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Bills vs. Ravens: Notes From The O-Line, Week 7

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I was at work (shhhh!) when I saw the article Brian put up in which slammed Cordaro Howard. At that point in time I had only gotten through Buffalo's first eight drives. When I read the article I kind of scratched my head wondering what I'd missed. Well, as it turned out, I had gotten through 24 runs and 23 passes, in which Howard had a pair of bad run plays and two bad pass plays. As I got through the rest of the game, I saw where PFF was coming from, even though I don't believe that he's quite as terrible as they suggest.

I was interested in how Howard would do, particularly given that I had wondered aloud if Cornell Green might be the weekly roster cut during the bye. (As far as I know he's still on the team.) I was also really curious to see how the Bills managed to keep Ryan Fitzpatrick relatively clean against one of the better defenses in the league. It turned out that there was a link between the two areas.

Chan Gailey protected Howard both on running plays and passing downs. The Bills ran just three times in the right C gap and five in the right B gap. This represented about 25% of Buffalo's runs and stands in contrast to the approximate 40% of runs through the right B and right C gaps in the previous five games. On 75% of run plays, Howard wasn't asked to lead the charge. On passing downs, the Bills often slid protection to the right, leaving backs or tight ends to pick up one (or more) rushers. This limited the options for a guy like Terrell Suggs, and gave Howard much less to worry about.

One of the ways to sow confusion - and thus induce hesitation - in the mind of the opponent is to make plays look alike. Buffalo ran the ball well enough to make the Ravens respect the run. In a very clever twist, Gailey designed pass protection packages that looked like running plays. A guard, usually Andy Levitre, pulled and moved to the right side of the line. He was moving to block a pass rusher, but the linebackers saw him pull and had to worry about Fred Jackson taking the handoff and running for daylight. As a result, they (a) couldn't rush Fitzpatrick with abandon and (b) couldn't get back into their coverage assignments as quickly as they would if they read ‘pass' immediately after the snap. The result was that Fitzpatrick didn't face anywhere near as many blitzes (10 out of 47 pass plays, less than 25%) as Buffalo had seen in the past two weeks (21 in each of those games). Fitzpatrick had places to throw the ball, which directly led to his monster day against a good defense. Gailey is known as an offensive-minded guy who gets maximum use out of minimum talent, and this game seemed to display those attributes.

Individual Run Grades - Week 6
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Grade
Bell, D. 3 27 2 0 75.6%
Levitre, A. 10 20 2 1 80.0%
Hangartner, G. 4 26 2 0 76.3%
Wood, E. 8 22 2 0 78.8%
Howard, C. 1 28 3 2 73.8%
Individual Run Grades - Season To Date
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Grade
Bell, D. 10 95 14 3 74.3%
Levitre, A. 28 64 10 2 78.5%
Hangartner, G. 12 106 8 1 75.6%
Wood, E. 27 85 9 1 78.0%
Howard, C. 4 54 6 3 74.4%

As you can see, Levitre had a terrific game on run plays. Eric Wood wasn't far behind, and Geoff Hangartner had a decent day himself. I'd speculated that Buffalo had developed a solid interior trio a couple of weeks ago. Evidently, Gailey agrees, as I counted a dozen plays in which one of the three (generally Levitre or Wood) was left alone with Haloti Ngata, whose three-tackle (2 assist, 1 solo) stat line shows that Buffalo's interior linemen were up to the task. While the Bills didn't run effectively up the middle, bear in mind that Levitre and Wood often pulled to lead plays. As noted above that tendency directly helped out in the pass game. The year to date table shows that the tackles still lag behind the interior linemen.

Run Direction Success, Week 6
Gap Att Yds YPA
Left C 11 42 3.8
Left B 4 17 4.3
A 9 16 1.8
Right B 5 24 4.8
Right C 3 4 1.3
Run Direction Success, 2010 season-to-date
Gap Att Yds YPA
Left C 33 171 5.2
Left B 11 48 4.4
A 36 117 3.3
Right B 18 63 3.5
Right C 30 136 4.5

I've read that Gailey made a comment about Howard to the effect that he just got tired as the game wore on. Six of his eight bad plays came on the final five drives, which would bear out Gailey's (alleged - I didn't actually see it) assessment. Not only that, Howard was getting beaten around the edge by guys like Suggs. Even slanting the blocking to that side wasn't quite enough by the end of the game. Still, the guy killed zero pass plays, while Levitre killed two. He grades out similarly to Green at this point. Where Green has no upside, Howard arguably might. I'm not saying that Howard is the long term answer at RT, but I'd rather see what he has than spend another Sunday watching Green. Besides, as more than one person has noted, Howard doesn't seem to need to draw at least one offsides a game by kicking his right leg back just before the snap of the ball. Since Gailey is treating this year as a glorified preseason, it makes a degree of sense to see if Howard can develop into a starting-quality player. He's not there yet by any stretch - and remember that Gailey schemed to help Howard (and Fitzpatrick ) - and he may or may not ever get there.

Individual Pass Grades, Week 6
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Sack Help Grade
Bell, D. 1 44 2 0 0 3 74.6%
Levitre, A. 1 41 5 2 0 0 73.3%
Hangartner, G. 1 46 0 0 0 0 75.4%
Wood, E. 3 44 0 0 0 0 76.3%
Howard, C. 0 39 8 0 0 2 71.6%
Individual Pass Grades, Season To Date
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Sack Help Grade
Bell, D. 2 184 16 5 3 7 73.6%
Levitre, A. 5 180 10 5 0 0 74.5%
Hangartner, G. 5 211 7 4 2 0 74.8%
Wood, E. 8 183 9 4 0 0 74.9%
Howard, C. 0 88 12 1 0 2 72.6%

Fitzpatrick was blitzed only 10 of 47 (21.3%) of pass plays. As noted above, this was due largely to Buffalo's unique blocking scheme - particularly the pulling of the guard on a regular basis. Even though the Ravens didn't record any sacks on those blitzes (I don't call a zero-yard loss on a scramble a sack), Fitzpatrick had five incompletions, one of which was an INT. On the other side of the ledger, Fitzpatrick had a pair of 33-yard TD passes against blitzes, along with two other first down passes.