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19 Jun 2012

Word of Muth: Scouting the Bills

by Ben Muth

What We Can Learn From the Grail

Last week the NFL announced that they would release coach’s film for the 2012 season as part of their Game Rewind package. The news was met with great enthusiasm by most, but there was a bit of "get off my lawn" fist-shaking from a small minority. I assume those people do not read this column or Football Outsiders much (or at least they wouldn't admit to it), but just in case they do, I offer this advice: Get over yourself.

The people who will pay for this service do so because they love football and want to get a better idea of what is happening. That is a good thing. Plus, it’s not like people haven’t been judging, scrutinizing, critiquing, breaking down, and second-guessing players and coaches forever anyway. Now they’ll just have better sight lines to make those judgements on. Analysis will be much better. There are a lot of strong writers online that know a lot about the game. These talented people are going to be able to work wonders with this new information and deliver it in an entertaining and informative way, so as to educate a large population of football fans that want to learn.

Here are some new features in Word of Muth next year that will be brought to you entirely by the new camera view:

Footwork -- Probably the most important aspect of run blocking (particularly in the zone game) is footwork. Broadcast TV makes it hard to see the feet at work, particularly the second step. As a result, I end up doing a lot of guessing as to whether a guy is a bad athlete or has crappy footwork. If you thought I talked about footwork a lot before, just wait.

Alignment -- Both offensive and defensive alignment is important. We’ll be able to tell what splits teams use (these can really vary based on scheme and personnel), whether or not guys cheat their splits, how balanced their stance is, and other good pre-snap stuff that you can really only see when you are looking right down the barrel of five big butts. Also, I won’t have to spend 15 minutes trying to decide if a defensive tackle is a three-technique or a four-technique. I’ll be able to tell much quicker.

Hand Path -- As it stands on broadcast TV, you can only see if someone has really bad hand path (meaning they go really wide). Just like boxing, you want to come straight with your hands when you punch. Straight is fast, and speed is powerful. So now instead of just grading them "pass" or "awful," I'll be able to see the whole spectrum of techniques, grading them as really good, above-average, mediocre, and so on.

There’s more, but that’s what I’m most excited for. In fact, I’m so excited for the end zone shot that watching traditional broadcast tape of the Bills this week could have been a bit of a downer. Luckily, I picked their Week 16 game against the Broncos where Buffalo played really well up front. It was a fun watch.

Scouting the Bills

Demetress Bell is probably the highest profile offensive lineman I saw this week, and that’s mostly because he left Buffalo in free agency. Bell played pretty well against the Broncos and I think it was really smart of Philadelphia to sign him to fill in for Jason Peters. He has a natural pass set, and he blocks better in the run game than a lot of left tackles I’ve seen this year. You could do a lot worse than Bell at left tackle. That being said, I can see why Buffalo let him walk. He doesn’t create any distance with his hands in his pass rush. He also got collapsed a couple of time by Elvis Dumervil, and Dumervil isn't exactly a bull-rush specialist. Bell is a nice stopgap -- which is exactly what he will be in Philadelphia -- but he certainly isn’t someone you build a line around.

Inside of Bell was Andy Levitre, who I thought was Buffalo’s best blocker and maybe their best offensive player. Levitre has moved around a lot in his short career, but it doesn’t seem to have hurt him too much. The first thing you notice is that he is a really good pass blocker. He has a nice controlled set, and unlike Bell does a great job of keeping distance with his punch. He changes directions on the inside move and sits down on bull rushes. If you had a checklist for what you are looking for from a guard in the passing game, Levitre would grade as high as anyone I’ve seen this year, and that includes Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks.

At center the Bills started reserve Kraig Urbik. For a young guy coming off the bench, I thought Urbik acquitted himself well. I thought he did a nice job generating movement on double teams in the inside zone game. He also did a nice job of getting downfield and throwing cut blocks on a couple screen passes. He does play too high though, and that hurts him when he’s singled up in the running game, as well as when he tries to redirect in pass protection. He played well overall, but if he wants to become a full-time starter he’ll have to play lower consistently.

Keeping on down the line we run into right guard Chad Rinehart. Of the five, Rinehart probably played the worst. That’s not to say he played bad, but he was just average on a line full of guys that played really well. The biggest knock on him is athleticism. He looked slow, and had some trouble passing off games with the linemen around him. He also wasn’t great on the second level, where he had a hard time sticking to linebackers. Still, he looks like a strong guy who anchors well on the bull rush and can dig some guys out in the inside running game.

Lastly, we get to the end of the line with right tackle Erik Pears. I gotta be honest: I’m not sure what to make of Pears. His pass set looks weird. Really weird. Most linemen (tackles in particular) glide in their pass set -- Pears almost marches. He really picks both feet up and down, almost like he's marching backwards or something. It doesn’t look good, and it doesn’t look fast. That being said, he really took it to Von Miller, as Miller didn’t get any pressure on pass plays despite Pears’ unconventional set. Pears also really kicked the crap out of Miller in the running game. He hooked him a couple times for big plays and generally knocked him around. My current theory is that Pears may just be the Hunter Pence of right tackles.

That does it for this week. Remember to follow me on Twitter.

Posted by: Ben Muth on 19 Jun 2012

41 comments, Last at 23 Jun 2012, 2:47pm by Jimmy


by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 12:25pm

Dear Mr Muth, could you please look at the 49ers in your wonderful column?

by zenbitz :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 2:49pm


by BaronFoobarstein :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 11:43pm

If only there was a line looking to start two rookies and move a tackle who's missed the last two seasons to guard, that would make a great subject.

by Theo :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 2:14pm

I don't often swing the grammar hammer, but I feel it's ok when the sentence is "There a lot of strong writers online..."

by Podge (not verified) :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 6:17pm

My complaint is "That’s not to say he played bad"

by tuluse :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 6:21pm

Playing bad, that's a being a villain in a movie right?

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 7:50am

No, it's when an actor has to play a character who is himself an incompetent actor. It's bloody hard to do well.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 3:31pm

Reminds me of a bad-poetry competition I entered once. I came in second. I figured that was better than winning.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 4:47pm

I wonder if the examination of the coaches film by knowledgable writers will lessen the legacy effect for Pro Bowl and All Pro selections. With people who know what they are talking about doing in depth grading from film that really reveals what is happening, will we see fewer examples of guys getting selected based upon previous years' selections? One can only hope.

by tuluse :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 5:02pm

Voters would still have to read those articles unfortunately.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 7:52am

Maybe mainstream journalists will read those articles, and pass on less moronic opinions to their readers?

Ah, who am I kidding?

by ClemsonMAtt (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 4:18pm

Technique/stats/actual effectiveness doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is "clutch" play, having a cool name, and a great big......fan base.

by Jethead (not verified) :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 4:50pm

Enjoyed your column and look forward to more in depth articles made possible by access to coach's tape.
Can you do a similar article on the Jets oline? Do you think Mangold is as good as his rep? What's your take on Wayne Hunter?

by D2K :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 5:54pm

Fantastic review as per usual. Being a Bills fan I would say that your assessment seems spot on (not that I would know better than you of course). I would say that I hold D. Bell in higher regard than you and most people for that matter. His high school team never fielded a football squad, so Bell didnt start playing football until 2005 at Nothwestern State (yeah, that Northwestern State lol). He started there as a DE and it wasnt until the following year that he played LT. So he has only played football since 05 and only played LT since 06, which makes me think that his ceiling and potential have not yet been reached. But I guess that is immaterial seeing as he is no longer with the team.

Pears I think can be a pro-bowl level RT even considering the flaws that you pointed out. He is mean, and to use an oft-referenced cliche, he is a mauler. Exactly what I want out of a RT.

Rhinehart or Rhino to us Bills fans is a replacement level player that will probably find himself as nothing more than depth @ Guard this year (which is great b/c depth on the Oline has been the bane of the Bills for the entirety of this decade.

Levitre, like you said, is one of the best pure Guards in the entire league, and has gone unnoticed b/c he plays for the Bills (the ONLY team actually in NY mind you). He is a FA next year, and it is pivotal that they retain his services. Spot-on assessment of Levitre.

Eric Wood is the Bills center and has the ability to play G as well. He wasnt mentioned because he was on IR for the week 16 Broncos game. I think he is as good as any Center in the league when healthy, I am anxious to know your feelings on Eric Wood.

I would be curious to know as well what it is you think of Chris Hairston as a LT? Does he have the potential to be at the very least viable. If not is Cordy Glenn (2nd round pick) capable of manning that position, or should he play where most had him projected RG?

All in all, great article!! I havent been this excited about this team since the Doug Flutie/Rob Johnson debacle (Music City Miracle team). Its clear Buddy Nix has this team headed in the direction that this fanbase so desperately longs for, and with the additions on defense (especially D-line) and the emergence of Steve Johnson and CJ Spiller coupled with Fred-ex Jackson this team is finally capable of doing some damage. I litereally expect this team to make the playoffs this year. Now we just have to settle this pesky starting QB situation.

by chemical burn :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 2:54pm

Good comment for a team I rarely get to see play. I'm curious why Muth thinks the Eagles intend Bell to be a stop-gap, though. Peters' career could easily be over and it's hard to see him taking the field at age 33 coming off of two major knee-injuries in an extremely short time-span. Also, the Eagles made noises that they would swing Bell to RT and keep Herremans as an all-purpose back-up (or a Watkins replacement, if he turns out to be the bust he seems to be) when Peters came back. Clearly, Howard Mudd worked wonders with the o-line last year and has a very storied career - is there any reason he couldn't develop Bell into a legit prospect? Is his getting bull-rushed and collapsed due to physical weakness or bad technique? Are his hands close to him something that couldn't be fixed (weirdly short arm or something?) Does Bell fit Mudd's preference for smaller, quicker guys who can get to the next level?

Ok, that's all, just glad to have someone to keep an eye on (Levitre) in the event I watch a Bills game or two next year...

by tuluse :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 3:03pm

Looks like his contact is structured in a way that the Eagles expect him to be gone after one year, http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/04/09/terms-of-demetress-bell-...

by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 11:22am

His contract was written before Peters re-injured his knee and his career seemed very close to being over.

by AJ (not verified) :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 10:47pm


Not sure if this can be answered succinctly, but, in your view, how much do o lines really matter once you have good receivers+elite qb? By that I mean, if you had drafted a qb high a year ago and the subsequent year have a chance at an elite wr or lt, which would you take?

From my perspective, offensive lines need a solid group of at least 3 out of 5 to be a real strength. And given the continued offensive malaise of the dolphins and browns despite their elite lts, it does raise a fair question.

by DoubleB4 (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 12:44am

3 Comments / Questions

1) Thank you for not calling it "All 22" film. Nothing screams I don't know what I'm talking about than referring to it as such.

2) Do we know if the coach's film will be intercut?

3) During your breakdown of teams, how many times do get a good view of line play based on a tite shot of a replay? 10 maybe? And how much do you base your analysis on this because of the quality of the shot?

by Chris UK :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 12:02pm

Barnwell used it in his piece over at grantland.

by DoubleB4 (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:43pm


It's the rough equivalent of calling the Defensive End, the Wide defensive tackle. It may be descriptive, but it's a term that implies you've never been around the game or coaches. Considering that he has been around both, I'm surprised it was used.

by Chris UK :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 3:27pm

I wasn't criticising, I was just saying. I agree with you.

by BroncosGuyAgain :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 5:43pm

I have never heard a coach refer to "coaches film". Every coach I have ever known or worked for referred to "A22" or, simply, film. If you have to invoke the term "coach", you probably aren't one. Nice try.

by DoubleB4 (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 7:09pm

I've played and coached for over 15 years. Never heard the term All-22 or A22. I agree it's not termed "coaches film" either, but that's what the NFL Network is calling it.

by Ben Muth :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 10:03am

We always just called it film or the tape. And we would specify which camera by the wide shot or the endzone shot.

by tuluse :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 3:03pm

Writers have to pick a word to describe to the general populace what the difference between this and a TV angles are as quickly and clearly as possible. A22 does a pretty good job of this, so I find your complaint annoying.

by FrontRunningPhinsFan :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 11:43am

I am SO excited to read this article next season now. This will make an already amazing article even better.

Can anyone quickly explain who would be against having the coach's film available as Ben stated in the first paragraph? And why?

I can't imagine why anyone would be against having something optional that enhances a fan's ability to watch a game if they so choose...

Fire Jeff Ireland.

by tuluse :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 12:49pm

Many people fear loss of control.

This specifically means that fans and media can now make real criticisms that can't be washed away with the "you didn't see the full picture" argument.

by DoubleB4 (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:48pm

Fans and media made those criticisms anyway and will continue to do so.

And coaches can continue to make an argument--you don't know the call on a given play, you don't know how we teach that coverage/route package/blocking scheme, you don't know what technique we use, etc.

That's not going to change at all.

by tuluse :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 1:51pm

It's going to be less easy to brush off legitimate criticism.

by Lance :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 12:04pm

Minor question I'll ask here, since it was mentioned int he article:

How did we get stuck with the terms "three technique" and "four technique"?? I understand that the terms refer to where a DL lines up in relation to an OL (e.g. right in front of the guard vs. to his left or right)-- though I must admit that it's hard to remember which is what. But given that the word "technique" refers to a method to accomplish a certain goal, it seems ill used here.

When I hear "three technique" I imagine a DL who uses a specific, well, technique to shed a blocker. I certainly don't think of where one lines up before the snap.

by Theo :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 7:50am

I don’t know where the term ‘technique’ came from but you can easily count from the middle and see what is meant by it.
Head on, on the center is a 0 technique. Between the center and guard is 1, head on on the guard is 2, and between the guard and tackle is 3.
A Nose Tackle plays a 0 or 1 technique, normally the biggest guy. And a defensive tackle plays a three technique – a big guy with some mobility. Nowadays many writers just refer to the thechnique with how big the guy is.

by Jimmy Oz (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 9:30am

After coaching for a number of yeas and always trying to find something that would make football easier to understand for the average player, I came upon a system of defensive numbering that has proven very valuable to me since then. In the past I have used many different defenses. I always employed the technique of giving each defense a “name”. Most of the time the name had little in common with the defense and this confused rather than helped the players. After discussing the possibility of the numbering with my own and other college and high school coaches while at Texas A&M in 1956 I finally came across a feasible plan for numbering defensive alignments. I must give credit to O.A. Bum Phillips a Texas high school coach for helping work out the solution as he experimented with the numbering system with his high school team. Paul “Bear” Bryant

by Theo :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 11:51am

The number system was the system?

by Lance :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 7:10pm

The concept of the numbering system is fine-- my high school ran a system on offense that I'm sure plenty of people have come across where each "hole" is given a number-- evens to the right, odd to the left. Backfield ball carriers got a number, so a "strong right 31 Dive" was a hand-off to the tailback through the left (weak side) center-guard hole. Point is, I get the concept of numbering holes. And while I didn't mess much with defense (to say nothing of the DL), I can gather how certain positions would be numbered. I was just more curious how the word "technique" entered the picture. Perhaps there was a desire not to confuse "position" (i.e. where you line up in relation to the guard) with "position" (left defensive end)? But then, other words that are less confusing-- e.g. "alignment"-- would have worked as well.

It's also not clear to me the difference between this, and another bit of DL terminology, namely the various gap references. A gap, B gap, 1 gap, 2 gap. I realize that it's unfair to expect all of football terminology to be uniform-- hundreds of coaches over a long span of time are going to nuance things quite a bit, and one man's "go route" is another's "fade" is another's "9 pattern" and so on. But I do get confused about DL terminology. Especially when the word "technique" is so misused!

by tuluse :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 8:57pm

I'm pretty sure the lettered gaps correspond with the odd numbered techniques. So the A gap would be where a 1 technique lines up.

1 gap vs 2 gap is actually about technique as it refers to what a player's job is. A 2 gap system like the Patriots or Steelers they expect their d-linemen to take up 2 gaps and hold the point of attack while a linebacker reads the play and gets the correct spot. A 1 gap system like the Bears run, they want each player to only worry about 1 gap and they're expected to "win" at the point of attack or at least not lose. If every player is in his gap, there is no where to go.

by Jimmy :: Sat, 06/23/2012 - 2:47pm

Regarding one gap vs two gap, I think it helps people understand if you contextualise what it means for the players. One gappers have to win their gap which will be between two players, requiring explosion up the field to try to get past the blocker. Two gappers defend two gaps, so most of the time this means the gaps either side of a blocker you have to take on heads up, requiring long arms to hold off the blocker and preferably height to allow him to spot the back.

One gappers slip past blockers, two gappers take them on. Probably a bigger difference in how defenses play and the type of athletes they look for than 3-4/4-3.

(Not really aimed at you tuluse, just seemed the place to put it)

by zenbitz :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 2:55pm

Without knowing this history, it is just classic 'jargon'. You need a word that is both memorable but somewhat unique. For whatever reason (Bum Phillips?) "Technique" was picked and we are stuck with it. Engineering and Software are full of re-appropriated words like this that are "general" but used in a very specific way.

by Sloth (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 2:11pm

Could you do something on the Seahawks.?
I'm not a fan, but I'm exceedingly interested in the how such a young and oft injured line was able to create such magnificent blocking.
Especially the Eagles game, which is where they seemed to take off.

by tuluse :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 2:15pm
by Emmett Smith (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 9:28pm

It's true that Pears was able to hold off Von Miller. It's also true that Miller had a club cast on and didn't play nearly as well as he had prior to that injury. I like Pears (and love your work, Ben) but the injury issue left that way of rating Pears less than optimal.

Other than that - great article, and I, too, am very excited about coaches film. Thanks for all your work, Ben.