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Notes From The O-Line: Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Texans

Before the Buffalo Bills took the field against the Houston Texans, one of the big story lines was the Houston Texans’ pass rush – led by J.J. Watt and Jadaveon Clowney – against what everyone assumed would be an overmatched Buffalo offensive line. As it turned out, the secondary story of Buffalo’s pass rush versus Houston’s offensive line looked to be the bigger of the two on game day. Instead of breaking down all of the plays in some drives or a half, this is going to be a look at how Buffalo’s line did against Houston on each of Josh Allen’s pass attempts.

Drive 1
Game tied 0-0

2nd and 6 INC to Clay

After a LeSean McCoy run, Allen missed on a pass to Charles Clay. Allen held the ball longer than he should have, not releasing it until Clay was breaking to the inside. It looked like Allen was well off the mark on the broadcast but the end zone view reveals that the pass, while way too low, was close enough for Clay to get his hands on it. None of the Texans were anywhere near Allen when he released the pass. Dion Dawkins and Vlad Ducasse doubled a DE while Russell Bodine pushed a DT to the left, the same direction McCoy was headed. Allen could have given him the ball but instead threw to Clay. It was a good decision as one LB was filling the hole between Bodine and John Miller while another was moving to the outside of Dawkins and Ducasse.

3rd and 6 catch and run by McCoy for 22 yards

Houston sent six rushers leaving four receivers in one-on-one coverage with one high safety. When Allen hit the top of his 3-step drop he wanted to throw to the right but each of those receivers was well covered. As both tackles are marched back to him, Allen was nearly sacked by a LB that McCoy had picked up in pass blocking. That forced him to move backwards and he was able to get around Mills and escape to the right. As he moves right – with 4 Texans in pursuit – McCoy starts to run to the right as well and so does Miller. When Allen gets to the yard markers all of his downfield options are covered but the nearest defender to McCoy is a good 10 yards downfield from him. As Allen is looking at some well covered options he sees McCoy put his hands up and flips him the ball. At that point, all 5 linemen turn and charge downfield with Jones getting ahead of McCoy to try (and fail) to hit the safety.

1st and 10 pass to Clay for 10 yards

I really liked that Allen came right back to the pass he missed on the same play two downs earlier. It was the same right down to the same offensive line blocking assignments, blocking results, and movement by the Texans’ LBs. The only exception was that Watt got around Mills and had a free run to Allen but the ball was already gone. Had Allen not been decisive with his throw it would have been a problem.

1st and 5 pass to Clay for 1 yard

The entire line blocked left for a running play that Allen chose not to execute. He instead threw to Clay who was the only Bill moving right. It only picked up one yard because Benjamin, the WR closest to the right sideline didn’t attempt to block a Texan chasing Clay. As he was within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage it shouldn’t have been a penalty and wouldn’t have been one of those peel back blocks as Benjamin and the Texan were running right at each other. Maybe Benjamin thought it would be called a pick.

2nd and 9 INC to Benjamin

After Croom set Buffalo back five yards on a false start, Houston sent four on what turned out to be an overthrown deep shot to Benjamin. Mills and Miller each took a defender on arcs around Allen and, had the pass been completed, may have been flagged for holding due more to hand position than actual holding. Ducasse passed a DT off to Bodine before turning to help out Dawkins who was losing to Clowney. Allen’s feet were clean for the pass attempt.

3rd and 14 INC to Jones

Ducasse added 5 yards to the down and distance with a false start and Houston sent four rushers with another defender tasked with staying with McCoy. Allen threw as Jones rounded off his route and Jones was decked before the ball arrived. No flag for pass interference or for hitting a defenseless receiver. Shocker. Mills and Miller doubled Watt to start and Dawkins held his own against Clowney. Miller came off of Watt to pick up a LB and Bodine and Dawkins doubled the DT. Had Jones not been interfered with the drive would still have ended as he was about a yard short of the sticks but it would have been a FG try instead of a punt. That’s 3 points for the refs.

Drive 2
Bills down 0-7

1st and 10 scramble for 2 yards

Houston sent four and both OTs failed to take out the DEs with cut blocks which left 3 linemen to pick up 4 DL. Seeing Watt bearing down on him Allen ran for a couple of yards. Both Dawkins and Mills have been miserable at cut blocking and yet the coaching staff still keeps expecting them to pull it off. The result on this play was neither Watt nor Clowney were really even slowed down.

3rd and 7 sack for -5 yards

The Texans sent 5 rushers and had Allen had another second – or had Houston not held Jones (No flag. Again.), Allen had Jones for a very long gain and quite possibly a 63-yard TD as Jones shook off a tackle attempt and was all alone on the left side of the field. Mills and Dawkins held up pretty well and initially so did Ducasse. The problem came when the LB in front of Miller circled past Bodine (who was blocking a DT) and then around Ducasse before finally turning towards Allen. Miller hit Bodine’s man which let Bodine slide to pick up the DT who was getting past Ducasse. Instead of letting Bodine have the DT and blocking the LB coming around the formation, Ducasse tried to stay with the DT who Bodine was by then engaging.

Drive 3
Bills down 0-7

2nd and 8 pass to McCloud for 2 yards

Logan Thomas executed a cut block on Watt as Ducasse pulled to lead Ivory, had Ivory been given the ball. The rest of the line blocked left. Allen immediately threw to McCloud who was 5 yards from the nearest defender and that one had Benjamin in front of him. He was 10 yards from the next nearest but that defender reacted instantly to Allen’s arm motion and stopped McCloud for minimal gain even with Dawkins coming over to block him. Had that defender not nabbed the shoe string tackle, McCloud probably picked up 5 more yards as Benjamin’s block was not only occupying a DB but also effectively walling off two other defenders.

3rd and 6 pass to Clay for 8 yards

Allen never too his eyes off of Clay. Houston only rushed 3 and Ivory stayed in to help block so no one got anywhere near Allen. Allen threw just as Clay was coming out of his break, possibly waiting to see whether Clay would turn in or take the route towards the end zone. Or maybe he was watching the DB to see if he hesitated to see what Clay would do. It was the 3rd time Clay ran that route so the DB had to be leery of a fake to the inside followed by a run up the sideline.

1st and 10 pass to Thomas for 0

Allen faked the handoff to McCoy and tried a naked bootleg. Watt was all over it and ran straight for Allen. Allen had to retreat 15 yards before he was in position to throw and by then two defenders were closing on the wide open Thomas. He caught the ball right on the edge of the out of bounds line and had both defenders within feet of him. The play design made the line look bad.

2nd and 10 pass to Clay for 1

Allen faked the handoff to Ivory as the line blocked as though it was a run. Dawkins let Clowney start to circle upfield while Ducasse and Bodine doubled the DT, which opened a big hole. That sucked up the LBs. Meanwhile, McCoy took off to the left and Allen faked a throw to him. Had he pulled the trigger McCoy would have picked up at least 3 or 4 yards and possibly more as there was only one defender running free on that side of the field. Instead, Allen turned to throw to Clay, who had disengaged from a block on Watt. Mills had also let Watt go in order to try to block the nearest DB. Mills crumpled the DB and Clay made the catch with the nearest unblocked defender about 10 yards down the field. The DB under Mills managed to reach out and snag Clay’s foot, bringing him down just as that free defender had closed the 10 yards.

3rd and 10 INC to Jones

The Texans sent 6 rushers, though one slowed down and served as the contain man on Buffalo’s right. McCoy stayed in to block and Allen was able to get the pass off with clean feet. Allen was going left the entire way even though Benjamin was one-on-one to the right. Dawkins did well with a speed move from Clowney and rode him around the arc. Ducasse was able to block a LB and would have been fine on his own but Bodine helped him out, which left McCoy to block a charging LB on his own. Miller did well enough against a LB but Watt got leverage under Mills’ left arm and got past him—too late to stop the pass. Allen just couldn’t connect on the pass to Jones.

Drive 4
Bills down 0-10

1st and 10 pass to Benjamin for 4 yards

The line did a nice job of making sure no one was anywhere near Allen as he threw to Benjamin, who had been given 5 yards of uncontested space. Mills was left all alone with Watt and won the battle on that play.

3rd and 2 scramble for 3 yards

The play was negated by a holding call on Bodine, which set up the Bills for failure. Both Dawkins and Mills attempted and EXECUTED cut blocks, which opened passing lanes to McCoy to the left and Clay to the right. Allen looked right and then briefly left before seeing a hole open between Ducasse and Bodine. He charged right through for first down yardage. As he ran past Ducasse, Clowney got up and tried to push through Ducasse. The DT started to slide to Bodine’s left to reach out for Allen. Bodine didn’t really have much of a hold. Instead, he kept blocking as the DT turned which put him in contact with the DT’s back. The DT played up the moment and drew the flag.

3rd and 12 sack

The Bills kept 2 running backs in to help block 4 defenders with Ivory leaking out for a pass. Dawkins, Ducasse and Bodine did well enough with their individual assignments. Mills was holding off Watt when DiMarco pitched into him from Mills’ right. Mills stepped left to stay in front of Watt when Miller came back to help and hit Watt from behind and just after Watt had shifted to Mills’ right. This sent him flying past Mills’ right side and into Allen’s legs. Allen had no one to throw to past the sticks and looked to be getting ready to throw to DiMarco, who had no chance to make the line to gain.

Drive 5
Bills down 0-10

(not counting the one pass “drive” with almost no time left in the 2nd quarter)

2nd and 12 scramble for 2 yards

Houston sent four and as Allen hit his back foot he had a receiver all on his own to the left with the nearest defender about 10 yards away. A throw that way likely picked up 5ish yards and possibly a TD if he was able to juke that one defender. Dawkins did well against Watt though Watt did get around him after Allen had bailed out of the pocket going the other way. Ducasse kept an eye on Watt and, when Dawkins was doing well enough, pitched in to help Bodine with a DT who was getting around him. Miller was getting pushed back to Allen but he and his DT served as an anvil for Mills to drive Clowney into. Allen should have slid right and found a receiver but he took off and got 2 yards.

3rd and 10 scramble for 11 yards

Allen scanned from left to right as he dropped back but once he hit his back foot he was already running forward. In doing so he passed up on a chance to, uh, pass to Jones as Jones came across the middle. Jones probably wouldn’t have reached the first down. Houston had a spy in the middle of the field but he failed to bring down Allen who went on to get the first down. The line didn’t break down and cause the scramble.

2nd and 4 INC to Jones

In an interesting twist, DiMarco and Ivory were asked to block Clowney and did enough to keep Allen clean. The rest of the line blocked right and also did well enough. Allen threw just a bit past Jones, who would have been tackled immediately anyway to set up 3rd and goal from the 2.

3rd and 4 INC to Jones

Houston rushed 4 and Mills did a commendable job on Watt, pushing him to the left and across the formation. Ducasse gave up some ground but didn’t turn that DT loose while Bodine and Miller teamed up on the other DT. Dawkins was beaten around the arc by Clowney but Allen could have stood in the pocket instead of trying to run for the end zone. He threw on the run and came close to throwing another red zone INT.

Drive 6
Bills down 3-10

2nd and 11 scramble for 5 yards

The Texans rushed 4 and Mills almost got Clowney on the ground but did slow him down. Miller bulldogged a DT to the ground and Bodine pushed the other DT past that pile. Ducasse had no one to block until Dawkins failed to cut Watt. He set up to block Watt and Allen had a clear view of Benjamin for about a 5-yard gain. Instead Allen pulled the ball down and ran, another questionable decision.

3rd and 6 pass to Benjamin for 44 yards

Ah, what could have been had the Bills lined up correctly. The Texans rushed only 3 with both OTs failing badly in their cut block attempts. Ducasse was there to pick up Clowney but Watt had a free run at Allen. Allen evaded the rush and rolled to his left. Benjamin was well behind the defense and Allen launched the ball as he ran towards the 10-yard line. Benjamin had to wait for the ball just past midfield, which raises the question about Allen’s arm strength—why is he underthrowing guys who could score a TD with a better placed (farther downfield) ball?

Drive 7

1st and 10 pass to Benjamin for 39 yards

The Texans rushed 5 with two LBs sucked to the line of scrimmage by a fake to McCoy with DiMarco in front of him. Clay and both RBs stayed in to block with only 2 receivers running downfield. Even with 8 blockers, Clowney slapped away Dawkins’ hands and immediately got around him. Ducassed put a DT down when he attempted a spin move. Bodine and Miller stopped another DT. DiMarco, Mills, and McCoy neutralized Watt while Clay did well enough against a LB. Allen followed through with his pass and was then decked by Clowney and into the LB Clay had been blocked. Allen crammed the ball in to Benjamin despite him being bracketed by a pair of DBs.

1st and 10 INC to Jones

The Texans sent 6 and Jones had been hidden behind Clay and Thomas. Jones was hit hard enough 5 yards downfield to have his upper body bend backwards but, oddly, no flag in spite of all those flags on Buffalo’s DBs all day long. Dawkins and Ducasse didn’t handle a stunt by the DT very well as the DT was able to get a free run at Allen. That forced him to climb the pocket towards Bodine and Miller as they blocked a DT. Mills blocked a LB who then backed out into coverage. Clay pancacked Watt and Logan was able to stay in front of a LB. Allen, clearly injured, badly missed a throw behind Jones.


The line has been doing better in pass protection in terms of communication. However, it is worth keeping in mind that the Texans didn’t send more than 4 pass rushers very often. Their reliance on Watt and Clowney winning their matchups wasn’t enough to get a lot of hits on Allen but it did mean that they were able to drop a lot of guys into coverage. That meant very few options on those 3rd and long plays that have so bedeviled the Bills this season.