Notes From The Buffalo Bills' O-Line: First Quarter Grades

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Buffalo Bills looks to pass against the New England Patriots at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo won 34-31. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

The 3-1 Buffalo Bills have completed one quarter of their 2011 regular season schedule. It's time to take a look at how the offensive line has performed during that 3-1 start.

Instead of keeping a running total of how each lineman is doing this season, it seemed reasonable to switch to a separate quarterly report. Not much changed from game to game in terms of grades as the season wore on. Only a brilliant or terrible performance was capable of moving a grade a full percentage point. (On a lazy note, it means that only half the number of charts have to be filled out each week.) The quarterly grades are after the jump.

Run Direction Success, Through Week 4
Gap Att Yds YPA
Left C 14 105 7.5
Left B 12 40 3.3
A 28 155 5.5
Right B 14 73 5.2
Right C 9 37 4.1

From week to week, the yards per gap can vary wildly. Against the Chiefs, for example, the Bills managed a paltry 1.0 yard per carry in the right C gap. The next week, against the Raiders, the Bills put up an astonishing 12.0 yards per carry in the left B gap. With a bigger picture of time to examine, the numbers stabilize to a degree. Through one quarter of a season, the Bills have averaged better than 4.0 yards per carry through all but the left B gap. Even there, the Bills are averaging a reasonable 3.3 yards per carry. In other words, the running game seems to be working for Buffalo. Quite a few of us likely wish the Bills would rely on it more heavily, particularly when the team is significantly ahead on the scoreboard.

I track who I believe to be responsible for killed drives and include that information in the weekly write-ups. A couple of things jump out when the first quarter of the season is considered as a whole. First, Donild Jones needs to stop killing drives; he's killed drives in every game, and that's a problem for a guy who doesn't touch the ball every snap. By way of comparison, the other receivers haven't killed as many drives combined as Jones has alone. Here are the drive killers (happy enders, in the case of the touchdowns):

Buffalo Bills - Killed Drives
Player/Situation # Drives
Ryan Fitzpatrick 6.5
Donald Jones 5
Eric Wood 2.5
Erik Pears 2
David Nelson 2
Stevie Johnson 1.5
Demetrius Bell 1
Brad Smith 1

I also keep track of how often Ryan Fitzpatrick is blitzed and what happens on those plays. Taken as a whole, he has been blitzed 37 times. He has completed 25-of-37 (67.6%) for 353 yards (9.5 yards per blitz), with 16 first downs, one touchdown, three dropped passes, one throw away, one defensive penalty, three bad passes and one interception. In short, he's done pretty well against pressure. Lighting up the Raiders like a pinball machine probably has something to do with the lack of blitzing by the Patriots and Bengals.

Individual Run Grades - Through Week 4
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Grade
Bell, D. 11 60 5 0 76.6%
Levitre, A. 28 45 4 1 81.2%
Wood, E. 22 45 10 4 78.1%
Rinehart, C. 12 33 6 2 77.4%
Urbik, K. 2 20 5 0 72.8%
Pears, E. 8 64 5 0 75.8%

What jumps out in this chart is the effectiveness of the interior linemen. The tackles (Chris Hairston not included, as he played exactly one snap in the Cincy game - and DirecTV didn't show the second half of the Chiefs game in my part of the world) have been good enough. Neither lt Demetrius Bell nor Erik Pears has been particularly dominant, but neither has killed any plays, either.

Individual Pass Grades, Through Week 4
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Sack Help Grade
Bell, D. 4 129 16 3 2 6 73.4%
Levitre, A. 8 140 5 0 0 0 75.4%
Wood, E 2 148 3 1 0 0 74.9%
Rinehart, C. 1 119 2 1 0 0 74.8%
Urbik, K. 2 28 1 0 0 0 75.7%
Pears, E. 6 136 11 2 0 7 74.4%

The line has done a pretty good job of giving Fitzpatrick time to get the ball off. There have certainly been mental and physical lapses, as shown by the number of bad plays. Through a combination of Fitzpatrick's skill at moving around in the pocket, the speed of the short passing game and more than a little luck, those poor plays haven't resulted in many killed plays - and only a pair of sacks. Note that the tackles each have more bad plays than all other linemen combined. Much of that is a function of the lonely nature of being a tackle in Gailey's offense. The Bills don't have the running back or tight end help the tackles often, and I've noted that the blocking scheme often slants protection one way, leaving one of the tackles (generally Bell) on an island with a defensive end or linebacker. Clearly, Gailey has more faith in his tackles than he indicated this summer.

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