AFC East: Duke Preston
When I linked to KC Joyner's blog about the Buffalo Bills' point-of-attack blocking percentages Thursday morning, readers craved more. They wanted to know details about individual performances and wondered how other AFC East clubs fared.
I reached out to Joyner to see if he would be willing to share more information earmarked for his book, Scientific Football, which is scheduled to be shipped in August.
Those who pre-order his book are granted advance access to Joyner's research as it becomes available, but he was gracious enough to send some of his analysis my way for the purpose of sharing it with AFC East blog visitors.
Throughout the afternoon I will post last year's run-blocking numbers for each of the division's offensive lines.
The chart breaks down a lineman's performance by net point-of-attack attempts (plays in which he was at the point of attack plus penalties committed and drawn), yards gained on these plays and his blocking success rate.
Joyner explains that an 80 percent POA success rate is considered the low end of acceptability.
With that in mind, the Bills didn't fare so well. As run-blocking metrics for the other three AFC East teams are posted Friday, the Bills' will look even worse by comparison.
Two Bills linemen eclipsed the 80 percent threshold, and neither of them is on the roster anymore.
Jason Peters, who at 90.9 percent led all tackles in a division that has some good ones, was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles before the draft. The Bills previously cut left guard Derrick Dockery, who won 81.4 percent of his POA blocks.
Joyner breaks down each play in such detail that he tallies the number of times a lineman gets stuffed, pushed into the backfield or strung out, or allows a defender to make contact with a ball carrier in the backfield.
The other AFC East centers combined were pushed back only six times, half of Buffalo's total. New England Patriots center Dan Koppen was pushed back six times, while Nick Mangold of the New York Jets and Samson Satele of the Miami Dolphins weren't pushed back at all.
Right guard Brad Butler, who could be moving out to right tackle this year, was pushed into the backfield six times, most among non-centers and tied with Koppen for second-worst. But Koppen had 197 net POA attempts, while Butler had 112.
Bills right tackle Langston Walker allowed seven defenders to
make contact with a runner in the backfield. That also led the division. Peters gave up one such play.
The Bills knocked on Wood with the No. 28 pick they received from the Philadelphia Eagles in the Jason Peters trade. Wood was considered the second-best center in the draft behind California's Alex Mack, who went No. 21 to the Cleveland Browns.
Bills coach Dick Jauron said the Bills will keep free-agent acquisition Geoff Hangartner, who also can play both positions, at center. The Bills allowed both of last year's centers Duke Preston and Melvin Fowler to walk via free agency.
"We see Hangartner as our center," Jauron said. "Eric will come in, we'll plug him in at guard and see how that goes.
"We're very optimistic about that. We really like his play, like his demeanor, like his toughness, like his intelligence. He gives us depth at two positions at the very least.
"We were kind of holding our breath when it came close to that pick and ultimately he got there."
Wood measured 6-foot-4 and 304 pounds at the combine. He started 49 straight games at center for Louisville, but he played guard in the Senior Bowl and said he has no qualms about switching for the Bills.
Many thought the Bills had to replace Peters, but they needed to rebuild the left side of their line. Not only did they trade their two-time Pro Bowl left tackle, but they also cut their high-priced left guard, Derrick Dockery.
An NFL source expected Preston to make a decision early this week.
The Bills signed free-agent Geoff Hangartner, who has played both center and guard but likely will be in the middle. Preston would provide depth at center. He started the final 11 games at center last year but also can play guard.
The Bills still need a left guard after cutting starter Derrick Dockery.
|Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images|
|The Buffalo Bills lost starting guard Derrick Dockery from last year's O-line, but they added Geoff Hangartner from the Panthers in free agency.|
Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson
The Buffalo Bills want to play a physical brand of football and dominate their opponents in the trenches. Dick Jauron is a conservative coach by nature and the late-season conditions that the Bills must deal with every year call for strong offensive line play. Factor in that they have a quarterback in Trent Edwards who is still a work in progress and the present inadequacies up front are magnified even more.
The Bills' heavy, powerful line is collectively better in the run game than in protection. The Bills allowed 38 sacks last year, 10th most in the league -- a shortcoming that is magnified by the fact that only eight teams attempted fewer passes than Buffalo.
Left tackle Jason Peters is immensely talented and was fantastic two years ago. But after a much-celebrated contract squabble -- which was never resolved -- Peters was nowhere near the player in 2008 that he was in 2007. Yet he is still the best player on the offensive front five.
Left guard Derrick Dockery was signed to big money two years ago, but was released recently because Buffalo felt he was not living up to his lofty salary. Cutting Dockery opened yet another hole up front, as the Bills already are extremely weak at center. This weakness up the middle is especially troubling considering that Buffalo plays six division games every year against defenses that run a 3-4 system featuring massive nose tackles Vince Wilfork, Jason Ferguson and Kris Jenkins. It is of paramount importance for the Bills to be strong at the center position. One positive is that Geoff Hangartner was signed away from the Panthers. He has excellent position versatility and while he isn't a high-end starter, it does appear that he is coming into his own while closing in on his 27th birthday.
In playing against 3-4 defenses in their division, Buffalo's offensive tackles often face outside linebacker speed-rusher types such as Adalius Thomas and Joey Porter. While Peters is athletic enough to handle such an opponent, aging and slow-footed starting right tackle Langston Walker is at a distinct disadvantage against such speed. What quickness he does have could decline much sooner rather than later.
One help in the passing game will be the signing of wide receiver Terrell Owens. In the past, Buffalo had only one receiving option (Lee Evans) who scared defenses, which made stacking the line of scrimmage and blitzing Edwards far easier. Owens' presence will counter that strategy.
Buffalo does have a handful of serviceable linemen who are tough and intelligent in Brad Butler, Kirk Chambers, Duke Preston and Jason Whittle. Butler was the starting right guard last year. He's a punishing run blocker and would be adequate as a starter if he were flanked by better players. As it stands today, two of these linemen would be starting along with Peters, Walker and Hangartner -- assuming that Peters remains with the club. While there is some position flexibility on the interior, the Bills need to add two more starters to the mix. It is unlikely that the Bills will go this direction in the first round of the draft, but after that, offensive line must be a very high priority. They also should be on the lookout for proven veteran guards or centers who are released from their present club between now and opening day. The foundation of the offense depends upon it.Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
INDIANAPOLIS -- With center a focal point for the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills, I had the opportunity Sunday to ask NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock what he thought of the position after seeing them work out at the scouting combine.
Mayock notes the best of this year's center class are Oregon's Max Unger, Louisville's Eric Wood, California's Alex Mack, Penn State's A.Q. Shipley, Alabama's Antoine Caldwell and TCU's Blake Schlueter.
"We didn't get to see Mack, who I really wanted to see a little bit. Wood from Louisville, he's not a fast guy. I didn't expect him to be a fast guy. I think I know what he is. I think Wood and Unger, to me, are the two top centers in the draft.
"But it's a really deep position. I can keep going down that list. I've got A.Q. Shipley from Penn State, who a lot of teams don't like because he has the shortest arms at the combine. Every time I put the tap on, A.Q. Shipley's a good football player. Antoine Caldwell from Alabama, are you kidding me? He had a great Senior Bowl, a better player than I thought. A kid that wasn't even invited here, Blake Schlueter from TCU. I think he can play in the NFL.
"I think the tight end/H-back group, the center group and the outside linebacker group are three of the strongest groups in this draft."
I followed up by asking if any center was worth a first-round pick this year:
"At the end of the first round, if you're a playoff team and your guy is not there, you wanted so-and-so and so-and-so's not there. You've got to have a guy in your back pocket that's probably more of a second-round guy that you know can be a starter, that won't give you any problems and he's going to be good value for the money.
"A lot of times those centers and guards that are the top guys at their position, a high second-round pick, they end up getting [drafted late in the first round]. An Unger or a Mack or a Wood wouldn't surprise me. I got them all in the second round, but if one of those guys jumped up it wouldn't surprise me."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
The Buffalo Bills have a healthy number of free agents in every category, but not many regular starters among them.
The Bills are about $27 million to $30 million under the salary cap.
Unrestricted (free to negotiate with any team beginning Feb. 27)
- T Kirk Chambers
- LB Angelo Crowell
- C Melvin Fowler
- CB Jabari Greer
- LB Teddy Lehman
- QB J.P. Losman
- FB Corey McIntyre
- C Duke Preston
- G Jason Whittle
Restricted (Bills have right to match offer from other team)
They didn't score on any of them.
Amazingly, Buffalo had the ball for 15:08 straight -- aside from a kickoff -- in the first half and didn't muster a point. In fact, the Bills were outscored while their defense was off the field for an eternity.
"Probably one of the most critical points in the game is that we're on the field for so long, and we're keeping our defense off the field, which is what we want," Edwards said. "Then we don't have any points to show for it and let alone they score a touchdown off of us."
Here's the breakdown on that possession:
- Eight passes. Edwards completed six of them for 46 yards, including a 22-yard Roscoe Parrish catch and run on third-and-16.
- Six runs. Marshawn Lynch's attempts went for minus-3, minus-1, 2 and minus-1 yards. Fred Jackson ran twice for no gain each time.
- Two Jets penalties for 19 yards and two Bills penalties for 10 yards.
Buffalo then had a 13-play, 58-yard possession. It concluded with a Fred Jackson run for no gain on fourth and inches at the New York 8-yard line.
Here's the breakdown for the follow-up drive:
- Seven pass plays. Edwards completed 4 of 6 attempts for 45 yards. He was sacked once.
- Six runs. Jackson had all of the carries with Lynch fighting nausea on the sideline. Jackson had Buffalo's longest run of the afternoon for 7 yards on the first play. He also took a direct shotgun snap for a 3-yard gain. Jackson was stopped for no gain on two of his carries.
- No penalties.
"We have to be able to get a yard," Bills center Duke Preston said. "We didn't get that done today, and that was a big play in the game and fourth and one.
"We had four or five trips in the red zone and only got 10 points offensively, and that's not going to win games. And we know that and we just have to do a better job."
ESPN Stats & Analysis found the Jets went the second-longest amount of time without an offensive play since 2001.
Two years ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars had the ball for 20:09 and failed to score against the Tennesee Titans with possessions that ended with a fumble returned for a touchdown and an interception returned for a touchdown.
Bills coach Dick Jauron already has ruled out starting cornerback Terrence McGee, who suffered a knee injury in Week 4. Another cornerback, Ashton Youbouty, is listed as questionable with a sore foot.
"He is very limited in team [drills] and very limited in the look-squad stuff," Jauron said of Youboty. "So we're just trying to get him through it. Again, we'll just have to see how that thing feels at game time."
That should be troubling for Bills fans. The Chargers have the No. 8 ranked passing offense and are coming off a game in which Philip Rivers targeted the New England Patriots corners for several long gains. Rivers threw for 306 yards and three touchdowns. He did so without Chris Chambers, who's listed as doubtful for Sunday.
Asked if the Bills will need to get creative in how they line up in the secondary, Jauron simply replied "Absolutely."Listed as questionable on the Bills' injury report are Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel (foot) and starting center Melvin Fowler (elbow). Duke Preston would start if Fowler can't go.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- About 15 minutes after the Buffalo Bills staged a second straight fourth-quarter comeback victory, a couple of reporters approached right tackle Langston Walker for his thoughts on how they'd beaten the Oakland Raiders 24-23 on the final play.
Walker playfully tried to pawn us off on backup center/guard Duke Preston, who was toweling off nearby.
"Preston's got a lot of things to say," Walker said.
Oh, really? We turned and waited.
"Five is a beast!" Preston proclaimed. "Write that down!"
No. 5 is Bills QB Trent Edwards, who isn't playing like he has started only a dozen NFL games.
"You certainly don't expect it," wide receiver Lee Evans said the next afternoon, "but you look at what he's done this offseason. I think he's prepared himself to be as good as he could possibly be, and [Sunday] was a clear example of that."
Edwards has matured considerably over the offseason into the role of starting QB.
The second-year pro from Stanford closed last season with three consecutive losses. In those games he completed 42.7 percent of his passes for 418 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions.
Through his first three games this year he has completed 67 percent of his throws for 733 yards, three touchdowns and one interception that was more like a fumble.
And here's the big stat line: In the fourth quarter this year, Edwards is 24 of 32 for 283 yards and two TDs.
"Every time he plays another down, it's a little more experience," Bills coach Dick Jauron said. "Other than that, it's all of the same stuff. He's very calm, but he's very competitive. He likes being out there. He likes the challenge, and you can tell he does."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Here's your Cutdown Day edition of the AFC East mailbag.
May you make it through the afternoon without hearing the words "Coach wants to see you. Bring your playbook."
Mr. Anonymous in Vienna, Va., writes: Eric Mangini's offense was a modified West Coast offense based on the weak-yet-accurate arm of Chad Pennington. Do you think this will change or be modified a little bit because of the arrival of a gunslinger like Brett Favre? Or do you think that the offense will remain like Green Bay's strict West Coast offense?
Tim Graham: The Jets went into training camp preparing for the possibility Kellen Clemens would be the starter, so the offense wasn't geared for Pennington. In fact, there was a strong sense the Jets wanted Clemens to win the job. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer surely will rely more heavily on different parts of the playbook now that Favre's around, but any drastic overhaul would force 11 guys to adjust as opposed to one.
Rob in Miami writes: What's the word on Wes Welker?
Tim Graham: We would have a better chance of finding out Welker's status if he were involved in Black Ops. You know how the FBI will declassify documents about a person only once they're dead? That might be when we find out how bad Welker's rib injury is.
Tim Graham: I think Maroney and Jordan will be a formidable tandem for the Patriots. They're more than talented enough to give the Patriots an effective ground game week in, week out.
There are reasons to be worried about the Patriots' secondary. CB Fernando Bryant is respectable but not as good as Pro Bowler Asante Samuel, who left via free agency. Bryant also has a sketchy past when it comes to injuries. Rookie CB Terrence Wheatley will be a good one eventually, but he's not ready for an every-down role yet. FS John Lynch will be a steadying factor in some ways, but he can't be used in pass coverage anymore, especially not at the same time as SS Rodney Harrison.