Most Bills fans remember the day Marv Levy shelled out $75 million in contracts to three offensive linemen on the opening day of free agency. It was only two months ago, after all. Since that day, the additions of (especially) Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker have given Bills fans hope that the team will finally have an offensive line that can give QB J.P. Losman time to throw. What we need to understand as Bills fans, however, is that Dockery and Walker are true specialists in one area: run blocking. Thanks to some terrific OL stats from Football Outsiders, we're able to prove just how much potential our new offensive line has.
2006 Bills O-Line Performance
Last season, the Bills ranked 26th in the league in total rushing offense. Yet at points, the Bills were effective, especially when running to the left side (behind LT Jason Peters and LG Mike Gandy). The Bills, according to Football Outsiders, were ranked 14th when running behind left tackle, and 9th when Gandy pulled on pitches and sweeps to left end. Yet the team ranked 30th in runs between the guards (up the middle) and 27th on runs to right tackle and right end. That shows just how effective a duo Peters and Gandy were last season. Their success was a huge reason why 84% of the team's runs were either up the middle or to the left side.
What Dockery Brings
Believe it when I say that the addition of Dockery could elevate the Bills to the top of the league on runs to the left side. While with the Redskins last season, Dockery was a huge part of that team's success on runs to the left and up the middle. Washington ranked 7th on runs up the middle and 5th on runs to left tackle. Teaming Dockery with Peters gives the Bills a dynamic run-blocking duo on the left side that could develop into one of the elite tandems in the game.
The best part is that Dockery won't be a liability in the passing game. Washington ranked third in the league last season, surrendering just 19 sacks; Dockery was obviously part of the success there. Compare that to Buffalo's 26th rank of 47 sacks, and it's a safe bet that the Dockery addition will only help the team in pass protection.
What Walker Brings
Surprise! Walker's prowess at run blocking could actually mean that the Bills will spend more than 16% of the time running to that side of the line. Many fans like to point out that Walker was a bad signing due to Oakland's terrible performance offensively last season; that isn't necessarily an indicator of Walker's performance, however. In fact, on runs to right tackle (where Walker started last season), Oakland ranked 9th in the NFL. Too bad the team only ran to his side 29% of the time. By no means is Waker perfect - the Raiders' 29th-ranked right end unit proves that Walker isn't exactly the most mobile of blockers when out in space. But he was probably the strongest blocker on the Raiders' unit, and he has the potential to play very well here as well.
Walker could turn out to be a liability in pass protection. Oakland ranked dead last in the NFL surrendering a whopping 72 sacks last season. Some of that can probably be attributed to the Raiders' atrocious quarterback play, but the O-Line didn't always hold up their end of the bargain either. It will be interesting to see how Walker performs protecting Losman's non-blind side throughout training camp and the pre-season.
There are points where it seems as if Bills fans are taking for granted that our offensive line will be better. That's just not true - we still don't have continuity up front, and there is still that all-important "jelling" period that needs to occur so that the line learns to play as a unit. But for the first time in a long time, we have players up front who have proven that they can succeed at the NFL level. That promise has Bills fans thrilled, including yours truly. I'm not expecting the second coming of the Hogs, but I am expecting vast improvement. Especially in the running game.