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A long-winded review of the Buffalo Bills’ first half offense against the Baltimore Ravens

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I didn’t bother looking at the second half as the Baltimore Ravens had pulled their starters. If you’re not a masochist and don’t want to read the 3100+ words that follow you can skip to the end and see the list of who killed each of the Buffalo Bills’ eight first-half possessions.

Drive One

1st and 10 (LeSean McCoy runs left for -1 yards)

Vladimir Ducasse turns the DT to the right and gets some push, opening a hole for McCoy. When the play began, Dion Dawkins fired off the line and to his right in order to wall-off any LBs from McCoy’s running lane—but more or less ignored the first LB he encountered. John Miller pulled across the formation but wasn’t fast enough to reach Terrell Suggs before Suggs had effectively closed off McCoy’s rushing lane. Ryan Groy and Jordan Mills held their own and Charles Clay contributed nothing. The Ravens read run all the way and a DB came off Kelvin Benjamin and headed to the backfield before McCoy had even taken the handoff. No Ravens player was more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage (LOS).

2nd and 11 (INC)

Nathan Peterman locked onto McCoy almost instantly because it was a WR screen pass but McCoy was covered and hit behind the line before the ball arrived. Two of the WRs on that side of the field took down DBs with low blocks as Peterman threw. McCoy headed out to the left flat at the start of the play, and Baltimore was all over it as their OLB ignored Peterman and took off after McCoy.

3rd and 11 (sack)

Peterman had four seconds with a beautiful throwing lane right down the middle of the field before things started to break down. Benjamin came open across the middle a second too late and he and Zay Jones were in the same part of the field. It didn’t look like Peterman saw Logan Thomas who had chipped two guys and leaked out to the left—though it would have been a fairly short gain unless Thomas had been able to make a guy miss. Give Peterman credit for scanning the three main receiving options, each of whom got to the sticks or deeper. McCoy stayed in to help block. Maybe Peterman’s not tall enough to have seen Thomas over the line?

Drive Synopsis:

The offensive line didn’t kill this drive. Baltimore read the first two plays beautifully and none of Buffalo’s receivers got open in the four seconds Peterman had before the pressure forced him to move off his spot.

Drive Two

1st and 10 (INC)

Peterman fakes a handoff to McCoy who is moving right along with the entire offensive line—Groy and Miller even pulling around Mills. On the backside of the “run,” Dawkins chopped down Suggs. The defense reacts to the run and Peterman has a clear view of the left side of the field where he has three WRs. Benjamin is clearing an out pattern for Jones but Peterman is already throwing to Jeremy Kerley running right up the seam. Peterman misses, throwing behind Kerley. If the ball is placed in front of Kerley it’s a 1st down. That one is all on Peterman as both Kerley and Jones were open. Even Benjamin would have boxed out the DB and earned around a seven-yard gain.

2nd and 10 (three-yard completion to Kerley)

Peterman faked a handoff to McCoy and threw to the left to Kerley, who had come in motion from the right side of the formation. The pass was on target and Kerley was able to keep his momentum. Jones and Benjamin blocked DBs downfield immediately. Incidentally, had Peterman given the ball to McCoy, the line did a good job of forming a lane for McCoy with all but Ducasse sealing the left side while Clay (yes, Clay) stonewalled an OLB. Ducasse was leading McCoy into the lane and was poised to take out a DB in the hole giving McCoy a bit of room…but likely not much more than the yards Kerley got.

3rd and 7 (INC)

Buffalo sent four downfield and McCoy leaked out of the backfield. Peterman stared at Benjamin the entire way and the line held up, giving him a clean pocket. Peterman overthrew Benjamin who had a step on the DB. The safety was late getting over so if the ball had been well placed, Benjamin would have advanced the ball from the 18 to about midfield.

Drive Synopsis:

The opportunity was there and like the first drive—Peterman missed it. He threw behind Kerley on 1st down and then overthrew Benjamin on 3rd. Either pass would have netted a first down with the Benjamin pass being the bigger opportunity of the two.

Drive 3

1st and 10 (one-yard run negated by offensive holding)

With the Bills lined up with a FB in front of McCoy and Marshall Newhouse at TE, the defense responded with nine in the box. Peterman elected (had to?) to go with the run anyway. McCoy and Patrick DiMarco faked left before going right. As McCoy got the ball, a hole opened up right in the middle. Groy and Dawkins turned their guys to the left while Miller and Mills double-teamed the DT and moved him right. Ducasse pulled to the right while Clay and Newhouse tried to form a wall with Mills and Miller. DiMarco couldn’t run into the hole because Newhouse lost his man (and held). McCoy headed right but Ducasse had three guys to block.

I’m pinning this one on Newhouse because if DiMarco had gone into the hole, McCoy may have followed. There was only one DB in position to fill the hole and DiMarco should have been able to move him out of the way for McCoy to gain some yards up the gut. Instead, McCoy went right and into three waiting defenders.

1st and 20 (sack)

Peterman faked a handoff and was almost immediately put on the run thanks to Groy getting steamrolled. Ducasse had pulled either to block for a run or at least make the defense think it was going to be a run. Groy had to reach well over to his left while he was being engaged by a DT to his right. The DE to his left just crumpled Groy and Peterman had to bail and that was that. Had Peterman handed McCoy the ball, Miller had the DT who engaged Groy sealed to the left, Mills had his man locked up, Clay was in position to block the closest LB and Ducasse was free to take on the LB next nearest to the hole. McCoy wouldn’t have gone far (four to five yards maybe) as there were two other DBs closing on the hole but it would have been the better end result.

If this was a run-pass option (RPO), it is on Peterman as the Bills had five blockers (WR, TE, RG, LG, RT) to take on the five defenders at the point of attack. If it was a dedicated pass then Groy draws the criticism—but he was in a tough spot.

2nd and 24 (Marcus Murphy seven-yard run)

The Ravens had seven in the box, making the run a reasonable call given the down and distance. The execution was abysmal with Murphy having to dodge two guys in the backfield. At the snap, Groy pulled left past a defender who was being targeted by Dawkins—but too far to Dawkins’ right. Meanwhile Miller put his right hand out towards a defender without actually blocking him while looking left towards a LB. Mills set up to block one of the defenders who was backing out at the snap and didn’t even see the guy Miller waved at. Ducasse pulled and engaged Suggs while Clay went to the second level. It’s almost comical how quickly the DE slipped past Dawkins through the gap created by Ducasse and Groy pulling. He failed to bring down Murphy, who reversed field, dodged a third guy who ran by Groy unblocked into the backfield—with Mills still set up to block no one, which was odd since it was a run play and he could have gone downfield and hit someone—picking up a nice gain all on his own.

3rd and 17 (Groy false start)

3rd and 22 (Murphy 9-yard run)

The Ravens had five guys within ten yards of the LOS, with the rest all back in coverage. The line did a reasonable job of giving Murphy a gaping hole to run through. Baltimore didn’t care.

Drive synopsis:

Even if Peterman should have handed the ball off instead of getting sacked he’s not the reason the Bills had to punt this time. 15 yards worth of penalties and a lot of miscommunication doomed this series, though the defense may have appreciated that the offense stayed on the field for five whole plays.

Drive 4

1st and 10 (four-yard completion to Kerley)

The Bills’ line set up to run and Peterman looked hard at Benjamin running into quadruple coverage before coming off and seeing Jones in triple coverage and finally dumping the ball off to Kerley. The defense responded quickly and Kerley went from being all alone to having five Ravens around him.

2nd and 6 (McCoy six-yard run negated by holding call)

For the first time in the game, the Bills were keeping up with the sticks. Ducasse pulled and hooked a guy who Clay had tried unsuccessfully to chop down with a low block. The rest of the line had done well on the play and Ducasse just wasn’t fast enough to engage the defender before the defender was able to slide past him.

2nd and 14 (INC)

Peterman faked to McCoy and locked on to Benjamin. There wasn’t a defender within five yards of Peterman as he started his throwing motion. A late blitzer was coming but still five yards away. To the left, two receivers ran three-yard hook routes right next to each other (????) and McCoy stayed in to block. The pass was behind Benjamin, allowing him to stop and out-jump the defender. Benjamin had the ball almost all the way to the ground when he let the DB rip it away from him. That’s all on Benjamin as he would have had a first down at the 41.

3rd and 14 (INC)

Once again Peterman had a clean pocket, this time because the Ravens only sent three. Peterman hit his back foot and hopped forward instead of throwing the ball to Kerley who was coming open over the middle just past the sticks. Instead, Peterman threw the ball to a very well-covered Zay Jones and the pass was soundly rejected. Peterman threw to Jones even though there was zero chance of a first-down conversion.

Drive Synopsis:

Ducasse certainly hurt the drive but Benjamin had a first-down conversion in his hands and let some Lilliputian take it away from him.

Drive 5

1st and 5 (INC)

The Ravens had gifted Buffalo five yards on an offsides penalty and the Bills still had to punt. Buffalo took a shot to Benjamin with Peterman overthrowing him by several yards. The DB almost made a nice INT though. When Peterman started his throwing motion, the DB was still three yards farther downfield than Benjamin. He had a clean pocket and none of his other three receivers were open when he threw. He did, however, have Jason Croom coming open on a seam route. When Peterman pulled the trigger, Croom was just passing the DB nearest to him and had a free run to the end zone. Down by 17 and just given a turnover by the defense, Peterman’s unforced error (wrong receiver, overthrown) prevented the team from at least threatening to make a game of it.

2nd and 5 (McCoy one-yard run)

The Bills ran it into an eight-man box. Dawkins and Ducasse took on the DT while Groy blocked a DE. Mills set up to block Suggs, while Ducasse pulled left to lead McCoy. Jones tried to help out by slipping into the hole to try to get a piece of a DB. Ducasse left Dawkins to get to the second level, but Dawkins lost control of the DT who clogged the hole and brought down McCoy. Even if Dawkins had done better with sustaining his block, McCoy wasn’t going far.

3rd and 4 (sack)

Peterman, known as a pretty bright player, took a sack that cost Buffalo some first-half points off a turnover. The Bills had five WRs and the Ravens rushed four. As Peterman reached the top of his drop, Benjamin generated separation by cutting under an out-breaking route. Peterman looked left but didn’t see that if Benjamin caught the ball, his size and momentum would have likely gotten him the first down. He focused on another throw to the end zone but protection broke down before that WR got to the 15. Peterman danced through the wash but was hit by the last of the defensive players near the LOS. Had Peterman come off of the left side of the field he would have seen that the safety was moving left and that Kerley had a straight shot to the end zone right through the area that safety was vacating. A simple head turn and Peterman had either a nearly certain first down (Benjamin) or a fairly certain TD (Kerley).

Drive Synopsis:

Twice in the drive, Peterman missed opportunities to turn Edmunds’ forced fumble into a TD. Each time he was locked in on one guy the whole way. That’s another wasted drive on Peterman’s shoulders.

Drive 6

1st and 10 (McCoy four-yard run negated by holding on Clay)

The Ravens had seven in the box and the safety started running to the line at the snap. Dawkins and Ducasse both tried cutting backside defenders. Dawkins whiffed entirely and Ducasse only managed to slow his guy down. Groy moved left to give a defender a push and then peeled back to engage a DB. Miller eventually caught up to the guy Groy had pushed, and sealed him off from McCoy. Mills locked onto a LB and pushed him out of the way. Clay was supposed to block a LB who ripped under him, causing Clay to hold. If he hadn’t held, the LB would have hit McCoy in the backfield.

1st and 18 (ten-yard completion to Benjamin)

McCoy split out wide and Peterman looked over at him but came back across the field to find Benjamin—who had been given a six-yard cushion. The line was, well, a line except for Mills who had a LB in space and did well enough for Peterman to have a clean pocket. Benjamin was the right read.

2nd and 8 (INC)

Peterman faked a handoff and then kind of hopped up while throwing the ball. It looked like that affected his accuracy, but on closer inspection the DE got his hand up and it looked like the pass was just barely deflected by the defender’s arm. Had he made the connection, Murphy would have gained about five or six yards leading to 3rd and short. It was an overhand delivery but still not quite tall enough to clear the line.

3rd and 8 (INT)

Peterman sailed a pass to Benjamin, who was open while crossing the middle. Had Peterman made the connection in stride, Benjamin would have taken the ball to at least the 40 and possibly the 45. Peterman had about three yards between himself and the nearest other player when he started to throw. As he let the ball go, a defender was closing in from behind and to Peterman’s right so he didn’t interfere with the throw at all. The line did well enough with Dawkins re-routing Suggs well behind Peterman, and only a late blitzer finally getting through after it was too late.

Drive Synopsis:

Peterman’s errant throw ended the drive.

Drive 7

1st and 10 (McCoy run for one yard)

Can you believe it isn’t even halftime? Groy got bulldogged by the DT, pulled forward and then slammed to the ground. The DT then made the tackle. That was despite Ducasse chipping the DT before moving on to the second level. Dawkins did well, driving his man back and then downfield. Miller and Mills did well enough, though Miller’s guy got in on the very tail end of the tackle.

2nd and 9 (INC)

Peterman had a predetermined throw to McCoy who was coming out of the backfield. The ball was slightly behind McCoy, so he had to turn back to Peterman while still backing up field. That said, McCoy should have had that reception for six or seven yards, putting the team in 3rd and short.

3rd and 9 (scramble)

The Bills sent three WRs downfield against eight DBs. While rushing only three guys (against seven!!!!), Dawkins gave up immediate pressure, forcing Peterman to start moving to his right just as McCoy leaked out into the left flat. Jones was wide open but also four yards behind the line to gain, with two defenders closing in on him. McCoy had one defender about eight yards from him, but he was on the left side of the field and Peterman was moving right. Peterman decided to run, even though he was 15 yards from the line to gain and had one defender closing on him with three more ready to stop him a bit farther downfield.

Drive Synopsis:

I’d (dis)credit Dawkins and McCoy with the end of this drive. McCoy could have set up 3rd and short and Dawkins could have given Peterman more than 1.5 seconds in the pocket.

Drive 8

1st and 10 (with 5 seconds, left 8 yard pass to Croom)

With the entire secondary 20 yards downfield, Peterman threw a quick pass to Croom. What was the point of that? The Bills had the ball near midfield and a QB who can easily throw to the end zone. Why didn’t McDermott put Josh Allen in for the last play of the half—a heave into the end zone?

Drive Synopsis:

This one is all on McDermott.


In Conclusion

Boil it all down and here are the guilty parties:

  • Drive 1: offensive line (or Peterman, depending on play call)
  • Drive 2: Peterman
  • Drive 3: offensive line
  • Drive 4: Benjamin
  • Drive 5: Peterman
  • Drive 6: Peterman
  • Drive 7: McCoy and Dawkins
  • Drive 8: McDermott

The good news is that the common element in three (possibly four) of the stalled drives is replaceable and that the line wasn’t, on more careful viewing, the horror show it appeared to be on first glance. That doesn’t mean the line is good by any means—just that it wasn’t largely responsible for the horrible start to the season.

The bad news is that the replacement (Allen) may not be much better, at least for a while, and that the line will almost certainly cause the Bills to lose some games this year regardless of QB play.

The worst news is that we expect no further good news this season.