Wow that was ugly. Oh, and the Bills stunk, too. I keep track of bad calls as they affect the offense and even have ‘crap calls' as one of my categories for drive killers. When referees make a bunch of bad calls it's easy for fans to find solace if they feel their team was robbed. In this case, the Buffalo Bills were going to lose whether they were victimized by the zebras or not. And, as it turns out, the refs made terrible calls and non-calls against both teams throughout the game.
Case in point is pass 26. In case you don't keep track in the nerdishly obsessive way that I do, it was Steve Johnson's 28 yard catch and run right before Nelson's twelve-yard touchdown reception. On the play, Mansfield Wrotto first held, then had illegal hands to the face and I believe topped it all off with a facemask. No flag. On the back end of the play, Johnson was hit well out of bounds-after taking his third step out of bounds-which caused him to slam into some poor cameraman. The NFL needs to do something about the refs. It's absurd for a billion dollar industry to allow half a dozen part time employees to hold such sway.
Now that my ref-rant is out of the way, the line notes are after the jump:
Compounding the viewing pleasure was the injury situation for Buffalo's offensive line and by the way it sounds like both Geoff Hangartner and Kraig Urbik could be done for a while if not the season based on this quote from Chan Gailey on buffalobills.com:
"Not good," said Gailey when asked about the severity of their injuries. "(We’ve) probably lost both of them."
Geoff Hangartner left after the third series and didn't return. Kraig Urbik, who was already playing in place of the injured Eric Wood, slid over to center and Cordaro Howard came in to play right guard. Urbik was himself hurt on the tenth drive. Andy Levitre moved over to center, where he simply never looked comfortable. In fact, he appeared to be really concerned about protecting his legs which made for some awkward looking (though ultimately successful) blocks. Ed Wang, who for some inexplicable reason seems to be something of a fan favorite, came in at left guard. It really wasn't a recipe for success against a bad defensive line, let alone one of the better ones in the NFL.
The Bills linemen had bad plays on 7 of 22 total run plays, one of which was a killed play. Levitre was the best of the bunch but that's really not saying a great deal in this case. I've got the numbers broken down by players but keep in mind that Urbik and Levitre took snaps at both guard and center. Bell and Wrotto played in position for the entire game. The pass protection grades will follow later but it's worth pointing out that Bell has finally crested 75% on run plays for the season.
|Individual Run Grades - Week 13|
|Individual Run Grades - 2010 season-to-date|
The Bills ran away from the Williams' Wall with 14 of 22 runs going outside of the tackles. The Vikings loaded the box just once, run 20, when Buffalo was down on the goal line and promptly fumbled. (Sidebar: It was interesting to me that both times there was a problem with the snap the Bills were going to run the ball. Kudos to Urbik and Levitre for generally getting the ball into the QB's hands.)
|Run Direction Success, Week 13|
|Run Direction Success, 2010 season-to-date|
The Bills linemen had bad plays on 12 different (of 27 total) pass plays. It's no wonder that Ryan Fitzpatrick felt like a heavy bag with eyes. He was seemingly getting walloped every time he dropped back. Many noted during the game that the tackles were having bad days. Wrotto had more bad plays but Bell had more killed plays. Between the two of them, the tackles killed 5 of 27 (18.5%) pass plays. Throw in the killed play Levitre had and the offensive line killed 22% of pass plays. It's tempting to blame the injuries and resulting disruption in communication for the shoddy pass protection but Minnesota blitzed only six times and generally just let their front four take it straight to the offensive linemen.
|Individual Pass Grades, Week 13|
|Individual Pass Grades, 2010 season-to-date|
Don't get too excited by Wang's 79%; it was a very small number of snaps. Also, Howard's grade for the season is based largely on his play at OT while he played RG in this game. I wouldn't be surprised to see Wang get the nod over Howard at RG again this week, with Wood sliding over to center. It's not that Wang earned a starting nod so much as it's an opportunity to get some film on him going into the offseason.
Fitzpatrick killed the first drive with a bad pass and then a rollout for no discernable reason, which limited his passing options. Steve Johnson killed the second drive with an untimely drop. Bell killed the third drive by allowing the DE to drill Fitz as he threw. Fitz and Wrotto killed the fourth drive. Wrotto allowed pressure which made it difficult for Fitz to step into the throw which Fitz threw into a sea of purple jerseys. Wrotto and Bell killed the last drive of the first half. Wrotto's whiff on Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway on run 9 prevented a first down conversion while Bell had a false start and then let Jared Allen get pressure on Fitz on third down. Levitre killed the sixth drive by missing a block on Greenway in space on a screen that would have gotten the yardage needed otherwise. McIntyre's fumble killed drive 7. Drive eight was killed by the refs; Letroy Guion was offsides on third down and the DB hit Evans before the ball arrived and neither penalty was called. Bell killed the ninth drive by letting Allen get past him and slap the ball out of Fitz's hands. The fumbled snap killed the tenth drive, which I'm pinning on Fitz. The ball seemed to be where it needed to be and Fitz just didn't make sure he had it before trying to give it to Jackson. Also, a QB has to be aware of snap issues when he's putting his hands under the third different butt that afternoon. (Jackson wouldn't have scored anyway given the Purple surge.) Drive eleven ended in the promised land while the last drive was ended by the, um, end.
If you're keeping track, the line killed four and a half drives. Compare that to last week when the line was responsible for half of a killed drive and it's beyond obvious to say that the line had a bad day. Looking back, the only games where the line was nearly as bad in terms of killed drives were Miami (4) and Kansas City (4.5--of which 4 were Howard's). Three games where the line screwed the pooch and three losses.
As I noted above, the Vikings didn't blitz much and really didn't need to. Fitz was getting hit all day. He responded to 6 blitzes with 1 completion for 6 yards (8 yards minus 2 yards on a sack) and one first down. Two of his passes were dropped and one was a crap pass interference non-call.