I can’t recall one postgame press conference in which Sean McDermott didn’t mention the line of scrimmage. It’s the first thing he mentions whether they win or lose. Let’s face it, whether you believe him or just chalk it up to coachspeak, the second-year coach believes “the game really starts and ends at the line of scrimmage.”
Winning the battle in the trenches has long been the philosophy of McDermott’s mentors. When McDermott was in Carolina (2011-2016), the team drafted nine offensive or defensive linemen within the first three rounds and 13 total. During his stint with the Eagles (2002-2010), Philly drafted 10 offensive or defensive linemen in the first three rounds and 29 total.
Whether you want to run the ball or pass, you have to control the line of scrimmage. At the end of the day, trench warfare comes down to 1-on-1 battles. It’s these battles that the Bills have been losing on just about every play, week in and week out.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”HC McDermott” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”22″]”Comes down to fundamentals and a lot of one on ones.”[/perfectpullquote]
With that said, let’s take a look at some of the issues up front that led to the Bills losing to the Bears 41-9.
Running back LeSean McCoy is frustrated, and after watching this game, you should be, too. What is so frustrating is that the linemen aren’t able to create any sort of vertical movement, even when they combo or double team. The Bills run an inside zone play here and the two combo blocks don’t re-establish a new line of scrimmage. Yes, I would like to see Shady just take what he can get, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of movement.
I can see why McCoy is frustrated. Very little movement up from the combo blocks, then once 1 on 1, the linemen can't win.— Cover 1 (@Cover1) November 6, 2018
Helmets in the holes, but there is still too much dancing. #Bills #CoachPaint pic.twitter.com/Pd23RzBhbv
The Bills try running a draw, but right guard John Miller is unable to stay engaged. Also, there is an extra defender screaming downhill at Shady. I’m not sure if WR Zay Jones was supposed to pick up safety Adrian Amos, but the play never really stood a chance.
Leaving defenders unblocked in order to execute a wham run usually leads to big gains. Even with the element of surprise, the Bills are unable to move a defender horizontally or take the proper angles to give McCoy a crease. Tight end Logan Thomas is executing the frontside wham block, and he doesn’t come flat towards the defender. Instead, he ‘squares him up’, almost as if it is a base block, making it impossible to wall or seal off the entry point for McCoy. Then, center Russell Bodine and Dion Dawkins do not follow through with their assignments by climbing and driving the linebackers horizontally, which would amount to simply taking them where they want to go so Shady could cut off of them.
Not all of the struggles are purely on the offensive line, though. McCoy’s vision has been cloudy as of late. Here, the Bills run what is called a Split Zone Y-Flat play. It’s simply inside zone with a tight end coming across the formation to disrupt the keys of the linebackers. Daboll releases a tight end to the flats, which creates a huge lane for McCoy because the Bears defender, who is in man coverage, must stick with the tight end. Shady gains four yards, but as you can see, this could have been a home run.
I know development isn’t linear, and thank God it isn’t because I would be extremely worried about Dion Dawkins. His run blocking has been mediocre at best this season. Daboll dials up an outside zone run and Dawkins’s man, Aaron Lynch, executes a smooth swim move into the C-gap to drop Shady for a four-yard loss.
General manager Brandon Beane will need to find two new starting guards by next year because John Miller and Vladimir Ducasse just aren’t starters. This play is so bad that I honestly can’t decipher whether it is supposed to be a power run or another attempt at a wham. They aren’t sure who to block, and TE Thomas gets dropped like a bad habit, leaving Chris Ivory nowhere to go.
Midway through the second quarter, Daboll calls a slant/flat pass RPO. Ivory is running an outside zone track and QB Nathan Peterman ‘gives’ because there are only five men in the box. The proverbial ‘hat on a hat’ advantage that the offense has does not matter because Dawkins again whiffs on the defensive end, so Bodine must help out, which leaves LB Roquan Smith free to make a play.
Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor somehow played in 75 plays on Sunday, which really goes to show how slim of a playbook they are operating with. If the gameplan was anywhere near a normal gameplan, Pryor would have only seen the field for maybe 25 plays. This play has Pryor in the wildcat running zone read. The defensive end crashes, so Pryor keeps it and follows TE Thomas. But Thomas overshoots safety Eddie Jackson, who makes the tackle.
Rookie guard Wyatt Teller played in 17 snaps in the matchup versus the Bears. The very first rep challenged what he usually struggles with, anchoring.
He’s a guy I expected to get some burn later in the season. He’s a young lineman who needs to work on his lower body strength. We see the lack of strength and drive here. He is unable to move DT Jonathan Bullard. Teller does his best to maneuver his body to win leverage so that Shady can work around him, but Bullard is still able to disengage.
Teller is in line to start versus the Jets because of the poor play of Ducasse. Ducasse’s pass blocking has been better than his run blocking, but that really isn’t saying much. Here, he is impatient versus the Bears’ backup DT, Bullard. The former Gator swats Ducasse’s punch and makes a beeline for the QB.
I thought reserve right tackle Jeremiah Sirles played rather well in his 27 snaps. Sirles was always one of the first linemen out of his stance. His vertical sets were quick, and he was able to reset when rushers changed their angles. We see that here as edge rusher Leonard Floyd slants hard inside as the Bears send a corner blitz.
Here’s another strong rep, again versus Floyd. This time, Sirles is quick out of his stance, but he doesn’t just gain depth in his vertical set. You see him also work in some width to help keep the pocket wide. As Floyd stutters, Sirles does a good job of resetting his base in order to stay perfectly between the QB and the rusher.
This play is a really good read by Peterman. The Bears drop into single-high post-snap, so Peterman needs to determine whether it’s Cover 1 or Cover 3. In order to do so he searches for the flats defender, who would be the slot corner. That corner matches the route by Ray-Ray McCloud, so it’s Cover 3 match, which means the inside linebacker is responsible for the #3 receiver (TE). Peterman reads it and fires it out to TE Thomas. Now let’s look at RT Sirles’s hands. On this rep, he is up against backup rusher Kyle Fitts. Sirles is cognizant of a possible chip from the tight end, so he must remain slow and controlled in his kick slide. As Fitts closes the cushion, Sirles flashes his right hand in an attempt to get Fitts to bring his hands up. The rusher doesn’t fall for it, so Sirles waits for the perfect moment and ‘boom’, he shoots his hands inside and locks on.
Here’s Sirles again. Watch how smooth he is in his kick slide from the All-22 angle. He’s completely under control and meets the defender at the exact junction point needed to shut down the line the rusher needs to get to the QB.
Now back to some more of the bad. Another attempt at an outside zone run, but this time Bodine fails to pick up the middle linebacker. He simply doesn’t have the athleticism to stop moving to his left to peel back to get a piece of the backer.
Buffalo comes back to a split zone run and the line does a good job this time, as they gain four yards. But watch the combo by Bodine and Ducasse. I like how Bodine has his hands on DT Goldman and his eyes on the backer prior to climbing, but as soon as he leaves Ducasse to a 1-on-1, Goldman grabs cloth and throws him. Goes to show the lack of balance and leverage that Ducasse plays with.
Bodine is another lineman that struggles with balance. Akiem Hicks slants into the weakside A-gap, so Bodine tries stunting the rush with a punch. But his punch puts him on his toes and Hicks is able to get his left hand inside to power rush him right into Peterman, who is able to escape.
A limited playbook means limited play calls. Here’s another attempt at a wham run, but this time with Ivory. Bodine blocks back on the defensive tackle as Ducasse short traps DT Hicks. Mills attempts to climb to the linebacker, but of course is slow and takes a bad angle. Ivory is met in the hole by each of those three players’ assignments. Imagine those blocks being picked up; it’s an easy touchdown.
A few more reps by Teller and Sirles to round out this breakdown. Teller is now in at right guard, where I thought he looked the most comfortable, and Sirles beside him at right tackle. On the snap, the Bills execute a partial slide left. The defensive tackle attempts to shoot into Teller’s gap, so he simply locks on and drives him wide. This protection puts Sirles on an island, but he is incredibly calm. Fitts goes for a speed rush wide and almost gets the corner on Sirles, but Sirles is able to ride him just wide. With the inside linebacker blitzing, Murphy steps up and puts forth a weak effort at carrying out his block.
Here is some really good work between Sirles and Teller. As the edge rusher loops inside, Sirles slides and takes over Teller’s block. Teller then delivers a blow to redirect the pass rusher. I would like to see both stay engaged on this rep.
Sirles was mainly tested with speed rushes. On one of the rare occasions where rushers transitioned from speed to power, he did have trouble, but he did eventually recover by sitting and anchoring on this play.
With the team at 2-7, now is the time to start evaluating at all of the positions of need. It is pretty clear through nine games that the offensive line’s play isn’t just a case of a lack of reps or continuity. The meager 12.5 million dollars invested in the offensive line this season, the least in the NFL, has shown. Get as much tape as you can on the Tellers and Sirleses of the world. If they show the ability to improve and develop, the line will be that much better next season, which may actually give them a shot at controlling the line of scrimmage as McDermott wants.