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Why the Buffalo Bills don’t have the second-worst offensive line in the NFL

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Some thoughts on the Bills’ offensive front heading into Week 15.

In a recent ESPN Insider article, the Buffalo Bills were ranked as having the second-worst offensive line in the NFL.

Here was the reasoning for Buffalo in the No. 31 spot:

“31. Buffalo Bills

The Bills have a strong running game with reasonable blocking numbers (19th in adjusted line yards), but the pass blocking is abysmal, ranking dead last in adjusted sack rate and 31st in pressure rate.”

I like and respect everything Football Outsider stands for and does. I really do. Aaron Schatz is a pioneer, one of the earliest entrants into the (in my opinion, still underutilized) NFL analytics field.

But in this case, I disagree with his assessment.

Observing offensive line play is probably my favorite facet of analyzing football, and I think it’s because play in the trenches is easy to overlook but almost always the foundation of positive plays.

I don’t pretend to know every assignment but, really, most don’t seem overly difficult to see or identify when re-watching a game.

Like Football Outsiders, I’ve graded all of Buffalo’s plays this season. Heading into Week 15, I'd say the pass protection has generally been good, at times great, and other times not so great.

Right tackle Jordan Mills has been the weakest Bills’ offensive linemen for the entirety of the year, and in a few games, he’s been a matador.

Running through the rest of the line, Cordy Glenn has been very solid... like Top 10 left tackle solid. Richie Incognito was better a season ago, but he’s been a Top 10 offensive guard, and John Miller (except for the first quarter vs. PIT) has been tremendous all season. Before his injury, Eric Wood gave up an inordinate amount of pressures (typically on bull rushes), but he was a superb run blocker, especially when asked to get to the second level.

Even Ryan Groy has played respectably.

Also, Buffalo’s gaudy running statistics aren’t simply the reason for why I wouldn’t say the Bills couldn’t possibly have the second-worst offensive line in the NFL. A telling byproduct of re-watching every play has been my realization that the Bills’ run game is brilliant constructed.

Give Greg Roman (and Jim Harbaugh, and Bo Schembechler) credit, Buffalo’s blocking scheme rarely puts offensive linemen in positions to make hard-to-execute “reach” blocks but instead utilizes angles extremely well.

And that fact is taken into consideration when I grade.

For example, a simple down block doesn’t get a big positive grade — and usually doesn’t receive a positive grade at all — although it could be integral in springing a huge gain for LeSean McCoy or Mike Gillislee.

In pass protection, Buffalo’s offensive line occasionally isn’t helped by Tyrod Taylor holding onto the football or moving around in and outside the pocket.

All in all, I’ve witnessed many far worse Bills offensive lines over the last decade. And the 2016 edition certainly is not one of the main issues in any of Buffalo’s offensive woes.

A group with two or three elite-level players (Glenn, Incognito, Miller), a typically average but occasionally porous right tackle (Mills), and a serviceable center (Wood, Groy) doesn’t equate to the second-worst unit in the league, unless all the talk of the significant downturn in offensive-line play in 2016 has been significantly exaggerated. I will say, though... at times, all it takes is a bad rep from one offensive linemen to ruin a play, and Mills has typically been that guy this season.

On Cyrus Kouandjio

It doesn’t look like Glenn will play against the Browns, so I figured I’ll give provide some thoughts on Kouandjio.

He’s been more than just an adequate stand in this season, earning a +5.0 pass-blocking and +1.2 run-blocking grade on just 193 snaps in 2016.

Don’t get me wrong, Glenn remains the better offensive tackle, but Kouandjio has come miles from the in-over-his-head rookie he was in 2014.

At 6’7” with 35 5/8” arms, the former Alabama standout is a Redwood with immensely long limbs, and actually, is “longer” than Glenn.

Watching Kouandjio, you immediately notice, because of his colossal length, the vast majority of the time he makes the ever-important first contact at the point of attack, which really helps him to control the pass-rusher.

His balance has greatly improved, as has his strength, and he certainly hasn’t lost his mean streak. For whatever reason, the Bills haven’t slid him in at right tackle this year, but I expect him to turn in another sound performance against the Browns on Sunday.