It did not take long for the New Orleans Saints defense to expose a deficiency in the Buffalo Bills offense this past Sunday. On the first play of the game Bills quarterback Thaddeus Lewis was hit hard by Saints linebacker David Hawthorne and fumbled the ball. It was an ominous tone of how the game would progress. The Bills lost 35-17, ending the offense’s streak of consecutive 20+ point outputs, but more so it showed a weakness along the offensive line.
The struggles for Lewis didn’t end with the one fumble. He also fumbled another time while being sacked and threw an interception when he was under pressure. Though his decision-making has not been great when he’s under pressure, the offensive line has not helped him much these past two games. Against the Dolphins Lewis took multiple big hits and went down to the tune of four sacks. The Saints duplicated that sack total for another week.
With the aggressiveness the Dolphins and Saints showed the past two games it has exposed a deadly weakness up front. Though center Eric Wood and guard Kraig Urbik have held their own in the middle, the same could not be said about their counterparts. The unit as a whole has been flagged 11 times for holding, which ranks them 13th in the league. Compare that to last year’s unit, which was flagged 16 times over the entire season.
It also appears that left tackle Cordy Glenn has regressed in his pass protection skills. Last year as a rookie he was able to hold his own, but this year he has not looked as good and has shown his frustration on the field. He has been flagged twice for holding this season and once for unnecessary roughness. In total he has five flags against him. A year ago Glenn accumulated two holding calls and 10 flags in the entire 16 game season.
According to Greg Bedard’s MMQB weekly feature about pressure points, the Buffalo Bills ranked 12th in pressure given up. Mind you that ranking is from last week’s review and the Bills are sure to increase their ranking after the line’s performance on Sunday, which isn’t a good thing.
Thus far it appears the loss of Andy Levitre and the declined play of Erik Pears has turned what was a strong point of the team into a weakness. Levitre’s replacement Colin Brown was released two weeks ago after his horrible play the first five weeks, and though Doug Legursky has done alright, it’s still not at the level of consistency that Levitre provided. Levitre also helped Glenn with double-teaming and communication for the rookie, an aspect of his loss that may go unnoticed.
For Pears he’s always been about solid play. He isn’t the quickest or strongest, but more so now than in the previous two years it’s become apparent that he’s lost a step. Pears was on the chopping block in training camp and was retained because of an injury to Chris Hairston. This may be the last go ’round for Pears as an improvement, or added depth at both tackle positions needs to be found this offseason.
For the offense, and namely the quarterback, to succeed the line must start playing up to their ability and provide a clean pocket. EJ Manuel is close to his return as starter and he needs the line to protect him so this offense can really shine. Otherwise General Manager Doug Whaley has to start assessing the college ranks and free agency this off-season to get this line up to where it needs to be for Manuel and company to shine.