One of the bigger signings during the offseason was the acquisition of former Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. The Buffalo Bills often struggled with stopping the run in 2017, a problem that wasn’t helped when they traded Marcell Dareus. Lotulelei was signed to occupy offensive linemen so the rest of the team could make plays. Now that the snap counts suggest he’s fully healthy from a back injury, let’s take a look at how he played against the Los Angeles Chargers.
We start off illustrating the importance of Star Lotulelei occupying blocks. With a fairly standard play on both sides of the ball, the Bills’ four-man front will be up against five blockers. Lotulelei consistently occupying the double-team creates a more consistent one-on-one situation for the rest of the defensive line, often creating an advantage. The Chargers initially attempt to block Kyle Williams with two linemen and Jerry Hughes comes screaming in. Credit Phillip Rivers with an incredible throw. This was nearly a huge play by the defense. Lotulelei’s ability to cut off such a large section of the field while occupying two lineman was a big reason why.
Lotulelei can be inconsistent against single opponents. This time Star is able to turn his man’s shoulders and hips, creating a leverage advantage if he needs it. When Lotulelei sees Melvin Gordon jump back inside, the earlier win allows a clean swim to get back to the play. It’s a shame Gordon didn’t have the ball.
Lotulelei takes up two men again, which serves to shrink the overall size of the forms they're able to protect. As shown above, this opens up large lanes to the sides of Star. Tremaine Edmunds and Lorenzo Alexander have a clear view of the play in front of them and can step into lanes.
It’s not all good news. Lotulelei commits to an incredibly fast swim move which the center picks up on. Star swims over empty space and gets taken out by the guard. As hinted at above, Lotulelei was weaker playing against single opponents, getting less push and failing to collapse the pocket as well as he did on double teams.
Let’s end on a high note. The second pause on this play shows how taking up two offensive lineman can create a gigantic wall that forces a runner to go around. Because the center is occupied by Lotulelei, Jerry Hughes can race in and make the tackle for a loss.