In the wake of last night's amazing victory over the Pats, one thing is clear -- the o-line is finally playing at a championship level. That has made all the difference over the last five weeks, allowing Josh Allen plenty of time to read the field and opening up big holes for the running game. Which leads to an obvious question: How did this happen?
While there have been a number of factors involved in the turnaround, one of the most important has surely been the arrival of Ryan Bates as a starter. Five games ago he became the LG after Cody Ford and Jon Feliciano went on the Covid list. He has been terrific ever since.
The fact is that an o-line is only as strong as its weakest link. If a player can't carry out his assignments, it undermines the unity and precision of the rest of the line (and with o-lines, being able to operate as a coordinated unit is everything). Since the weak guy can't block his man, the players next to him have to move over and try to help, but as they do they inevitably lose containment on their own assigned blocks. Making this worse, opposing defenses will focus on the weak guy, making him their point of entry into the backfield in order to pressure the QB or stop the RB in his tracks.
For the first 12 games of the season the Bills had such a weak point at the Guard position. In some games, when the opposing d-line wasn''t that strong, they could cover for him, but it was a source of constant vulnerability (and we all remember those games when Josh simply did not have time to do his job). Since Bates entered the line-up, the vulnerability has disappeared. He has more than held his own -- and has proved to be excellent at pulling on running plays as well, often getting over to the right side to escort Singletary to a big gain. As a result, the other four starters on the o-line have looked much better, especially Mitch Morse who was the one who typically had to shift over and aid a faltering Cody Ford or Ike Boettger. We have gone, in effect, from a below average o-line to an above average o-line.
One hopes that Ryan Bates will be signed to a long-term contract in the offseason, and that Beane will be wise enough to leave the rest of the starting o-line alone. Ford and Feliciano should surely be let go. Boettger is a decent back-up (assuming he recovers from his injury), but the team really should try to pick up some good interior o-linemen as well, perhaps one in free agency and another in the draft. Bates, meanwhile, cane play ALL FIVE positions on the o-line and -- as he demonstrated last year -- makes a fine replacement Center if anything happens to Morse. We actually acquired him through a trade (with the Eagles) and it seems to me that it may go down as one of the best moves Brandon Beane ever made.