a linebacker. This didn't work out very well; chucking a DT slowed the linemen down enough to prevent them from catching one of the linebackers. The linebackers then were free to run down the ball carrier.
Something to point out on the chart below is that, for the first time this season, Demetrius Bell received help on a significant portion of passing downs - 14 of 54 (25.9%), to be exact. Wrotto was helped on five plays, three of which were plays on which Bell was helped as well. Even then, the tackles combined for 10 bad plays and three killed plays. Julius Peppers has showed up to play this year, and Gailey took him seriously.
|Individual Pass Grades, Week 9|
|Individual Pass Grades, 2010 season-to-date|
Eric Wood didn't have a good game on passing downs. His six bad pass plays led the team, and some of them were just embarrassing. How else can you describe being juked by a 300+ pound defensive tackle? On several snaps, Wood proved to be susceptible to swim moves that forced Fitzpatrick to roll out. Andy Levitre was bull rushed on a couple of occasions, once so violently that he and the DT blew right past Fitzpatrick.
At some point, the Bills are going to have to retire the naked bootleg pass play. No one is falling for it, and even when Fitzpatrick has somewhere to go with the ball the gain is minimal. I believe that we did see an in-game adjustment. On pass 24, Fitzpatrick had nowhere to go with the ball and threw it away before being sacked. On pass 28, the tight end immediately blocked the defensive end to keep him from running after the QB. As a result Fitzpatrick had time to get the ball to Roscoe Parrish for a five-yard gain.
Gailey again sprinkled in pass plays that looked an awful lot like run plays. The Bills pulled a guard and at other times blocked as if it really were a run. Discounting the dropped passes (which would have been nice gains), the Bills netted 49 yards on five of those pass plays. Had the dropped passes been caught, we'd be looking at something like 13 yards per pass. That wrinkle really does work. The Bears' linebackers were bailing out late after reading pass, which allowed receivers to make receptions underneath the defensive backs.
You can see that the interior linemen have performed quite a bit better overall than the tackles. (I even separated out Howard's snaps at guard.) Not only is there a real drop in the scores, but the tackles (Bell, Cornell Green, Jamon Meredith, Howard, Wrotto) have almost as many bad run plays (34 to 37), more killed run plays (9 to 7), almost double the number of bad pass plays (87 to 43), about as many killed pass plays (17 to 15), and quadruple the number of sacks surrendered (8 to 2) as the interior linemen (Levitre, Geoff Hangartner, Wood, Howard, Kraig Urbik). To be fair, Bell grades out a full point (sometimes two full points) ahead of the other tackles, but that still puts him a point or more behind the interior linemen.
|Season Run Grades: Interior vs Tackles|
|Season Pass Grades: Interior vs Tackles|
Fitzpatrick was blitzed on a dozen pass plays. He responded with eight completions for 74 yards and three first downs. He had a drop, a bad pass and an INT to go along with those eight completions. The Bears got pressure even without blitzing. Having 18 individual bad pass plays (on 16 total pass plays) didn't help matters any. For the season thus far, Fitzpatrick has been blitzed 86 times. He has 460 yards (5.4 yards per blitz), 24 first downs (27.9% of blitzes), six TDs, seven drops, three sacks, three throw aways, one defensive penalty, two offensive penalties, 15 bad passes, five scrambles and four INTs against those blitzes.
Levitre and Bell combined to kill the first drive while Hangartner and Wood teamed up to ruin the second. Fitzpatrick killed the third, and the fourth ended in the promised land. Fred Jackson killed the drive to start the second half with a fumble. The sixth and seventh drives were touchdowns. Fitzpatrick killed the eighth drive with an ugly INT, the ninth with inaccurate passes and the tenth with another INT. For the season, the quarterbacks have killed 25 drives, the backs 8.5, the tight ends 1.5, the receivers 9, the tackles 15, and the interior linemen 9. Crap calls by the refs killed two (yeah, that's all), and the end of the half or game killed five more.
Don't read too much into the fact that the QBs kill a lot of drives. They handle the ball on every snap, so that means they've got more chances to screw the pooch than anyone else. As it relates to the tackle situation, Bell and Green killed five each, the departed Meredith 0.5, and Howard 4.5. The LT position has been responsible for about five killed drives, while the RT position has ruined ten others. Would it be too obvious to point out that manning a position with free agent retreads and scrubs isn't the best of ideas?