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Plenty of blame to go around for Bills’ interior rushing woes

Why blame one entity for a group effort’s struggles?

Minnesota Vikings v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills made an offseason transaction with each of their three starting interior offensive linemen prior to the 2022 NFL regular season. They re-signed center Mitch Morse to a two-year, $19.5 million extension; they matched the Chicago Bears’ four-year, $17 million offer sheet for guard Ryan Bates; and they signed Rodger Saffold to a one-year, $6.25 million contract as an unrestricted free agent. They also elected not to make a change to their starting running back, bringing Devin Singletary back for his fourth season.

So far, the investments in the interior offensive line—and the non-investments in the starting running back position—have not paid off for Buffalo as it relates to run-blocking success.

A notable narrative this offseason was that the addition of new offensive line coach Aaron Kromer might be a more significant boon to the play of the men up front than any individual personnel acquisition (or in the case of Bates, retention). But the Bills’ offensive line is second to last in the NFL in adjusted line yards, per Football Outsiders (you can find the definition of adjusted line yards here) for interior offensive line runs.

It’s not as if Singletary is dilly-dallying behind the line of scrimmage. Singletary’s average time behind the line of scrimmage per run is 18th out of 49 running backs with enough attempts to qualify, at 2.77 seconds. Buffalo’s average yards per rush when running anywhere across the line from left guard to right guard is below four (3.1 in the left B gap, 3.3 in the left A gap, 3.1 in the right A gap, and 3.7 in the right B gap). The overwhelming majority of those yards gained in the interior occur after contact, as well—2.18 in the left B gap, 2.56 in the left A gap, 2.18 in the right A gap, and 2.20 in the right B gap.

In whatever way you choose to measure it, the Bills aren’t having success running through the interior. The Bills don’t have a single lineman in the top 10 of ESPN’s run block win rate for their positions, and are 21st in the NFL in run block win rate as an entire unit. The success they have had has been largely on the edges, as rushes over left end and right end for Singletary have averaged 4.3 and 6.6 YPA, respectively, while rookie runner James Cook has seen yards per attempt of 6.0 and 7.9 running on the left and right edges.

A big discussion at the deadline for the Bills was the potential acquisition of a running back, and although Nyheim Hines constitutes that, his potential role on offense—once fully acclimated—doesn’t seem one of a downhill runner that would attempt to isolate the variable in the Bills interior run game issues.

Singletary remains the Bills’ primary between-the-tackles runner, as Cook has only had 14 of his 33 rushing attempts occur inside. But Singletary ranks 44th in the NFL in rushing attempts per broken tackle out of 52 qualifiers, sitting right behind diminutive Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. His yards after contact per attempt also ranks him 44th in the NFL out of 56 qualifiers.

Like many issues in a team game like American football, when attempting to isolate blame, it comes down to “everyone.” The Bills can’t run the ball effective between the tackles, and the answer to the “is it the interior offensive line or Singletary” question is: both.

...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan for Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!