Over the last five games we have seen the offensive line struggle across the board. The only player who really hasn’t has been Richie Incognito, but everyone else has struggled with consistency. What they are being asked to do now is different than what they have been used to the last couple of seasons, but is that the only explanation?
For center Eric Wood, I don’t believe so. I believe that the scheme has really caused him to struggle, and I think it may be due to his physical limitations. I love the guy, but I really don’t know how much juice he has left in those legs. Wood has always struggled to anchor and stay engaged in the passing game vs. big nose tackles, so plays like this from the preseason shouldn’t surprise us.
He continues to struggle against those big defensive tackles. Wood is currently ranked 21st in pass blocking efficiency (96.9), and has allowed two QB hits and five QB hurries. On this play from the Falcons game you see him lock up Dontari Poe and anchor down, but his base is too wide. With his base too wide he is anchored but unable to move laterally with Poe. Combine that with Poe’s strength and athleticism, and disengaging is too easy. Does the lack of lower body power have anything to do with his wide base? Possibly, it could lead to him compensating to anchor against Poe with too wide of a base.
It seems like his balance isn’t the same, either. I have seen several instances in which he’s been knocked off balance, sometimes because of a lack of awareness.
But sometimes it has been due to his play speed. He gets jacked up by Michael Johnson, a defensive end again on this play because he is slow to process the ‘game’ by Atkins and Johnson.
I believe that his limitations are also really hurting the run game. His play speed and mental processing seem to have diminished. On this play he and Miller should exchange responsibilities, something that lies in the hands of Wood. He is given the freedom to make that call. What should happen is that Wood should be quick off the snap and overtake Poe, allowing Miller to climb to pick up LB Riley. That doesn’t happen; instead, Miller is forced to adjust post-snap after he recognizes the gap exchange and to block down on Poe, and Wood has to work to Riley. It’s nearly an impossible angle and block, considering the speed of the defender.
Check out the quickness and explosion exhibited on the reach block on the 2i technique from 2016. I mean, this is teaching tape. He’s quick out of his stance, gains width with the first step and right foot down the center line, and works to the front side to seal the defensive lineman off.
Now take a look at the same block and run concept this season. On this play he is supposed to reach Poe, who is a shade nose tackle, but he just doesn’t have the quickness off the snap, so he is unable to get that second step down the defender’s center line. So he has no frontside leverage or power in his lower body to drive Poe, at all. Wood also loses ground, which re-establishes the line of scrimmage, but more importantly stresses Tolbert’s decision on the run. By Tolbert’s third step he must make his decision on where to cut. By that third step, Poe took away any option of a cutback, and he ultimately brought Tolbert down.
It’s difficult to watch because he has been such a good player for the Bills, but after all of the injuries, his legs just aren’t what they were. Here’s a play from the Bengals game. Off the snap he and Ducasse are combo blocking the defensive tackle, but Wood must overtake the block. He is unable to get his lower body into position to do so, and is unable to even get to the front half of the defender whic doesn’t allow Ducasse to climb.
Here’s a play from the Seahawks game last season. Wood pulls and kicks out the linebacker, but shows off some of his leg drive.
It worried me in the preseason and then they went and extended his contract. If his contract hadn’t been extended, then I would totally sign off on Ryan Groy being inserted into the lineup. But I just don’t think the staff would do that. Maybe that is the long-term plan that will be executed this offseason. But after five games Wood must drastically improve, especially considering how bad the right guard play has been. This team is relying on not just his leadership off the field but by leading by example on the field. He needs to step his game up, it will be crucial to the Bills getting the offense on track.