It has been a very up-and-down year for the Buffalo Bills, in large measure due to inconsistent offensive line play. Whether due to injury, COVID-19, or simply poor performance, the five-man unit has seen a new face at just about every position in almost every game.
On Sunday, the Bills went up against the New England Patriots’ No. 3 ranked defense, a unit that has wreaked havoc all across the NFL. They shut down the Bills offense back in Week 13, holding them to a lowly 230 total yards of offense.
That same defense, however, had much less success stopping Buffalo this weekend. In fact, the Bills may have finally found their starting five for the rest of the season. And this group features a face unfamiliar to many Buffalo Bills fans: Ryan Bates. The third-year lineman from Penn State made his first career start this weekend and did not disappoint.
Bates began the game at right guard, starting in place of Daryl Williams (who moved to RT) and Cody Ford and Jon Feliciano (both of whom were on the reserve/COVID-19 list). He capably manned the position until flipping to the left side when Ike Boettger tore his achilles (a likely season-ending injury).
Bates did not skip a beat, helping lead the Bills to an impressive victory over their divisional foe. Not only did Buffalo have one of their better days running the ball, but the offensive line was also able to keep Josh Allen clean all day. By day’s end, the O-Line had relinquished not a single sack, only the third time that has happened all season.
Throughout the game, Bates was effective in both areas of the offense. Among the day’s highlights, Bates helped seal the defensive tackle to allow Allen’s 25-yard scamper in the second quarter, leading to a field goal. When he moved to the opposite side, Bates took over Boettger’s responsibilities in alerting Morse when to snap the ball and calling out blitzes. This job requires trust and accountability. And he earned it in spades.
Meanwhile, Ford and Felciano may well be better suited for backup roles at this point. Felicano was recently hospitalized with COVID. Whether he is able to return as the same caliber of player is a question mark. As for Ford, I think he has used up all of his chances to start. His career has not panned out as projected. Unless we see another significant injury to a lineman, he’s likely to finish the season on the bench.
Listen, I’m not saying Ryan Bates will be the Bills’ starting guard for the rest of his career, especially after one solid performance. But I firmly believe he deserves to start for the rest of the season, which will, hopefully, include a long string of playoff games.
P.S. It should be noted that I will always support more playing time for a Penn Stater.
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- Game stats courtesy of ESPN
- Video courtesy of the NFL
- Feliciano article courtesy of CBS Sports