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Notes from the Bills' O-Line: at Pittsburgh Steelers

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I followed the Buffalo Bills' 17-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers live on NFL.com and got onto a streaming feed fairly early in the game. Like most of you, I was completely dismayed by the offense in general, and Trent Edwards in particular. The game was just rebroadcast on NFL Network and I've made it through the drives in which the starters played. I was actually surprised by some of the things I learned going through the game, and will point them out as I go.

Pass 1 Parrish for 4 yards

Walker handled a bull rush by 92 with relative ease.

Levitre hand fought with 99.

Hang and Wood doubled 91.

Butler was pushed back uncomfortably close to Edwards by 54.

This play was notable in that no Steeler turned his head away from the line of scrimmage (LOS). They weren't at all worried about anything over about 15 yards. It would seem that they have heard of the ‘Checkwards' part of Edwards new nickname.

 

Run 1 Lynch 1 yard through the right C gap

Walker stood up 92 and neither man got any push.

Levitre stepped forward to seal 99 off from the intended rush lane and then went a bit further and hit 91, who was by that point all the way across the formation though not of his own will.

Hang got an initial pop on 99, tried to pull to lead the play and fell down.

Wood and Butler blew 91 5 yards off the LOS at which point Wood peeled off to hit 51 and drive him 5 more yards.

Schouman was driven into the running lane that Lynch intended to use by 56.

Even with Hang falling down, Lynch would have had more room to run in what certainly looked like the intended run lane-off to the left instead of off to the right where he chose to go.

Pass 2 INC to Parrish

Walker and 92 had what appeared to be a mutual takedown, which could well have drawn a flag for Walker but didn't.

Levitre kept 99 on an outside circle and away from the QB.

Hang and Wood doubled 91 and kept him from elevating.

Lynch chipped 54 for Butler and Butler held his own for the rest of the play.

26 was sitting on the route and knocked the ball down. I give Edwards credit, yes credit, for trying to jam the ball into Parrish for a first down. He could have dumped it to Lynch for a minimal gain but 94 was in the area so there was virtually no chance for a first down. The throw to Parrish was almost impossible to make but it was the best of the available options.

Blitz: 0

Stacked drive: 0

Killed by: Edwards' inability to jam the ball into a tiny, tiny window.

Drive 2

Run 2 Lynch 2 yard through the left B gap

Walker was pushed back by 99, who disengaged and then made the tackle.

Levitre went to the 2nd level and helped Hang put 98 down.

Hang got a 3 yard drive on 98!!!!!! (Yes, it feels great to type that a Bills center got any drive at all on a DT.)

Wood went to the 2nd level and danced with 94.

Butler bulldogged 91 to the ground and it looked like good technique, not a hold.

Schouman did a terrific job on 92 while Nelson came all the way across the formation to stand around and chat with 56 after it was all over but the shouting.

Run 3 Lynch 16 yards through the right C gap

Walker was immediately beaten to the inside by 99.

Levitre went to the 2nd level and locked up 94 but let him turn. With Levitre's hands on 94's waist from behind it looked like a hold.

Hang got some push on 98, not much but he wasn't driven back a la Fowler/Preston.

Wood tried to help Hang with 98 and Butler with 91 but didn't do much for either cause.

Butler turned 91 inside giving Lynch the outside lane. He also inadvertently caught 99 up in the wash, covering Walker's mistake.

Nelson did a decent job on 92, sticking with him and slowing him down as he tried to chase the play.

Schouman did a very good job on 56, not letting him turn or disengage.

Pass 3 Schouman for 6 yards

Walker stoned 99.

Levitre and Hang doubled 98

Wood was bull rushed by 91, almost to Edwards.

Butler gave up a little ground to 56 and then hand fought with him.

Reed was open near the sideline for a 6 yard pickup as well though I like that Edwards stuck with his initial read for the quick gain to Schouman.

Run 4 Lynch for no gain through the left B gap against and 8 man front

Walker got a slight push on 99 and turned him away from the running lane.

Levitre went to the 2nd level and completely missed 51.

Hang got a 2 yard push on 98. (Woo Hoo!!!)

Wood went to the 2nd level and was promptly destroyed by 94.

Butler put 91 down, again using what appeared to be good technique and not a hold.

Nelson did an okay job on 56 all the way across the formation.

Schouman did a so-so job on 92, keeping him out of the play but also getting flattened in the process.

Pass 4 INC to Parrish

Walker simply dominated 92.

Levitre and Hang doubled 99. Levitre gave 92 an unneeded shove.

Wood forced 91 to circle all the way around Butler and 54, keeping him out of the play.

Butler was bull rushed to Edwards by 54, causing Edwards' errant throw and killing the drive.

Blitz: 0

Stacked box: 1

Drive killed by: Butler, or more accurately the back of his shoulder and helmet

Drive 3

Pass 5 INT returned for touchdown

Walker had a grievous hold and takedown on 92, so even if the play had been an INC or positive one for Buffalo, Walker still would have killed it.

Levitre and Hang doubled 99.

Wood stuffed a bull rush by 98.

Butler stopped 56 cold.

When I watched it on the stream Saturday night, I wasn't sure but it looked like Reed slowed down about halfway across the field. On TV it's clear that he did. He didn't stop for a hole in a zone, he simply slowed down. That makes me suspect that Edwards thought Reed was going to continue full steam ahead all the way across the formation. I'm pinning this one on Reed.

Blitz: 0

Stacked box: 0

Drive killed by: Reed slowing down his route, which lead to the INT.

Drive 4

Run 5 Rhodes for 1 yard through the left C gap against an 8 man front

Walker got some push on 99 before Walker's legs were cut out from under him.

Levitre went to the 2nd level and popped 51 but didn't stay with him, though it did keep 51 out of the play.

Hang was driven back by 98 (D'oh!), who made the tackle.

Wood went to the 2nd level and dogged 94, keeping him 10 yards from the play.

91 jumped inside of Butler but Butler stuck with him and eventually got him down.

Nelson held his ground against 92 at the point of attack (POA).

Schouman kept 43 out of the play but then 43 knew his help wasn't needed.

Pass 6 Rhodes for 1 yard

Walker and Levitre doubled 99 when 92 dropped into zone coverage. When 99 tried to elevate Walker unceremoniously threw him down.

Hang, Wood and Butler did a terrific job of stopping 98, 91 and 56 cold as they tried twisting and stunting. It was great job of non-verbal communication.

Edwards had more time to throw but was clearly on a 3 second mental clock.

Pass 7 INC to Reed

Walker stuffed 99 when 92 stunted to the inside.

Levitre and Hang picked up 92 when he tried to stunt inside.

Wood stopped 91.

Butler didn't let 56 get anywhere near Edwards.

There really didn't seem to be any reason for such a poorly thrown ball by Edwards.

Blitz: 0

Stacked box: 1

Drive killed by: Edwards' terrible throw.

Drive 5

Run 6 Rhodes for 3 yards through the A gap (defense offsides)

Walker and Levitre blew 99 8 yards off the LOS and took 94 along for the ride when he got caught up in the wash.

Hang turned 98 and pushed him past the hole.

Wood chipped 98 then hit 51 as he tried to fill.

Butler kept 56 on the outside and away from the play.

Schouman couldn't sustain his block on 92, who got inside of him to make the tackle.

Run 7 Parrish 7 yards through the left C-gap (reverse)

Walker sealed 51 inside.

Levitre and Hang doubled 99 and pushed him to the right.

Wood stood ground versus 92 and kept blocking him as the play flowed back to the left.

Butler let 56 go upfield and went to find someone else to hit.

The play depended entirely on 92 not staying home. He fell for Edwards' excellent play fake and went to tackle Rhodes only to find out too late that Rhodes wasn't the ball carrier.

Run 8 Rhodes 2 yards through the right B gap

Walker made a miserable attempt at cutting 92, who wasn't even slowed down.

Levitre pulled to lead the play. He hit 94 in the hole but 94 still made the tackle.

Hang got a 2 yard push on 99. (Woo Hoo!!!!)

Wood got a slow, grinding 1 yard push on 98.

Butler chipped 98 and then locked onto 51 and kept him out of the play.

Schouman was outwrestled by 56 at the POA.

Pass 8 16 yards to Rhodes

Walker was close to a hold on 92; it could have drawn a flag but shouldn't have.

Levitre and Hang and Wood shut down 91 and 99 as they twisted; again, good teamwork.

Butler almost let 56 get around him but kept under 56's right shoulder pads to keep him off Edwards.

Pass 9 INC due to pressure against a 5 man blitz

Walker was beaten to the corner by 92.

Levitre stoned 56.

Hang stopped 90.

Wood and Butler doubled 99.

Rhodes failed to pick up 51 on a blitz-he saw him and was in position but just didn't execute the block. Evans was wide open for about a 17 yard gain even if he didn't get another foot of yardage after the completion....which he likely would have.

Pass 10 INC to Reed

It seemed that the line knew that Edwards was going to throw the ball immediately as none of them really put in much effort-just quick pops. It may have been called that way or it may have been that the line recognized that a pass play with the DBs 10 yards off the LOS was going to be a quick pass to the WR. Schouman clearly knew what it was because he immediately pitched into 51 and put him down so he couldn't block the pass. It was just a terrible pass by Edwards.

Pass 11 sack against a 5 man blitz

Walker locked up 92 and rode him around on a circle.

Levitre danced with 91 well away from Edwards.

Hang and Wood doubled 99, put him down and laid on him.

Butler battled 56 all over the field.

Rhodes, for the second time in 3 plays failed to pick up a blitzer. Once again, he clearly recognized the blitz and was in position to stop the sack. Once again he failed.

Blitz: 2

Stacked box: 0

Drive killed by: Rhodes and his terrible blitz pick up

Drive 6

Pass 12 Rhodes for no gain

Walker rode 92 inside but couldn't stay with him as he spun back to the outside to pressure Edwards.

Levitre popped 99 and waited for him behind the LOS to re-engage.

Hang had no one to block so he waited for a blitzer.

Wood took 96 from Butler and put him down.

Butler took on 51 after passing 96 to Wood (good communication) and put him down.

Blitz: 0

Stacked box: 0

Drive killed by: half (Yes, I was pissed they didn't let Edwards air it out but that wasn't his call.)

Drive 7

Run 9 Omon 2 yards through the A gap against an 8 man front

Walker ran out to the edge and hit 43, keeping him out of the play.

Levitre had no one to block and failed to keep his head on a swivel. He didn't see 91 cut in behind him to make the tackle.

Hang chipped 98 and went to the 2nd level. He then ran a circle around 94 without stopping him. Very strange.

Wood successfully cut 98!!!!! (Yes, I'm very excited to see a Bills lineman actually cut a defender.)

Butler jumped inside of 91 but didn't slow him down.

Schouman tried to lock up 99 but settled for pushing him in the back.

Nelson did a great job locking up 92, driving him and then putting him on his back.

Pass 13 Omon 4 yards against a 5 man blitz

Walker stuffed 99.

Levitre had no one to block so he waited for a blitzer or a stunt.

Hang hand fought with 98.

Wood rode 91 in a circle to the inside.

Butler locked up 56 and kept him well away from Edwards.

Edwards had 4+ seconds to throw. He had two hitches before rolling out and throwing to Omon. It looked like he was trying to throw to Nelson crossing over the middle but Nelson never turned his head to look at Edwards.

Pass 14 INC against a 5 man blitz

Walker aggressively hit 99 on the line and kept him there.

Levitre hit a DT as he came on a delayed rush.

Hang and Wood doubled 91. Hang helped out Levitre with 99 and Wood put 91 down.

Butler rode 95 in a circle all the way around Edwards.

Omon had a pathetic block attempt on a blitzing LB, who sacked Edwards and killed the drive. As with Rhodes, he saw the blitzer and was in position but just half-assed the block.

Blitz: 2

Stacked box: 1

Drive killed by: Omon and his inability to actually slow down a blitzer.

Here's the chart:

                          Run                                    Pass

Player    good decent bad killed    good decent bad killed sack

Walker     1        5        3     0            1       10        3    1       0

Levitre      1       4       4     0             0      14         0     0      0

Hang        3          4      2      0            1       13       0     0       0

Wood       2         6       1      0          3         11      0     0        0

Butler       3        5         1      0           1        12      1    0        0

I actually feel better about Edwards now than I did before. No, I'm not saying that I'm on the currently empty Edwards bandwagon. I am, however, saying that he did try to get the ball down the field on a couple of occasions; in both cases he was thwarted by poor blocking (Butler and Rhodes). The ugly INT returned for a TD may not be as clear cut as we had thought given that Reed slowed down on his route. Edwards threw to where he thought Reed would be since Reed was running full speed when the ball was thrown. It could have been miscommunication (Reed thinking the ball wasn't coming to him or that he should slow down and find a hole in the zone) or it could have been that Reed didn't feel like getting whacked by 51 the moment his hands touched the ball. (We've seen Reed cower-in Jacksonville--before when the reception would have been meaningless and the hit vicious.)

I feel quite a bit better about the pass protection overall. First, where everyone had mistakes against the Bears only Butler (1) and Walker (3) had mistakes against the Steelers. Further, the line appeared to be able to handle more than just straight ahead rushes this week. Only once did a linemen have a bad play against a blitz (Walker) and that didn't kill the play-Rhodes' poor blitz pick up did. The line appeared to work better as a unit, passing guys off with seeming ease. While the Steelers didn't uncork their entire slate of blitzes the fact that Buffalo was able to handle the basic pass rushes common to the 3-4 was encouraging.

While the run blocking still needs work the Bills did average 4.2 yards per attempt. As you might have noticed above, I was delighted to see Hang get some drive on 3-4 DTs. He was only driven back once, which is a major improvement over what we've seen for the past couple of years. I also noted with glee that Wood was able to cut a defender, something the line has lacked for a long time.

The 4.2 yards per attempt would have been a touch higher had the TEs done a little better in some of their assignments. On the topic of TEs, by the way, Nelson seems to be coming along as a blocker-so much so that the team left him alone with the 2008 Defensive Player Of The Year on a couple of plays.

Both Rhodes and Omon were real disappointments in pass protection. I don't know that I want either of them on the field when the Bills face the Patriots on Monday Night Football. They both failed miserably in their assignments and they each killed a drive. (Rhodes took two cracks at killing the drive he did kill.)