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Notes From The Line: Minnesota Vikings

The Bills’ offensive line has been better than advertised.

Analyzing the Buffalo Bills’ line play after each game is a very time-consuming endeavor, but I hope something you find insightful. However, due to time constraints, it won’t be possible to look at the line on every play. Just the first four drives against the Minnesota Vikings encompasses 3000 words and took about three hours to draft. As such, look for future write-ups to focus on a few drives per game.

Drive 1

1st and 10 (6-yard completion *screen pass* to Ray-Ray McCloud III)

Once Josh Allen decided to pass (instead of hand the ball off to Chris Ivory), there was no chance of Allen going anywhere else as the other wide receiver on that side of the field immediately went downfield and blocked a defensive back. Minnesota inadvertently helped by sending a linebacker from the same side on a blitz. The line was blocking for a run because it may have been a run had Allen handed it off.

2nd and 4 (Incomplete pass to Kelvin Benjamin)

Allen faked the hand-off and looked to his right, eyeing Benjamin all the way. The line completely stonewalled the defense and only Dion Dawkins’s defensive end assignment got anywhere near Allen, after looping way around on a time-consuming route. This was the pass that Benjamin is supposed to catch but somehow allowed a smaller defensive back to take it away from him.

3rd and 4 (Sack negated by roughing-the-passer penalty)

The wide receiver-less Bills went 4-wide (even if one was Charles Clay) and the Vikings sent six rushers. Jordan Mills and Dawkins took their guys on wide circles behind Allen. John Miller and Vladimir Ducasse gave up ground but did so in a way that allowed Allen to step up into the pocket. Marcus Murphy threw himself into a defender next to Ducasse. Russell Bodine, who was between Murphy and Ducasse, let his man get past him. Instead of a pocket to step into, Allen was crushed.

1st and 10 (Ivory rush for 1 yard)

The Bills again went 4-wide and the Vikings went with no high safety. Dawkins had a defensive end on an island who was able to disengage and turn to follow Ivory into the hole. Ducasse locked up a defensive tackle and the two danced to the right. Bodine did likewise. Miller hit a linebacker who spun around to get free and chase the play well downfield from Miller. Mills pushed his guy upfield and wasn’t fast enough to stop him from also turning to chase the play. Ivory had only gained about a yard when Dawkins’s guy wrapped him up, which let Ducasse’s guy slide to the right and help bring Ivory down.

2nd and 9 (10-yard completion *swing pass* to Ivory)

Ivory gets hauled down by his hair after bulling his way to the sticks. The Bills went 4-wide again with a bunch of three to the right and Benjamin to the left. Allen never looked anywhere else. Dawkins had a lazy cut-block attempt that the defender simply hopped past. Allen put enough arc on the ball that it wouldn’t have mattered even if the defender had been unimpeded. Dawkins laying on the ground did slow down a defensive tackle who was trying to chase the play, so there is that. Mills had an equally terrible cut-block attempt on the right side of the formation with the idea of leaving a nice passing lane to Zay Jones on a short out to the right. The other linemen held their own.

1st and 10 (Ivory rush for 3 yards)

Dawkins pulled to the right and failed to cut a defensive tackle while Ducasse pushed a linebacker three yards off the line of scrimmage. Bodine got lateral movement but no push, so his feet wound up two yards behind the line—which got in Ivory’s way. Miller shoved Mills’ guy and then hit a linebacker at the second level. Mills didn’t do a great job but kept after his man and eventually moved him several yards off the line of scrimmage. The Bills had Khari Lee and Clay on that end of the line, and they did a nice job of sealing everyone away from the sideline. Had Ivory bounced it, there was one defensive back free between the hashes and the sideline. By the time Ivory got out to the edge that defensive back had closed in and slowed Ivory enough for help to arrive.

2nd and 7 (15-yard completion *screen pass* to Clay)

The Bills pulled a tight end and wide receiver in close to the right—the direction of the run. Dawkins’s man went right past him and lit up Ivory in the backfield, only to find that Allen still had the ball. Mills and Bodine had started to head downfield as Clay caught the pass three yards behind the line. Bodine couldn’t execute a cut block, so the linebacker was able to keep chasing Clay. Mills got nine yards downfield to take out a defensive back. Bodine’s linebacker was able to make the tackle and save Minnesota about three yards of field position. Miller and Ducasse were tasked with holding the line and staying put to sell anything other than a screen.

1st and 10 (Ivory catch for 5 yards + 15-yard facemask penalty)

The Bills had 4-wide personnel and Allen faked to Ivory, which brought both linebackers towards the line. As part of the run fake, Ducasse pulled and blocked a defender with Ivory—until Ivory drifted out into the flat. Dawkins was marched back to Allen and his defender tried to swim past him to the inside. Mills was beaten and got away with holding his defender needlessly as Allen had drifted back and thrown to Ivory. Bodine and Mills blocked a defensive tackle close to the line of scrimmage. Ivory was tackled by the facemask, moving the ball to the 11.

1st and 10 (Murphy rush for no gain)

The Vikings had nine guys in the box and the Bills ran it anyway. This is where having a rookie quarterback hurts—he isn’t trusted to change the play at the line yet. Dawkins locked onto the side of a defender who was trying to move from Dawkins’s right to his left, while Ducasse sealed his guy (and another who started the play in front of Miller) to the right along with a late assist from Jason Croom. Bodine went directly to the second level to hit a linebacker. Miller and Mills did a defensive-type stunt with Miller stepping back and basically becoming the right tackle while Mills got a hand on the defender who had been in front of Miller. Mills then went to the second level to engage a defender. None of it mattered in the slightest as one of the nine defenders ran free off the left edge to hit Murphy four yards behind the line. Murphy spun out of the low tackle but, again, there were nine defenders in the box.

2nd and 10 ( Allen rush for 10-yard gain: TOUCHDOWN)

The Bills went 4-wide again and faked the run. Dawkins had his guy on an island. Ducasse stopped his defender at the line of scrimmage. Mills and Miller each locked up defenders while Bodine waited to see if anyone else rushed or if Miller needed help. As Allen set up, Dawkins’s guy was able to bend and start to get around him, so Allen moved up in the pocket. Allen didn’t see anyone open so he took off for the pylon to collect six.

Drive 2 (7-0)

1st and 10 (Ivory rush for 4 yards)

Buffalo ran the read-option with Allen looking at the defensive end the entire way. The defensive end was slowed by the movement and he was left unblocked as Mills pulled all the way left to lead the run. Mills got into the wash and got his hands on a defensive back as he was trying to go low on Ivory. Dawkins, Ducasse, and Bodine formed a solid wall, pushing from left to right. Miller had pulled with Mills and got on a defender to open a hole behind the line formed by the three working in tandem. Clay got a decent block.

2nd and 6 (5-yard completion *shovel pass* to Clay)

Allen faked a pitch to Murphy before shoveling it to Clay in order to freeze a defender who had been left unblocked. The defender reacted well and forced Clay inside, catching him from behind. Ducasse had pulled to lead the run and got his hands on a LB. Dawkins, Bodine, Mills, and Miller formed a wall facing to the left with Mills helping Miller before moving on to a linebacker. Clay could have gotten more if the misdirection had worked as well as it did on the drawing board.

3rd and 1 (False start on Marshall Newhouse)

3rd and 6 (Incomplete pass * ugly drop* by Benjamin)

The Vikings sent seven with Barr having a free run. Everyone, including Ivory, locked onto one defender and did enough to keep Allen clean. Allen took a shot for nothing because Benjamin dropped his second pass of the game. The defensive back was there, but a guy of Benjamin’s size needs to come down with that ball.

Drive 3 (10-0)

1st and 10 ( Ivory rush for -1 yard)

The Vikings had ten guys in the box and the Bills still ran it. Dawkins pulled to the left and tried to cut the guy nearest Ivory but failed. Bodine had also pulled and wasn’t fast enough to catch the guy Dawkins failed to cut. The defender should have made the tackle but Ivory was able to power through it and get back to the line of scrimmage where he slammed into two unblocked defenders. Ducasse, Mills and Miller held the line, while Lee moved to block a defender Dawkins had left when he pulled.

2nd and 11 (26-yard completion to Croom: TOUCHDOWN)

Allen faked to Ivory and looked at the wide receiver about seven yards behind the line to suck in the defensive back who should have been covering Croom. Allen reset and threw a pretty pass to Croom for the TD. The only linemen whose defender got past him was Dawkins. After giving up too much ground, the defender swam inside to get close to Allen just after the ball was gone.

Drive 4 (17-0)

1st and 10 (Incomplete pass to Robert Foster)

The Bills started with 4-wide and brought one in motion behind the line. Allen faked the hand-off and threw a should-have-been interception, which the defender dropped. Foster had a step on his man, but the ball was behind him just like it was to Jones the week before. This time it didn’t work out. Everyone on the line did a great job of giving Allen a clean pocket to step into as he prepped to heave the ball 52+ yards. A 55-yard pass would have been a touchdown.

2nd and 10 (Ivory rush for no gain)

The Vikings had seven in the box, no doubt spooked by the sudden deep shot the play before. Dawkins drifted left as he moved to the second level and hit a defender, moving him several yards. The defender he hit had just been left by Ducasse who had moved on to another defender, a good demonstration of teamwork. Miller went to the second level but lost his defender as soon as he made contact—and that defender was able to run down Ivory and get in on the tackle. Mills rode a defensive end several yards away from the play. Ivory isn’t fast enough to reverse field and outrun guys with angles. He’s not LeSean McCoy. Shocker.

3rd and 10 (Allen insane 13-yard scramble)

The Vikings had seven at the line but two backed out at the snap. Allen recognized it and also knew that he had only three receiving targets downfield. Ducasse missed a block on a linebacker but he was hit by Ivory. Dawkins’s guy ran right around him, which is what sent Allen scrambling. Bodine and Miller did a nice job thwarting two rushers and Mills had his man on an island. Allen’s hurdle showed that he was all-in, even though it didn’t show great judgment. Even so, it got his team fired up.

1st and 10 (Sack)

The Vikings only sent four, which let them cover the three short routes and two longer ones. The line blocked to the right, with Dawkins on an island. He gave up way too much ground again and Allen tried to climb the pocket to buy some time. As Allen stepped up, Dawkins’s man reached out with his left arm and grabbed Allen by the waist. Allen tried to spin away but was sacked.

2nd and 17 (55-yard pass to Ivory)

Dawkins’s guy cut in front of him and had the leverage for a free run at Allen. Allen took off to his right, while Ivory leaked through the wash and turned to run parallel to Allen near the line of scrimmage. Clay also saw Allen and moved parallel to him near the line of scrimmage. Bodine had drifted four yards past the line of scrimmage while he and Ducasse blocked two defenders. Mills and Miller blocked one defender with Miller peeling off to try and chase the guy Dawkins had let get by him. As he ran, Allen kept looking downfield and saw Ivory trailing behind Clay and two defenders. Unlike last week when Allen missed a wide open Murphy when the Bills needed long yardage, Allen hit Ivory in stride, who proceeded to take it 55 yards.

1st and goal from the 6 (Allen 12-yard loss INC/fumble)

The Bills tried to get cute and it worked out about as well as that usually does for Buffalo.

2nd and goal from the 18 (Allen scramble for 2 yards + 8-yard horsecollar)

Allen got happy feet. The line was doing well overall. Mills’s guy was closest to Allen, but it was Allen’s movement up the pocket that nearly got him sacked. Allen was able to spin out of it, but he never needed to get off his spot to start with. He ran right and was hauled down by his collar, which gave the Bills a new set of downs.

1st and goal from the 8 (Ivory rush for 4 yards)

The Vikings had eight in the box. Dawkins moved left and helped Lee block a defender and drive him, while Clay blocked a defender on his own to create a hole. Dawkins and Lee caught up a second defender as they blocked the first one. Ducasse initially got popped back from the line but was then able to get a little push. Bodine reached a LB at the second level but had his right arm wrapped completely around the linebacker’s head, an uncalled hold. Miller rode his defensive lineman to the left without really impeding him. Mills tried and failed at a cut block on a linebacker.

2nd and goal from the 4 (Incomplete pass to Clay)

Allen faked a hand-off to Ivory, who immediately set up to block one of the eight defenders who attacked the line of scrimmage at the snap. It wasn’t the greatest pass to Clay and Clay’s right hand was being held. Still, it would have been great to see him with a one-handed grab for a touchdown. The line made sure there were no defenders within five yards of Allen, aided by the fact that several defenders who surged forward backed out just after the snap.

3rd and goal from the 4 (3-yard completion to Andre Holmes)

The Vikings sent four at the snap and then two linebackers on a delayed blitz. One of the linebackers stopped to cover Ivory. The other defender had a free run to Allen because Miller was looking to Mills to see if he needed help—instead of looking at the defenders who could have rushed late. The missed pick-up forced Allen to gun the ball to a double-covered wide receiver who wasn’t quite in the end zone. That’s probably on Holmes, as being another foot or two into the paint would have resulted in a score.

4th and goal from the 1 (Allen rush for 1 yard: TOUCHDOWN)

Low man wins and credit Bodine with diving under the defensive tackle. Most of the other linemen couldn’t get under their defenders but did enough to keep any of them from stopping Allen’s reach over the goal line.

Some Final Thoughts

  • The line needs to work on cut blocking as the Bills use it on both run and pass plays. The team isn’t very good at it in either situation. There were some plays where that inability really hurt and it has been an ongoing problem. If the linemen simply aren’t capable of executing cut blocks, then don’t employ those blocks.
  • Dawkins is giving up too much ground to edge rushers. He is often walked right back to Allen. The Bills might consider giving him a little help from time to time in the form of a running back or tight end chipping his guy at the line.
  • Allen will do something that no other recent Bills quarterback has done—put the team on his back and try to generate a win, instead of playing not to lose. The hurdle, which we all cheered, was really stupid from a pure football standpoint. Still, it demonstrated Allen is willing to do whatever he can to try and win. He’ll have some bad “just trying to make a play” moments this season.
  • The Bills were able to overcome a demoralizing negative play when the INC/fumble cost Buffalo 12 yards. In previous years, that was pretty much an automatic field goal attempt.
  • McDermott took his foot off the gas in the second half. It’s easy to point to that and call him a conservative coach. However, that doesn’t square with McDermott’s decision to go for it on 4th and 1 while up by 17—and with all of the momentum. Had the Bills failed to convert, the Vikings could have found their footing. McDermott was more interested in doing what he could to put the Vikings away than worrying about what could happen if the play had failed. I’d have liked to see the Bills a bit more aggressive in the second half, but suspect the team would have been in response to any Vikings score.