ORCHARD PARK NY - DECEMBER 12: Fred Jackson #22 of the Buffalo Bills runs against the Cleveland Browns at Ralph Wilson Stadium on December 12 2010 in Orchard Park New York. Buffalo won 13-6. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
We've been kicking around the pros and cons of moving Eric Wood to center or keeping him at guard ever since he was drafted. Some, like me, were really pleased with how well he was doing at guard. I was also pretty happy with Geoff Hangartner at center, if for no reason than he wasn't Melvin Fowler or Duke Preston. Before I gave up tracking line play in the middle of last year, Hangartner's play was trending slowly downward. I opined at the time that Buffalo might shift Wood and find another guard if Hangartner's play continued to deteriorate. It didn't, and in 2010, Hangartner graded out at 75.4 on run plays and 74.7 on passing downs (with two sacks allowed) before he was injured. With Hangartner playing at a reasonable - if not outstanding - level, it made a great deal of sense to me to leave the interior as is and focus on the tackles.
What a difference one game can make. Bear in mind that this was just one game. 40 runs and 27 passes don't make for a representative sample. Keep repeating that to yourself and read on.
I was worried that Wood's pulling ability would be squandered in the pivot. It is true that Wood stayed pretty much in the middle of the line throughout the game, which is probably why they call it the center position. He didn't pull and crush linebackers in space. While that's always fun to watch, it was even more fun to watch Wood work against the huge defensive tackles employed by the Cleveland Browns. Wood was left man-on-man for 11 of 40 run plays with the NT, generally Ahtyba Rubin. On the majority of the rest of the runs, he had help from either guard, usually a chip after which Wood had to handle the NT alone.
You'll notice that Wood had just three bad plays. The first was an uncalled hold on a three-yard run by Fred Jackson. The second was on Ryan Fitzpatrick's QB draw down near the goal line; Wood blocked a defender that Andy Levitre was blocking instead of picking up T.J. Ward, who helped keep Fitzpatrick out of the end zone. The last was a two-yard Jackson run in which Rubin finally got around Wood's block to get in on the tackle.
Those three bad runs were more than offset by 12 good run plays. On those 12 plays, he flattened defenders on two of them and drove Rubin an average of 3.1 yards downfield. Six of those were A gap runs, on which Buffalo averaged 4.0 yards per carry. Wood took it to Cleveland throughout the day. I'm hoping that Hangartner can't make it back this season, because I'd love to see how Wood does against the divisional foes - at least one of whom has a good run defense. If he builds on this promising beginning in these last three games, it's time to add right guard to the need-to-fill list.
|Individual Run Grades - Week 14|
|Individual Run Grades - 2010 season-to-date|
On the subject of right guards, the Cordaro Howard and Chad Rinehart each series. It drives me nuts, as it doesn't allow for any sort of consistency. Rinehart's performance in particular seemed to validate my concerns. Three of his four good plays came towards the end of the game, after he'd had some time to acclimate himself to his teammates. I can't help but wonder if he would have looked even better if he'd instead been allowed to settle in for an entire half. Howard was just kind of there, with just one bad run play to mar an otherwise quiet afternoon. Levitre, on the other hand, really seemed to relish being next to Wood - this was his second double digit good run play day, and the most good run plays (14) of any Buffalo lineman this season. Mansfield Wrotto was on the other end of the spectrum. He spent a chunk of the day lined up against Shaun Rogers but most often saw Kenyon Coleman... and saw Coleman get inside of his block to disrupt or chase the play.rotated
|Run Direction Success, Week 14|
|Run Direction Success, 2010 season-to-date|
As Der Jager noted, the Bills found success running up the middle. 17 of the 40 runs were inside the tackles, and many of the runs that went outside of the tackles were just outside - not sideline affairs. Buffalo averaged 4.2 yards per attempt between the tackles, which would mean that the Bills could run the ball between the tackles three times and expect to pick up a first down. Six of those 17 runs between the tackles were against eight-man fronts. It really was an imposition of will on the Browns.
|Individual Pass Grades, Week 14|
|Individual Pass Grades, 2010 season-to-date|
There's not a great deal to say about the pass blocking stats. By and large, Fitzpatrick had time to get the ball out of his hands despite the fact that each of the bad pass plays by linemen occurred on separate plays. Demetrius Bell pulled the hat trick, twice. He had two bad plays, each of which were killed plays, and each of which were drive killing sacks. On the plus side, he increased his total good run plays for the season by almost 50% (19 to 29).
Bell killed the first drive by allowing a sack/fumble. Fitzpatrick tried to throw an INT on the second drive and put the ball a shade too far in front of Steve Johnson on fourth down. Bell killed the fourth drive by allowing another sack. Fitzpatrick killed the fifth drive by putting the ball too far in front of Donald Jones, and by not throwing the ball to Naaman Roosevelt, who likely would have gotten the first down. Wrotto doomed the sixth drive by allowing Matt Roth to shoot around him and force a quick throw. Levitre and Wood killed the seventh drive; Levitre was flagged for being too far downfield and Wood looked simply lost and didn't block Chris Gocong, who broke up the screen pass to Jackson. I'm hanging the eighth drive on Chan Gailey; the Bills had just blown the Browns into the endzone from the two and had fourth down at the 1. Gailey went with the sure points (FG) instead of for the throat. Jackson killed the ninth drive with a drop, and the tenth drive ended the game.
The Browns blitzed Fitzpatrick 14 times. He responded with 122 yards and eight first downs. He had two bad passes, one batted down, a sack/fumble and a pair of scrambles. The Browns stacked the box on almost half (18) of the 40 called run plays. Even with a fair amount of pressure, the Bills were able to impose their will, and the offensive line deserves credit for much of that success.