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Banged-up Bills D-Line makes plays in Detroit

The two excellent units were both missing key players, and by and large battled to a draw in a tight game

Detroit Lions vs Buffalo Bills Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions’ best unit is their offensive line. One of the keys to the Buffalo Bills winning the Thanksgiving Day showdown, 28-25, was controlling that unit. On most of the drives where the Lions moved the ball against the Bills, the offensive line was stellar. This nip-and-tuck battle saw the emergence of defensive tackle Ed Oliver, as well, who had a big day. Let’s take a look at film from Thursday’s game.

Deception by Detroit: block right, run left

A big part of football is deception that can lead to confusion. Here we see the Lions’ entire offensive line block right, while running back Jamaal Williams runs left. Part of what makes this play so effective is that you have several Bills defenders flow left, following the opposing offensive line. Offensive tackle Matt Nelson pulls left and blocks linebacker Matt Milano. Then, tight end Brock Wright pulls left as the lead blocker up the hole. Williams runs behind Wright for the touchdown.

Ed Oliver sacks Jared Goff for safety

This play sums up how much more dominant Oliver was in comparison to his counterparts on the defensive line. Oliver dominated left guard Dan Skipper on this goal line play. At the snap, Oliver bull rushes Skipper all the way into the backfield until he reaches quarterback Jared Goff for the sack and safety. The other three defensive linemen — DaQuan Jones, Shaq Lawson, and Boogie Basham — generated no pass rush at all.

Double team negates Matt Milano vs. run

On this play, Detroit uses a combo block with the center and guard. The center and left guard double-team the defensive tackle. The left guard then goes up to the second level to block Milano. This creates a hole up the middle for the running back to run through.

Lions survive Bills’ blitz

Here, you have a standard pass play with Goff in the gun. At the snap, cornerback Taron Johnson blitzes, which creates a five-on-five situation for the offensive line. The line blocks this play perfectly, as no one is beaten on their individual matchups. Basham twists, and then right tackle Penei Sewell slides his feet and follows Basham.

Boogie Basham fails to make the play at defensive end

On this play, Basham misses a routine tackle that, if made, is a tackle for a loss. What ends up happening is Basham falls off the running back. As a result, the Lions gain plus yardage on a play that should have been negative. The offensive line pulls left with the right side of the line. The left guard blocks the edge rusher at the end of the line on his pull, and the left tackle turns up the hole and just pushes Milano out of the play. Then the entire offensive line runs downfield to push the pile forward.

Tim Settle destroys Lions’ center

Defensive tackle Tim Settle makes a fantastic play here. At the snap, Goff hands off the ball to running back Justin Jackson. Settle bull rushes the center all the way into the backfield, to the point Jackson can’t really make a move, and completely disrupts the run play. Edge rusher Shaq Lawson sheds the left tackle and is right there to make the cleanup tackle on Jackson.

Buffalo fails to generate pass rush with front four

One of the things I was most interested in was if the Bills could pressure the Lions with four. We see here Detroit has a truly special pass-blocking offensive line. The left guard and center double-team Oliver. The left tackle takes Lawson one-on-one, but what saves the defense here is that Goff takes a check down (which he never had to do with a clean pocket).

Ed Oliver with the tackle for a loss

We see Oliver excel in the run game on this play. The right guard can’t move Oliver off the ball, and he then swings the guard aside and makes the tackle.

In summary

An important thing to remember is that two edge rushers, Greg Rousseau and A.J. Epenesa, were out for the Bills in game. In addition, Von Miller didn’t play in the second half. That’s one All-Pro caliber player, one starter, and one very good backup all out against a stout Lions offensive line that was also missing both of its starting guards. Oliver was a bright spot, who had a sack and two tackles for a loss. What did you think of the line battle between Buffalo and Detroit?