Word of Muth
Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Buffalo Stampede

Buffalo Bills OL Cody Ford
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

After last Sunday's win against the Miami Dolphins the Buffalo Bills are 2-0. Josh Allen is getting MVP chatter. Stefon Diggs looks like the best free agent acquisition of the summer. All in all, life is good in upstate New York.

Watching the Bills beat the Dolphins, you can see why people might be excited. Buffalo looked explosive when they had the ball, rattling off big pass plays one after another. It was a vertical attack that resulted in 31 points and a division win. The guys throwing and catching it are always going to get the attention, but the Bills' offensive line was very good as well.

This is what a lot of Bills passing plays looked like: nice pockets with plenty of time where one lineman would give up some pressure very late in the play. You can win with this kind of pass protection. Here it's left guard Quinton Spain (67) who starts out good with a solid play-action set and inside hands. As the play progresses, though, he keeps widening his feet with every step he takes. Eventually his feet are about as far as they can go and he ends up tripping over the center and getting knocked on his ass. It's never good to end up on your backside, but Spain's initial set and hands were good enough to give Allen plenty of time.

I really like what Darryl Williams (75) does here at right tackle. He actually steps with his inside foot first, which is rarity for an offensive tackle on a pass set. But he sees the walked-up blitzer and knows there's a good chance that if that guy comes off the edge, the defensive end will slant inside. So he takes a set based on what's likely to happen and shuts the inside move down as a result.

The nice thing is even if Williams is wrong, with the defensive end's alignment and the fact that the tight end (Tyler Kroft, 81) is going to be running outside, there's only so wide the defender is going to be able to rush. So Williams can afford to take an inside set and still have time to correct outside if he has to. Williams probably had the worst game of any of the Bills' offensive linemen on Sunday, but he was perfectly fine and it's mainly because he knows how to play. He might get beat, but he won't beat himself. There's a lot of value in getting veteran backup linemen such as WIlliams who know how to play when you have starters go down.

Dion Dawkins (73) at left tackle also takes a really good set for a play-action pass. It's an aggressive set to sell the run, then he gets his hands into the defender and locks him out to create space for himself to react. He widens the rusher with that hard initial set, then just settles in and makes the end walk him back. He keeps a good base throughout, not too wide or too narrow. Just a great job both selling the run and handling a rusher when you know you aren't getting help from anyone.

This is the only sack Buffalo allowed and I can't imagine anyone blaming the offensive line too much. Williams' man makes the play eventually, but it's only after he stopped the initial rush, and the defensive end runs to a spot where Williams can't know that Josh Allen has moved to.

Center Michael Morse (60) is textbook here in slide protection. It starts with a good initial set that forces the defensive tackle to declare where he's going to rush. Morse is creating a little room with his feet, but giving hand-on-body presence to his guard so the defender can only rush into the guard unless he wants to get essentially double-teamed. And look at Morse's eyes, always to the side he's sliding to so he can see the 3-technique start to come inside with plenty of time to take the block over. It's simple but it's good football.

Morse is the one that gives up the very late pressure here, but his recognition of the three-man line stunt is so good that you can't downgrade him for it. The stunt is predicated on the walked-up linebacker occupying the center so the defensive tackle can split the right guard and the center and get pressure up the middle. Morse sniffs out that the linebacker isn't actually trying to rush, but just draw his attention. That's tougher than it looks. To be able to distinguish a true rusher from someone essentially pump-faking a pass rush isn't easy, but you can see how quickly Morse picks up on it. He gets his eyes to the defensive tackle before the linebacker even begins to loop outside. Unreal recognition.

Once Morse redirects to the right, that allows right guard Cody Ford (70) to redirect outside and pick up the end as Williams finally comes off on the looping linebacker (with an assist from the running back). It's really dang tough to pass off these three-man games when you aren't zone-sliding into them, and I'm glad that it paid off in a game-sealing touchdown here because that's really pretty offensive line play.

The passing game is where Buffalo made their hay on Sunday, but they did some things on the ground that I wanted to point out as well. I like both their backs, and if Josh Allen continues to throw it like he has early, the run game should open up more and more.

This is the first play of the game, and what a way to start from the right side of the line. Williams comes down and rocks the defensive end and Ford finishes and absolutely buries his guy into the ground. Their technique and footwork are great, but I don't want to ruin this by overcomplicating it. Sometimes offensive line play is just about tossing fools around, and that's what the Bills did here. They covered up the rest of the Dolphins too, and the result was an easy 14-yard gain.

That first run was as simple as it gets schematically, inside zone. This next play was a cool scheme that I'm not sure I've seen before.

This is kind of a wham concept where the tight end traps the defensive tackle (Raekwon Davis, 98), but the wham tight end is actually in a combo block with the center, who releases to the second level after blocking the 3-tech with the tight end. That is such a hard play for a 3-technique to read, because to him it looks like the guard over him is pulling and the center is blocking back on him. That's power or counter to the opposite direction 99 out of 100 times. So the defensive tackle starts fighting across the center when he gets completely blindsided by the tight end. It's no wonder he gets knocked down. That's diabolical and I love it.

This went for 6 yards and looked great, but I could see this getting blown up huge if either defensive tackle was a big penetrator. You probably can't have it in the game plan every week, but if you think the other team's defensive tackles are more block-eaters than penetrators, I could see where it could be a real nice changeup. I always love to see new run concepts, especially ones that are really tough on defensive linemen.


27 comments, Last at 01 Oct 2020, 12:51am

1 The only problem with that…

The only problem with that last play is the wham block knocks the DT onto his ass right into the hole the RB is going to be running through. It actually put him where he could make the tackle. 6 yards downfield, granted, but still.

3 I was thinking the same…

I was thinking the same thing, so I watched the play a couple of more times.

It looks like 53 slides out of the hole the RB is attacking, influenced by 98's read.  I wonder if the TE is supposed to block 53, but he's not there, so he simply knocks 98 on his butt?

4 The issue is Diggs doesn't…

The issue is Diggs doesn't make his block worth a damn so the back has to hit the hole tighter than he wants. The DT spins late on the bock and falls back into the hole a little, but if that DB gets blocked I think the RB runs right through the DTs tackle. 

19 Diggs This

Diggs actually gets his guy going backward  - right into the hole! I don't know if that was the plan and I don't know much (anything) about his blocking but it seems like a lot was being asked of a WR. Either he was meant to push the DB out of the gap to the right - a long way to go  - or he was expected to protect the left-hand side of the hole, even though he was set up well outside of the DB and would have had to work his way to the inside of him.

2 Fabulous

Just another great article!

6 Bills' ceiling.

I already said they'd run away with the AFC East.  Can they actually in in the playoffs and do something?

Josh Allen gave away the game against the Texans (Watson scramble notwithstanding).  

If the could simply clean up the negative backbreaking plays, yes he'd be an MVP contender.

I want to hear Patriots fans explain why they think they have any hope of winning the AFC East.

7 Allen was not the reason the…

In reply to by DIVISION

Allen was not the reason the Bills lost that game. The OL didn't block, the WRs didn't catch and the D couldn't get a stop in the second half. Allen had some mistakes, but he was the only reason they nearly pulled out the win.

8 Sack

On the GIF of the sack, the snap appears to be at about 2.19.

2 seconds after the snap, there is a hole that appears to Allen's right. He doesn't tuck to run, he keeps his eyes downfield. 3 seconds after the snap, he could go to either side of the center--he keeps his eyes downfield. 4 seconds after the snap, he gets hit.

One could argue that the alarm in his head should have gone off, and he should have thrown it away, tried to run or scramble, or tried to checkdown to #11 in front of him-- andthat would be true. I also see a QB who made a lot of plays with his feet instead of his arm in years 1 & 2 calmly standing in the pocket, sliding, and keeping his eyes downfield b/c there is basically no pressure. To me, this speaks of growth as a passer, as well as having 3 good WR's that will get open if he waits for more than 2 seconds. If the O-line continues this level of play, and Allen plays just competently (say around league-average), BUF probably wins the division and maybe a playoff game too. B/c let's be honest-- there would be no shame in losing in the 2nd round of the playoffs to BAL or KC on the road. (I am presuming those two teams would be seeded #1 & #2 in some order.)

11 Not so fast, Joseph!

In reply to by Joseph

No shame in losing to Pat or Lamar in the second round, however, shouldn't Buffalo fans strive for more?

In Psychological terms, we refer to this as incremental progress or "shaping".  We want a certain outcome, so we're pushing for that.  Why should Buffalo fans settle for a second round loss?

If Kyler Murray is making a huge jump in year two, shouldn't Josh Allen be held to higher expectations as well?


16 Hmm..

In reply to by scraps

Don't pile on, Scrapster!

15 Striving for more

Certainly, Buffalo fans should hope for more from their team. BUT--if Allen plays well overall this year (say~65% completion percentage, 4,000+ passing yards), they win the division, and lose in the 2nd round at KC or BAL while playing well, just getting beaten by a better team--why shouldn't the fans be satisfied with that? There are 7 teams in the AFC (MIA, NYJ, CIN, CLE, JAX, LAC, and DEN) that would LOVE to make the playoffs and win a game. Buffalo is not in "SB or bust" mode like NO & TB are.

But just b/c Murray seems to be making a jump this year doesn't mean every QB or player will. Many QB's take steps forward/make a jump in years 2 and/or 3. Also, acknowledge that his jump might have a lot to do with adding Hopkins (BUF adding Diggs is helping Allen too) as well as the coach being in his 2nd year. All of those things make the Cards a tough team to beat. But remember that the last 2 NFC representatives in the SB came from your division, and SEA has been to two SB's in the last decade as well. Murray is the least accomplished QB in the division, and there are 3 other HOFers in the conference, plus Ryan and Prescott. Stafford and Cousins aren't chumps either. 


A bit of personal advice from a guy who has posted of FO for 12-13 years now--tone down the tone your posts a little bit. You're new here, and most of us don't engage in over-the-top rhetoric about our favorite teams/players very often. Use stats to back up what you say--that's why we come here. For example, I've been a Saints fan for almost 40 years now--but I can acknowledge that Brees isn't playing up to his standards, and that our passing game looks lost without Michael Thomas. I think Thomas is the best WR in the NFL right now, and his stats and All-Pro selection last year back that up. But I think rational people could argue for Julio Jones or DeAndre Hopkins and make a good case too. I don't have to say anything bad about those guys, or their teams, or other teams that we might play against, to make the case for "Can't Guard Mike."

17 Far be it from me...

....to downplay statistics.  In my field, we rely heavily on Empirical evidence.

There isn't enough statistical data to say that Drew Brees is done, however, he's trending downward like a certain Trent Reznor album title.

I hope he has something left.


23 Does anyone here understand…

Does anyone here understand the meaning of "empirical"? Empirical evidence is based on observation and experimentation. Statistical data *is* empirical, since it is based on observation. Statistical analysis is entirely consistent with empiricism.

24 It’s been a while since I…

It’s been a while since I last read any Kant, but my recollection is that Empiricism is as much about individual experience or perception as it is statistical data. Applied to sports, Empiricism alone leads us to absurd conclusions like “Derek Jeter was a good defensive shortstop” or “Julian Edelman should be in the Hall Of Fame”.

25 Empiricism

Kant's philosophy has been called a synthesis of rationalism and empiricism. From rationalism he takes the idea that we can have a priori knowledge of significant truths. The above debate seems to involve the role of rationalism in drawing conclusions about player performance.

Empiricism [from Wikipedia]

In philosophy, empiricism is a theory that states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience. It is one of several views of epistemology, along with rationalism and skepticism. Empiricism emphasizes the role of empirical evidence in the formation of ideas, rather than innate ideas or traditions. However, empiricists may argue that traditions (or customs) arise due to relations of previous sense experiences.

Historically, empiricism was associated with the "blank slate" concept (tabula rasa), according to which the human mind is "blank" at birth and develops its thoughts only through experience.

Empiricism in the philosophy of science emphasises evidence, especially as discovered in experiments. It is a fundamental part of the scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation.

Empiricism, often used by natural scientists, says that "knowledge is based on experience" and that "knowledge is tentative and probabilistic, subject to continued revision and falsification". Empirical research, including experiments and validated measurement tools, guides the scientific method.

20 Sack

In reply to by Joseph

Before the sack, it seemed Allen had a WR run wide open in the middle of the field as the safety moves closer to the line. I'm not sure why he didn't pull the trigger there.

Allen was also late and short on the TD pass. With another yard or so and his WR doesn't have to adjust and come back to the ball, saving him a crunching hit.

9 You can feel Ben's…

You can feel Ben's excitement watching and then writing about this,  just like I could feel his pain and anguish having to review the Jets a year ago

13 Buffalo is in Western New…

Buffalo is in Western New York.  You can reserve that "upstate" for Giants fans.

(Thank you, thank you, thank you for following the Bills this year.  Please don't stop!)

21 Fish Sauce

Word of Muth has now broken down two games, both featuring the Dolphins defense. Both o-lines performed quite well. I'm assuming that this is not a coincidence. I'm curious as to how much of the success was due to facing a weak defense, one incorporating plenty of new pieces (and defenses in general have had more problems than usual coming out of the gate this season). From the analysis, it seems that both o-lines are playing fundamentally sound football but anyone would look good in a beauty contest with a mole rat. 

26 Empiricism / Bills 2020

My take on the stats versus empiricism debate is that quantitative analysis is one (very important) tool in the arsenal of an observer who is holistically trying to get to the heart of the matter.  The amount of insight that one can gain from the quantitative analysis is directly proportional to the quality and the granularity of the data.   The data featured on this site is helpful, but limited, I think.   For instance, one who has access to the entirety of the new NextGen dataset would be at a relative advantage in this department.

The 2020 Bills (and Josh Allen) are an excellent example of the limitations of models sometimes.   In fact, I felt so strongly that the consensus thinking (and the FO win projection for the Bills) was off that I made a couple of YouTube videos:  ("Josh Allen is Better Than You Think" and "The Buffalo Bills are Better Than You Think").  I'll spare you the details here, but if you are inclined to watch and have feedback that you'd like to share, you can do it here or e-mail me at Clockfootballanalysis@gmail.com.  Thanks!

PS: I will admit, I was horrified by Josh Allen's decision making yesterday (in addition to his ongoing lack of respect for potentially bad outcomes).  

EDITING / ADDING here after initial post ...

In case you don't want to watch the videos ...I think that a good example of the limitations described above can be found in the widely accepted narrative (prior to week 1 2020, at  least):

"Josh Allen is woefully inaccurate in throwing the deep ball"

Of course, the numbers SCREAM this (as does the NextGen QB Grid), but I believe that if one had better, more granular data to analyze, then the perspective would change.  My extensive observation suggests (I watched a lot of Bills film from 2019) that a significant percentage of those deep throws were throws that would have an extremely low chance of success for ANY QB.  These throws would be defined by: 

1) The receiver is running away from the QB (at an "obtuse" angle)
2) There is a defender between the QB and the receiver

3) The ball is thrown on a flat trajectory and the window for getting it over the defender but down fast enough to be caught is VERY small 

If we entered all of those qualifiers, and had the necessary data to discern when they were all occurring, then I think it would be obvious to everyone that Josh Allen should NEVER throw that ball (or almost never).  Also, I think it would shift some of the blame for the poor QB grid (for downfield throws) to decision making and methodology (matching the right throw to the right situation) ...both of which could intuitively improve given his limited experience (whereas general inaccuracy seems a bit more difficult to overcome).   His 2019 WR personnel was also a factor. 

Sorry for the unusually long post