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Bills vs. Lions: Notes From The O-Line, Week 10

ORCHARD PARK NY - NOVEMBER 14: Fred Jackson #22 of the Buffalo Bills leans over the goal line to score a touchdown against the Detroit Lions at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 14 2010 in Orchard Park New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
ORCHARD PARK NY - NOVEMBER 14: Fred Jackson #22 of the Buffalo Bills leans over the goal line to score a touchdown against the Detroit Lions at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 14 2010 in Orchard Park New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
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I don't watch the Lions with any great regularity. However, I remember Kyle Vanden Bosch from his days in Tennessee. Ndamukong Suh, of course, has garnered national attention for his stellar rookie campaign. The rest of the defensive line is somewhat anonymous, but generally thought of as reasonably stout. So how did the Buffalo Bills - who struggled mightily to put up rushing yards on the Bears in Toronto - manage to both run the ball and protect Ryan Fitzpatrick so well on Sunday?

I was eager to get to the match-up between Suh and Eric Wood. I saw a few things during the game, but going through the offensive snaps is when things really came into focus. I instituted something of a "Suh Watch," looking to see who was assigned to block him on running plays. The first thing I noticed was that Suh played an awful lot of snaps - all but three of Buffalo's rushing attempts, in fact. The breakdown of who blocked Suh is after the jump.

Suh Watch: Who Blocked Ndamukong Suh?
Player(s) # run plays
Eric Wood + Mansfield Wrotto 11
Eric Wood 1-on-1 8
Mansfield Wrotto 1-on-1 6
Eric Wood + Geoff Hangartner 4
Geoff Hangartner 1-on-1 1

As you can see, the Bills either doubled Suh, or had a lineman chip him before moving on to another responsibility, on 15 of 30 run plays Suh was in the game defending. Half the time, the Bills expected a lineman to handle Suh without assistance. Really. Suh was matched up one-on-one for half of his snaps on run plays and finished with three tackles. I see one of three possibilities: Suh isn't quite the factor that he's being made out to be; Suh performed poorly by his standards; or Buffalo's linemen took care of business. I'm leaning towards that last option.

Suh saw an awful lot of Wood, as Wood was involved in blocking Suh on 23 of those 30 rush plays. Neither of Wood's two bad run plays came against Suh. Buffalo's first-round offensive guard proved capable of handling Detroit's much ballyhooed first round defensive tackle - and the majority of the tandem blocks featured a chip by Hangartner or Wrotto, with Wood maintaining primary responsibility. Meanwhile, Wrotto killed three runs plays, only one of which (run 11) was due to Suh beating his individual block. Wrotto had good run plays on three of his five one-on-one matchups with Suh.

Individual Run Grades - Week 10
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Grade
Bell, D. 3 29 1 0 76.2%
Levitre, A. 6 26 1 0 78.0%
Hangartner, G. 2 30 1 1 75.6%
Wood, E. 8 22 2 0 78.8%
Wrotto, M. 4 24 5 3 74.4%
Individual Run Grades - Season To Date
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Grade
Bell, D. 15 165 17 3 74.8%
Levitre, A. 41 127 12 3 78.2%
Hangartner, G. 18 175 11 2 75.7%
Wood, E. 47 138 14 3 78.3%
Wrotto, M. 4 35 8 5 73.3%

Buffalo piled up yards outside of the tackles. The Bills had three big runs, each of them outside. This was in part due to the blocking scheme the Bills implemented (sealing Suh inside or letting him into the backfield knowing the RB would already be gone), and also due to how often the Lions loaded the box. For the first time this season, Buffalo faced a team that consistently brought a safety near the line of scrimmage. On 21 of 33 (63.6%) rushing attempts, the Bills faced at least eight defenders near the ball. Against that sort of defensive front, it made sense to try to hit the edges. And, with eight in the box, a broken tackle or two quickly turned into a long gainer for Fred Jackson or C.J. Spiller.

Run Direction Success, Week 10
Gap Att Yds YPA
Left C 3 22 7.3
Left B 2 10 5.0
A 9 16 1.8
Right B 2 5 2.5
Right C 17 99 5.8
Run Direction Success, 2010 season-to-date
Gap Att Yds YPA
Left C 51 228 4.5
Left B 16 64 4.0
A 54 171 3.2
Right B 24 79 3.3
Right C 61 266 4.4

The line did a good job overall of protecting Ryan Fitzpatrick. Not only that, the line improved as the game wore on. Only two of the combined nine bad pass plays came in the second half. The success Buffalo had running the ball certainly contributed. On the last pass of the game, Suh and a DB beat the blocking scheme, but came to a complete standstill due to a semi-competent play fake. Another thing that helped was the return of the pulling guard on some pass plays. As with previous teams, the Lions' linebackers were frozen in place while they figured out whether the Bills were running or passing. Unfortunately, Fitzpatrick was unable to take advantage this week.

Individual Pass Grades, Week 10
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Sack Help Grade
Bell, D. 0 23 2 0 0 0 73.4%
Levitre, A. 0 23 2 0 0 0 73.4%
Hangartner, G. 1 23 1 0 0 0 75.0%
Wood, E. 3 20 2 0 0 0 75.8%
Wrotto, M. 1 22 2 1 1 1 71.6%
Individual Pass Grades, Season To Date
Player Good Decent Bad Killed Sack Help Grade
Bell, D. 5 309 26 7.5 3.5 26 73.8%
Levitre, A. 7 311 15 5 0 0 74.5%
Hangartner, G. 6 344 11 5 2 0 74.7%
Wood, E. 12 308 18 5 0 0 74.7%
Wrotto, M. 1 54 6 2 1 6 73.4%

Buffalo only attempted 25 passes. As much as the Lions loaded the box to stop the run, I expected to see them blitz often. That wasn't the case, as Detroit sent five or more defenders on only five snaps. Fitzpatrick responded with four completions for 55 yards, three first downs and a touchdown. (He was also sacked for a loss of six yards.) For whatever reason, the Lions decided to shut down the run (and were ineffective) and put the game into Fitzpatrick's hands. It seems a strange decision, but maybe Detroit was banking on getting some INTs by dropping seven into coverage.