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2019 All-22 analysis: Star Lotulelei, Buffalo Bills defensive tackle

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Our review of the Buffalo Bills’ roster continues with the polarizing defensive tackle

Our review of the Buffalo Bills’ roster continues with Star Lotulelei, defensive tackle. One of the more polarizing players on the field, many of us already have our mind made up on the man. And with the number of times I’ve taken a look at the space-eating tackle here on Buffalo Rumblings it’s also no secret how I feel on the matter.

So let’s do something a little different. Let’s go the semi-random route like we’ve done with Jerry Hughes. I turned to Twitter for help selecting plays to analyze. This should reduce the chance of any bias I might have coming through, as I’m not picking the plays. For methodology skip to the bottom.


Play 1

Chosen by David Medina (Game 15, Q3, Play 2)

There’s an argument to be made on whether or not this was the right play call as there are a few things that could have gone better. Focusing on Star Lotulelei and what we have evidence of, though—he stared down the center while Tom Brady was doing his pre-snap thing and disguised his intent until very late in the process. The play doesn’t seem to go as expected and Jordan Phillips starts to drive forward but bails when he sees the run go to his left. Lotulelei has already adjusted as well and helps get Phillips free in addition to disengaging from the block himself.

Play 2

Chosen by Kyle Schenk (14, 4, 1)

One of the hazards of random play selection is the danger of the chosen play not directly involving the player you want to focus on. That doesn’t mean there’s not something to learn. Lotulelei’s job appears to be to stay upright and be ready to jump at a lane if needed. He’s also trying to draw as many Pittsburgh Steelers to his right as possible. There’s a subtle move I loved seeing on what initially looks like a play with nothing going on. It’s right after Maurkice Pouncey (#53) and Lotulelei test each other out. David DeCastro (#66) is moving toward Lotulelei and Lotulelei sidesteps to the right. It didn’t come up on this play, but look at the gap it opens up in the center. By making his opponents work to meet him, Lotulelei can give his teammates an advantage.

Play 3

Chosen by Circling the Wagons, which you should listen to (1, 1, 1)

This is the first defensive snap of the season for Buffalo and it could have gone better. This is Star Lotulelei doing the job everyone says he does by simply occupying two offensive linemen. As one of his biggest supporters, let me be the first to say you’d rather see him hold his ground better. This isn’t a great rep. Lotulelei getting pushed made it tougher for Matt Milano to shoot his gap and Lotulelei was off balance and unable to prevent Ryan Kalil (#55) from breaking loose to stop Milano. The New York Jets should get some credit for good play design and execution, but Lotulelei started off 2019 on the wrong foot.

Play 4

Chosen by Kyle Ray (11, 3, 5)

This one is much better. Ronald Leary (#65) is rocked back hard with a one-hand shove by Star Lotulelei. Leary is actually given an assist from Tremaine Edmunds who bonks him back into a better stance. Lotulelei just kept shoving him around though.

Play 5

Chosen by Shawn Stewart (14, 3, 3)

This is what you want to see from Lotulelei. He’s making this double team move back, not the other way around. You’re seeing that right. He’s successfully hand fighting against two players and allowing neither to disrupt him (admittedly #73 Ramon Foster is a bit distracted). When Duck starts to tuck, he’s out of luck and throws it like fu...ggedaboutit.

Play 6

Chosen by We can do better (All answers rounded down from pi to get 3, 3, 3)

It’s not glamorous but this is what he’s paid to do. Lotulelei impacts the play by forcing more than one player to account for him and moving to draw opponents out of position. Edmunds doesn’t get home, but he forces the scramble that led to an incomplete pass.

Play 7

Chosen by Adam Boniface (13, 4, 1)

Again, the hazard of random play selection shows up. Star Lotulelei and Patrick Mekari (#65) are basically at a standstill. With the play moving away from them, the only positive takeaway for Lotulelei here is his ability to start moving laterally to try getting back into the play. We won’t ever know if he’d have gotten away cleanly as it appears a right-hand tug that should have been called as offensive holding goes uncalled.

Play 8

Chosen by Stanley J. Cohen (8, 2, 4 #RIPKOBE)

This isn’t a great rep from Lotulelei. Or Edmunds. Milano. Phillips. Frazier. McDermott. Lotulelei does his job well. It’s just the wrong job. “That’s a hell of a staircase you built. Doesn’t really do much for the furnace like I needed though.”


Summary

Not even random play selection led to Star Lotulelei looking like a liability. On most of the plays above he’s solid or dare I say “good.” He demonstrates talent in a few areas as well as the benefit of years of experience in the league. He also shows some flaws but, in my never humble opinion, they’re outweighed by the good. Despite constantly defending the guy even I’ll admit there’s a valid conversation to be had about “value.” From a pure talent perspective though, Star Lotulelei isn’t as easy to replace as many suggest he is. If he’s still with Buffalo next season fans shouldn’t be concerned about a lack of contribution, even if reservations about his contract remain.

Methodology:

I asked for three numbers to represent game, quarter, and play. In the event of a play being selected that was higher than the actual amount in the selected quarter, the number is rolled down until we get to a play that exists. I allowed 1-16 for the “game” response to eliminate the Week 17 game versus the Jets.

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