Buffalo Bills Offensive Line Review: Left Guard

TORONTO - AUGUST 19: Jamon Meredith # 69 Lee Evens #83 and Andy Levitre #67 of the Buffalo Bills celebrate a first half touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts during game action August 19 2010 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto Ontario Canada. (Photo by Brad White/Getty Images)

Not long after the Buffalo Bills completed the 2009 NFL Draft, we heard rumblings that the Bills had Andy Levitre as their highest rated interior offensive lineman. Bear in mind, the Bills selected Eric Wood in the first round of the same draft, and that Alex Mack was taken by Cleveland 30 picks before Levitre came off the board. (Max Unger was the only other interior lineman taken before him, at 49.) Buffalo thus selected the second and fourth interior linemen in the draft, and got good value in each case - particularly when considering the lack of value the Bills have gotten with all too many picks this millennium.

A few Rumblers have questioned why some, like me, think so highly of Levitre. He certainly has his down moments. He had 56 bad plays in 2010, of which 17.5 were killed plays, and he also gave up 1.5 sacks. Almost one in three of his bad plays results in a killed play. Translation: when he screws up, he screws up badly, and his mistakes have doomed about 1.96% of Buffalo's offensive snaps. By way of comparison, the centers killed 0.94% of plays, right guards killed 1.6%, right tackles 2.62%, and Demetrius Bell killed 2.56%. Levitre was more likely to kill a play than the other interior positions, but not as likely as either Bell or the scrubfest at right tackle.

(Note: The above percentages don't mean that the line killed 9.68% of Buffalo's total offensive snaps - which is good, because I think I might have harmed myself it that were the case. When you take the total number of killed plays above - 89 - and divide it by the total number of snaps taken by the positions/players above - 4,589 - you get a cumulative percentage of 1.94%, meaning that the line effectively killed about 2% of Buffalo's total snaps.)

That's the bad news - and clearly, Levitre has work to do to reach his potential. More on that after the jump.

It's a good bet that many of you noticed during the games that the Bills relied heavily on guards to pull on running plays. Some noticed that the Bills began to pull a guard on passing downs as well. Chan Gailey broke out this wrinkle in Baltimore, and it confused them thoroughly. It was so effective in generating extra time for Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw - while simultaneously opening holes behind the linebackers - that the Bills were able to light up the scoreboard with relative ease. Essentially, the linebackers saw the pulling guard and read ‘run'; this stopped their pass rush in its tracks in order to tackle a running back who didn't have the ball. Meanwhile, the receivers blew right past the linebackers and into open territory. Gailey kept going back to this wrinkle, but was careful not to overuse it. Each time it gave Fitzpatrick both time and places to throw - and each time it was Levitre who was asked to pull and set up to pass protect well outside of the right tackle. Because these plays weren't roll-outs, it wasn't as if the Bills couldn't have had the right guard pull and set up to pass protect outside of the left tackle; there was no worry about Fitzpatrick moving to his left and throwing versus moving to his right, since he really wasn't moving much.

Clearly, Gailey believed that Levitre possessed the speed (to get to the other side of the formation quickly), intelligence (to know which defender to block - there was often a tight end in the area who blocked a different defender or went out into a pass pattern), and physical stoutness (block a defender who often had a head of steam) to get the job done. This isn't to suggest that Wood couldn't have executed the same assignment, but rather to point out that Gailey trusted Levitre in space more.

In the charts below, you'll notice that I didn't factor in the snaps that others took at left guard: in Green Bay (Levitre injured) or sort out the snaps he took at center in Minnesota.

Andy Levitre Run Grades - 2010 Season
Week Player(s) Good Decent Bad Killed Grade
1 (MIA) A. Levitre 2 11 1 0 76.4
2 (@GB) A. Levitre 1 0 2 1 68.3
3 (@NE) A. Levitre 6 15 1 0 79.6
4 (NYJ) A. Levitre 5 4 2 0 80.5
5 (JAC) A. Levitre 4 14 2 0 77.0
7 (@BAL) A. Levitre 10 20 2 1 80.0
8 (@KC) A. Levitre 3 24 0 0 77.2
9 (CHI) A. Levitre 4 13 1 1 78.3
10 (DET) A. Levitre 6 26 1 0 78.0
11 (@CIN) A. Levitre 4 14 3 1 76.0
12 (PIT) A. Levitre 8 8 0 0 85.0
13 (@MIN) A. Levitre 4 18 0 0 78.6
14 (CLE) A. Levitre 14 23 3 0 80.5
15 (@MIA) A. Levitre 5 18 3 1 76.5
16 (NE) A. Levitre 5 7 0 0 83.3
17 (@NYJ) A. Levitre 4 12 2 2 77.2
Totals 85 227 23 7 78.7

You can see that on running plays, Levitre graded out really well. Just over a quarter (25.4%) of his run plays were ‘good' while he registered 'bad' just 6.9% of the time. The offense can happily live with a good:bad ratio of closing in on 4:1. Levitre does have room to improve. Seven of his 23 bad plays were killed plays, and each represents an opportunity to progress. Attaining a good:bad ratio of, say, 10:1 would be a way to improve on the positive end of the spectrum, though it's tough to imagine that sort of ratio without Levitre mounting a jagged horn on his helmet.

Andy Levitre Pass Grades - 2010 Season
Week Player(s) Good Decent Bad Killed Sack Help Grade
1 (MIA) A. Levitre 1 35 4 2 0 0 73.5
2 (@GB) A. Levitre 0 1 0 0 0 0 75.0
3 (@NE) A. Levitre 1 31 0 0 0 0 75.6
4 (NYJ) A. Levitre 1 34 1 1 0 0 75.0
5 (JAC) A. Levitre 1 38 0 0 0 0 75.5
7 (@BAL) A. Levitre 1 41 5 2 0 0 73.3
8 (@KC) A. Levitre 1 55 3 0 0 0 74.3
9 (CHI) A. Levitre 1 53 0 0 0 0 75.4
10 (DET) A. Levitre 0 23 2 0 0 0 73.4
11 (@CIN) A. Levitre 1 33 3 1 0 0 73.9
12 (PIT) A. Levitre 1 44 5 1 1 0 73.4
13 (@MIN) A. Levitre 0 23 4 1 0 0 72.0
14 (CLE) A. Levitre 0 26 2 0.5 0 0 73.6
15 (@MIA) A. Levitre 2 27 3 1 0.5 0 74.4
16 (NE) A. Levitre 0 21 0 0 0 0 75.0
17 (@NYJ) A. Levitre 0 28 1 1 0 0 74.3
Totals 11 513 33 10.5 1.5 0 74.2

The bad and killed pass plays, like those in the run game, also leave room for improvement. Levitre can be walked back to the quarterback. At other times, he allows defenders to simply blow right past him. He sometimes loses position and compensates by holding. Most often (96.8% of the time), though, Levitre does his job.

Many teams spend a long time trying to find a star left tackle and build the line around that guy. Buffalo has gone about it differently. Acquiring Levitre and Wood almost compelled the Bills to develop the line from the inside out. They are both smart, tough linemen who are both a lot of fun to watch - which is genuinely appreciated when watching (and re-watching several times) over 4,600 individual plays by the offensive line in a painful season.

Now if the team can take care of those tackle positions...

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