While some were distraught over the Buffalo Bills' 25-24 loss to New England on Monday Night Football (I was, too), there were some real positives that emerged from the despair - and I'm not talking about moral victories, either.
I had serious reservations about the Bills' completely-overhauled offensive line going into the game. How would the much-heralded Eric Wood and lesser-ballyhooed Andy Levitre stack up against one of the premier DTs in the game (Vince Wilfork)? How much of an upgrade would Geoff Hangartner represent at center? Was starting Demetrius Bell at left tackle an act of abject desperation? What sort of impact would Terrell Owens' mere presence have on the offensive line in terms of how defenses reacted to him? How much could be rookie TE Shawn Nelson be counted on regarding blocking?
I cover all that and more after the jump.
Pass 1: Incomplete, versus a 5-man blitz
- Bell took on 97, who was lined up far enough inside to be taken on by the left guard. Levitre dropped behind Bell to pick up 95, who was lined up outside of 97. 95 beat Levitre to the inside. (This was the only time the Bills did this, and it was kind of strange to watch.) Hangartner blocked 75 on his own. Wood gave up a couple of yards to 94 and put him down. Brad Butler was never engaged by 96, who sat in the passing lane and batted the ball down.
Run 1: Jackson, 3 yards through the left C gap
- Bell got zero drive on 97, who eventually got around him to chase the play (but too late to make an impact). Levitre took on 75 alone, gave up about a yard, but kept him out of the play. Hangartner and Wood doubled 94; Hangartner peeled off but couldn't get to 51 at the second level. Butler locked up 96 for the entire play. Nelson and Derek Schouman doubled 59 on the edge of the play and kept him out of it. When 36 tried to fill, he was caught up in that pile and wound up with Nelson laying on him.
Pass 2: Reed 21 yards (negated by illegal formation call on Bell)
- After getting flagged for the illegal formation, Bell pushed a speed rusher well past Edwards. Levitre, Hangartner and Wood stopped 75 and 97, and also opened the throwing lane. Butler beat 55 to the corner and stuffed his move back to the inside. Josh Reed, by the way, had a terrific catch wiped out by the call. It was the kind of catch Lee Evans would later drop to kill a first down.
Pass 3: Jackson drop
- Bell had no one to block when 95 dropped into coverage. Levitre did a good job on 75, riding him around the pocket. Hangartner turned 94 and rode him around the pocket right after Levitre and Wilfork. Wood chipped 94 and waited for a blitzer. Butler took 55 around the edge.
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: Fred Jackson's drop
Pass 4: Edwards scramble for 16 yards
- 97 tried to get inside, but Bell stayed glued to him without holding. Levitre and Hangartner doubled 75, but it was great to see Levitre keeping his head moving looking for blitzers while helping out Hangartner. 94 got inside of Wood, but he stayed with him and pushed 94 past Edwards. It did cause the scramble. Butler stuffed 95's spin move and stayed locked on him when he tried to chase the play.
Run 2: Jackson, 3 yards through the left C gap
- Bell pulled wide and fell on 36 as he tried to fill, which let Jackson get the corner. Levitre pulled wide and failed to cut 59, but did slow him down enough to keep him out of the play. Hangartner jumped inside of 75, which slowed down his pursuit of the play. Hangartner moved on to the second level and locked up 51. Wood tried to cut Wilfork and failed badly. Butler went to the second level but had no one to block. Nelson did a good job of sustaining a block on 95, so much so that he didn't draw a flag when 95 turned. Schouman jumped outside of 97 to seal the edge, and got enough of a push to send 97 on an arc behind the play.
Run 3: Jackson 16 yards through the left C gap
- Bell chipped 75 and then hit 59 in the second level to let Jackson by. Levitre did what Melduke Prestfowsuck couldn't have accomplished together on the best day of their lives - pushed Vince Wilfork all the way across the formation. Hangartner chipped 94 and then hit 51 at the second level. Wood moved 94 to the right and then put him down. Butler locked up 96 on the edge of the line well away from the play. Nelson came all the way across the formation to pop 97 and open the run lane - he made the play possible. Schouman kept 95 on the right edge of the formation.
Pass 5: Screen to Jackson for 21 yards
- Bell hand fought with 97. Levitre snuck out and took out 58. He didn't quite put 58 down, but it was close enough for government work. Hangartner got out front, but had no one to block. Wood did an okay job on 99, and Butler was driven back to Edwards by 94... which really suited the design of the play.
Run 4: Omon for 1 yard through the left C gap
- 97 got an inside jump on Bell. Bell rode him around away from the play and got him down. 75 got inside of Levitre and into the backfield. Levitre got just enough of a push to keep him from making a tackle for loss. Hangartner chipped 99 and went to the second level, but ran around 59 instead of hitting him. Wood got a bit of a drive on 99 to the right. Butler stoned 94 - no drive either way. 80 jumped inside of 97 and kept him well away from the play. Nelson crossed the formation and had what sure looked like an uncalled hold on a linebacker.
Pass 6 Nelson for 11 yards, TD
- Bell let 97 zip right by him. It appeared to be a designed bootleg. Levitre, Hangartner and Wood did an excellent job of making it look like a run play. Butler locked up 94.
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: N/A
Pass 7: Schouman, 2 yards
- Bell was badly beaten by 95's spin move, leading to the quick throw. Levitre, Hangartner and Wood kept 84 and 75 well away from Edwards. Butler did a fair job on 55.
Pass 8: Evans, 10 yards
- Bell had no one to block because Jackson and Shouman took 97 on a ride. 75 beat Levitre with a rip move, but got stuck in traffic. Hangartner and Wood doubled 94. Bulter was driven back to within a yard of Edwards by 55.
Run 5: Jackson 5 yards through the right C gap
- 95 got an initial drive on Bell, but he recovered and drove 95 back 5 yards. Levitre pulled and hit 96 in the hole - wiping both of them out. Hang got a little push on 75 and turned him away from the line. Wood hit 94 and tried to turn him away from the run lane. 94 pulled free but it was too late. Butler chipped 94 and popped 59 at the second level.
Run 6: Jackson no gain through right C gap
- Bell chipped 75 but had no one to block once he went to the second level. Levitre tried to block 96 but he shed the block and made the tackle. Hangartner blocked 75 alone. Wilfork tried to get around the block but was caught in the wash. Wood's good initial block turned into a grievous uncalled hold. Butler helped seal the edge by blocking 94.
Pass 9: Drop by Owens against a 5-man blitz
- Bell beat 95 to the corner but then 95 beat him with a spin. Bell responded with an uncalled hold. Levitre was destroyed by 59, who got a hit on Edwards and may have caused the pass to be higher than Owens would have liked. Hangartner did an okay job on 97, and Wood handled 94. Butler had no one to block because his guy stunted all the way across the formation.
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: Terrell Owens' drop
Run 7: Jackson 1 yard through the A gap
- 97 beat Bell cleanly to make the tackle. Levitre drove 99 four yards off the ball. Hangartner stood up Wilfork and got a 1-yard drive. Wood locked up 59 at the second level. 94 knocked Butler back and jumped inside to get in on the tackle. Nelson came from across the formation and got enough of 97 (after Bell missed him) to keep it from being a tackle for loss. Schouman battled 96 and eventually cut him.
Pass 10: Jackson, 16 yards
- Bell set up for a blitzer and then helped Levitre when none appeared. With that help Levitre put 97 down. Hangartner kept Wilfork 3 yards from the QB. Wood helped out Hangartner and Butler did a good job keeping 94 from elevating.
Pass 11: Evans, 3 yards
- The pass was gone so fast no one really had time to block. It was reminiscent of the Brady-Welker connections that Welker can sometimes break for 7-10 yards.
Run 8: Jackson 10 yards through the right C gap
- Bell was unfairly tagged for illegal formation - if he was off the line of scrimmage so was Levitre... and maybe Hangartner, too. The crap call negated a beautiful cut on 97. Levitre cut 99. Hangartner didn't cut Wilfork but tangled up his feet enough to keep him out of the play. Wood pulled to lead the play and eventually found 36 to hit. Butler pulled wide and cut 59. Schouman did a great job of jumping outside of 94 and sealing him inside of the line. Nelson did a good job keeping 96 out of the play.
Pass 12: Nelson 2 yards
- Bell stoned 97. Levitre did a good job on 99 and Hangartner chipped him when he tried to elevate. Wood stuffed Wilfork. Butler kept 94 away just long enough for Edwards to get rid of the ball.
Pass 13: Evans drop against a 5-man blitz
- 95 started to get underneath Bell at the corner but was too late to stop the pass. 97 beat Levitre, and Levitre got just enough of a push to send him past Edwards. Hangartner waited and stoned a blitzing LB. Wood kept Wilfork 5 yards from the QB. Butler stuffed 96.
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: Lee Evans' drop
Run 9: Jackson 9 yards through the left C gap (negated by hold on Nelson)
- Bell pulled and had no one to block. Levitre cut Wilfork immediately. Hangartner went to the second level and kept an arm on 59 for about 10 yards, re-routing him downfield. Wood tried to get inside of 94 but couldn't because of the pile up Levitre and Wilfork created. Butler went to the second level. Schouman turned 97 every which way but loose while Nelson was in fact very guilty of holding.
Pass 14: Incomplete screen (and ticky-tacky person foul on Wilfork)
- It was a screen, so it's kind of expected that defensive linemen will get an easy route to the QB. With that said, Hangartner didn't even pretend to block. 97 saw that and didn't really try to get to Edwards. If Jackson had caught the ball, 97 was in position to shed Bell's block and tackle Jackson for little to no gain. While I think Wilfork is the dirtiest player this side of Haynesworth, he didn't deserve that personal foul flag.
Pass 15: Jackson for 15 yards
- Bell kept 97 well away from Edwards. Levitre tapped 97 and didn't help Hangartner with Wilfork. Hangartner needed the help as Wilfork drove him backwards to the QB. 94 got the angle on Wood, forcing the throw to Jackson. Butler tried to follow 55 on a stunt and wound up badly off balance.
Pass 16: Nelson drop
- Schouman helped Bell (first time in the game Bell had been given help), but 97 almost split their blocks. He lost his balance in the process so Bell slung him down. Levitre neutralized Wilfork. 94 ripped past Hangartner and into Wood. Hangartner switched over to helping Butler with 55, who stuck with 55 as he stunted. Wood initially helped Butler with 55 and then picked up 94 when he got around Hangartner.
Pass 17 Evans for 12 yards against a 6-man blitz
- 97 got inside of Bell but too late. Levitre and Hangartner doubled Wilfork. Wood stuffed 94. When 55 tried turning the corner on Butler, Jackson chipped him.
Pass 18: Overthrow incomplete to Schouman
- Jackson again helped Bell with 95. Knowing he had help on the outside I would have thought Bell would have been better able to counter 95's spin move... but he wasn't. 95 was too far behind the play to catch up. Levitre did a good initial job on 99 but he did get past him. Hangartner and Wood doubled 97. Wood left to help Butler with 55 and eventually put him down. Butler held the corner on 55 but Edwards got happy feet and wound up running right past 55. He was turning to chase Edwards when Wood put Burgess down.
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: Edwards' poor pass on the move.
Run 10: Jackson 4 yards through the left B gap
- Bell went to the second level and engulfed 96. Levitre got a little push on Wilfork and then turned him to open the run lane. Hangartner initially doubled 94 with Wood and then peeled off to try unsuccessfully to catch 53 at the second level. Butler set the edge on 55. Schouman did a good job keeping 95 away from the play.
Run 11: Jackson 5 yards through the A gap
- 95 popped Bell and got inside to try to chase the play. Levitre and Hangartner got a push on Wilfork and Levitre then peeled and tried to get a piece of 59. Wood chipped 94 and went to the second level to hit 96, who was still in on the tackle. Butler got inside of 94 but Jackson ran right into him. Schouman danced with Burgess well away from the play.
Pass 19: Owens 27 yards
- Bell was beaten to the corner badly by 95. Edwards stepped up into the pocket. He could do so because Levitre and Hangartner kept 75 on the line of scrimmage (LOS). Wood got 94 turned and wouldn't let him turn back to Edwards. Butler pushed Burgess past Edwards.
Run 12: Jackson for -4 yards through the left C gap
- Bell locked up 96 for the entire play. Levitre got terrific drive on Wilfork: two yards back and 5 yards to the left. Hangartner hit 59 in the second level and kept him out of the play. 94 swam inside of Wood and should have had a tackle for loss. Butler thought he was just sealing the edge and didn't really lay into 36, who eventually made the tackle when Jackson tried to cut back to the right. Schouman killed the play by being demolished by 95.
Pass 20: Sack -6 yards
- Bell had an obvious hold on 95, which would have killed the play even had Edwards gotten the ball to someone. Levitre and Hangartner doubled Wilfork and kept him on the LOS. Wood and Butler initially doubled 94. Butler then peeled to get 55 who was first chipped by Schouman.
Pass 21: Schouman for 16 yards against a 5-man blitz
- Bell beat 95 to the corner. Levitre was driven back to Edwards and to his knees by 97. Hangartner and Wood stuffed a twist by 99 and 59. Butler beat 55 to the corner.
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: Demetrius Bell (Buffalo did get a field goal)
Pass 22: Incomplete, should have been an INT (terrible Edwards decision)
- Bell and Levitre doubled Wilfork. Hangartner stuffed 94 while Wood waited for a blitzer. Butler slowed 55 enough to let Edwards roll out. Schouman had a great cut block on 95.
Run 13: Jackson 5 yards thorught he left C gap
- Bell shoved 75 into the pile. Levitre got Wilfork down and laid on him. Hangartner went to the second level and locked up 96. Wood stoned 94 and put him on his ass. Butler hit 55 on the edge and kept him well away from the play. Schouman didn't do any particular good with his blocking.
Pass 23: Owens 9 yards against a 5-man blitz (negated by Owens offensive pass interference)
- Bell beat 95 to the corner and stopped him. Levitre pushed 97 inside and opened the throwing lane with some help from Hang. Wood stopped 99 from getting an inside jump. Butler and Burgess did little more than glare at one another on the edge of the line. Jackson did what neither Omon or Rhodes could in preseason: stopped a blitzer (59) in his tracks.
Pass 24: Jackson screen for 18 yards
- Bell and Levitre did a very good job of selling the screen, unlike the earlier one that was INC. Hangartner snuck out to lead play, but was too slow to block anyone. Wood dropped a filling 59 in his tracks to spring Jackson. Burgess got past Butler faster than Edwards would have liked.
Run 14: Jackson 3 yards through the A gap
- Bell hit 96 in the second level but he was still in on the tackle. Levitre stood up Wilfork; no drive either way. Hangartner chipped 95 then stopped 59 at the second level. 94 got around Wood but not until the play was all but over. Butler kept Burgess 10 yards from Jackson. Schouman did a good job on 95.
Run 15: Jackson 9 yards on a delayed handoff through the right B gap
- Bell ran with 95 to the corner and back again once the play went the other way. Bell missed the cut at the end of the play. Levitre fired out and into 59 like he was a blocking sled coated with chocolate. Wilfork got upfield but Hangartner kept him turned away from Jackson. When 94 jumped inside Wood let him and then sealed him there and away from the run lane. Butler let 55 get to the corner and kept him from chasing the play from behind. Schouman got a piece of 96 at the second level.
Pass 26: Jackson drop against a 5-man blitz
- Bell hit 95 and followed him as he stunted to the inside. Wilfork drove Levitre to his knees, spun away from him and almost got to Edwards. Hangartner and Wood doubled 94. Burgess beat Butler to the corner but Butler got under Burgess' pads and pushed him past Edwards.
Run 16: Omon 7 Yards through the right C gap
- Bell abused Burgess and tossed him upfield. Levitre drove 59 eight yards downfield. Hangartner turned Wilfork away from the run lane. Wood went to the second level and got a piece of 31, but not enough to keep him from getting in on the tackle. Butler was driven past the run lane by 94, effectively removing 94 from the play.
Run 17: Jackson 3 yards through the right B gap
- Bell cut 97 and Levitre cut Wilfork. Hangartner went to the second level and got some drive on 59. Wood turned 94 away from the run lane and kept him there. Butler went to the second level and got a piece of 31 but not enough to keep him getting in on the tackle. (Sound familiar?) Nelson put 96 down on the edge. Schouman failed to cut Burgess but disrupted his balance enough to keep him out of the play.
Pass 26: Sack -8 yards against a 6-man blitz (negated by legit personal foul on 96 for slamming QB to the ground)
- Bell chipped 97 for Schouman and then locked up 59. Levitre pushed Wilfork into the pile but wasn't fast enough to reset and stop stunting 96. 94 walked Hangartner back to Edwards. Wood helped out with Wilfork and Butler did an okay job on Burgess. Schouman was beaten badly by 97, even with initial help from Bell.
Run 18: Jackson 3 yards through the right C gap
- Bell gave 97 a shove as he tried to chase play. Levitre and Hangartner dug out Wilfork and drove him 3 yards. Wood stood up 94. Burgess got around Butler and slowed down Jackson for others to make the tackle. Nelson and Schouman initially doubled 96. Schouman left and missed cut on 36.
Run 19: Jackson -1 yard through the left C gap
- Bell pulled wide but was too slow to get to the DB who made the tackle. Levitre cut Wilfork. (I like typing that. I'm not even using cut and paste because I really, really like typing that.) Hangartner went to the second level and couldn't catch 59 to block him. Wood cut 94. Butler went to the second level but there was no one to block. Schouman did a good job on 97. Nelson took a false step which kept him from blocking anyone. He could have taken out the DB who made the tackle if he had gone right at him.
Pass 27: Scramble for 10 yards
- Bell pushed 95 around the corner. Levitre gave ground to 97 opening a passing or, as it turned out, scramble lane. Hangartner chipped 97. Wood put 99 down and Bell stuffed Burgess.
Pass 28: Thrown away versus a 5-man blitz
- Bell stopped 58 long enough to keep him out of the play. Levitre gave ground to 97 but never let him go. Wilfork blew past Hangartner to force Edwards to run and throw the ball away. 94 tried everything he could think of against Wood and might as well have just stood there for all the good it did him. Butler never let Burgess get off the LOS.
Pass 29: Jackson screen for 10 yards, TD against a 5-man blitz
- Bell pushed 58 upfield but wasn't fast enough to get downfield in time to block anyone. Levitre got in front of the screen after letting 75 go. Levitre flung a DB into the end zone. Hangartner let 94 chase QB and took out 59 in space, allowing Jackson to score. Wood was run over by 94. Butler stuffed Burgess.
Stacked box: 0
Drive Killer: N/A
Pass 30: Owens 19 yards
- Bell stuffed 97. Levitre, Hangartner and Wood tripled 99 and Butler stoned Burgess at the corner.
Pass 31: Sack -1 yards
- Bell was confused when 95 dropped into coverage. Levitre picked up 59 on a slightly delayed rush. Hangartner did a good job on 99 and Wood stopped 97. Burgess beat Butler with a spin move. Had Butler driven Burgess when he spun Edwards had quite a bit of green in front of him. It could have been a 10ish yard gain.
Pass 32: Incomplete, Edwards hit while throwing
- Bell wound up on his knees after a double spin move by 95. Levitre did a fair job on 97 and Hangartner picked up a stunting Burgess. 99 split a double team by Wood and Butler to get the hit on Edwards.
Pass 33: Sack -6 yards
- 95 beat Bell with a spin move to get the sack. Levitre stopped 97 and Hangartner had the initial block on 99. Wood helped Butler with Burgess but had to leave him to pick up 99. When he did, Burgess beat Butler and would have gotten the sack if 95 hadn't.
Pass 34: Hook and ladder play
- The line did a good enough job for Edwards to get the pass off. Bell got help.
|RUN PLAYS||PASS PLAYS|
|Run plays by gap|
|4.0 ypa||4.0 ypa||3.0 ypa||6.0 ypa||5.0 ypa|
Legend, chart one: H=Help; G=Good; D=Decent; B=Bad; K=Killed; S=Sack
Legend, chart two: LC=Left C; LB=Left B; A=A gap; RB=Right B; RC=Right C; ypa=yards per attempt
The first thing that jumped right out at me was how well Levitre did in the run game. He was a big part of the reason that Wilfork, a guy who simply ate our centers for lunch game after game, wasn't much of a factor. He had as many good run plays as all four of the other linemen combined. Members of the coaching staff had Levitre rated higher than Wood prior to this past April's draft. How's that for prescient? If he plays as well in the run game as he did in Foxboro (against one of the NFL's better defensive lines, mind you), Levitre will be visiting Hawaii... after going to the Pro Bowl in Miami. It's true that Levitre, like each of the linemen, had his share of bad pass plays, but I'm hoping that that will improve as he gains experience.
On the topic of interior linemen, I found it interesting that on the 19 total run plays, Buffalo doubled Wilfork just 3 times. The only other player who was doubled was 94, who was doubled twice. The Bills expected their interior linemen to handle their assignments on run plays pretty much one on one. The faith in two rookies and a guy moving from guard to center is nothing short of remarkable. It also helps explain why the Bills averaged 4.3 yards per rush (82 yards on 19 carries) and had almost as many run plays go for 9 or more yards (4) as run plays that went for less than 3 yards (5). Guys were available to get upfield and take on defenders instead of staying on the line doubling Wilfork. (On pass plays, by the way, the tackles were also expected to hold their own, being helped a total of 4 times during the game.)
But that wasn't the only factor contributing to Buffalo's ability to run almost at will. At no time did the Patriots stack the box. Many times the Bills' offensive line was facing just 6 defenders in the box. Yes, it is nice to outnumber the defense at the point of attack - which the Bills sometimes did in their two TE sets. It's the T.O. factor at play. While we have paid the most attention to the impact T.O. would have on the passing game (double him or double Evans), he may have an even greater impact on the running game. Simply put, the Patriots were scared to death of leaving either Owens or Evans in single coverage... so they didn't and chose the death of 1,000 (or, in this case, 19) cuts. Look for other teams to do the same.
The Patriots didn't sit back on their haunches, of course. Belichick sent blitzes on 10 of 34 (29%) pass plays. Edwards completed passes against 4 of those blitzes, each for 9 or more yards. He would have completed 7 of 10 if Owens, Evans and Jackson hadn't each had drops. He might have been 8 of 10 if not for a batted pass. One of the 10 blitz-passes was negated by the personal foul generated when Edwards was roughed, and one was a throw through the back of the end zone. So, after his receivers spend some quality time on the Jugs machine, Edwards should be his usual deadly self against the blitz. Indeed, on the last TD drive the Patriots blitzed 5 of 8 pass plays... including the touchdown throw.
Something else occurred to me as I re-watched the offense. The Bills demonstrated an ability to overcome negative plays/calls in a way that the team simply couldn't have over the past three seasons. There was a resilience to the team. Instead of hanging their heads when Jackson was stuffed for -4 yards and Edwards was sacked for -6 yards, the Bills came back and gained 16 yards on third down to set up a field goal. Naturally, this was helped by the manner in which the Bills didn't dig their own graves on first and second downs and instead were generally in third and manageable.
I do have concerns. For example, several times during the game I noticed that linemen were attempting to follow stunting defenders. I don't know that it's something that they're being told to do or if they're just doing it spontaneously. In either case, it needs to stop. First, the linemen aren't agile enough to chase a stunting defender around other offensive linemen and defenders. Second, it won't take long for a defense to send one guy on a stunt and a second defender on a delayed rush once the lineman vacates his area to chase the first defender. All things considered, however, the line played remarkably well for being such a young and inexperienced unit.
Yes, it's only one game (against the presumptive Super Bowl favorites), but bring on Tampa Bay!