Week 5 Buffalo Bills Positional Grades

How did the Buffalo Bills fare against the Detroit Lions? Ryan Talbot gives out grades for Buffalo's Week 5 performance.

The Buffalo Bills moved to 3-2 on the season after pulling out a 17-14 victory over the Detroit Lions. A total team effort was needed as the Bills fell behind 14-0 early in the contest. How did each positional group do on Sunday? Here’s how they graded out to me.

Quarterback: A

I graded on a bit of a curve here. Kyle Orton wasn’t with the Bills in the offseason and hadn’t taken any meaningful snaps with the team until Sunday’s game against the Lions. The Detroit defense entered the game first in the NFL in yards allowed and second in passing yards allowed. Early on, it appeared that the Lions defense would continue its dominance. Orton struggled a bit early and threw a horrendous interception to Rashean Mathis that resulted in a defensive touchdown.

Orton settled down after the interception and played terrific football the rest of the game. He finished the game going 30-of-43 for 308 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Orton also audibled at the line on the two-point conversion run by Fred Jackson. The veteran quarterback was terrific in his debut.

Running Backs: C+

Buffalo’s backs struggled in the run game. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller combined to rush 20 times for 57 yards (2.85 YPC). Spiller especially struggled, as his longest run of the game went for two yards. Part of Buffalo’s struggles in the run game fall on the offensive line, but we’ll discuss that more at depth later.

What saved the backs from an F grade? Their contributions in the passing game. Spiller caught three passes for 25 yards and Jackson was second in receiving with seven receptions for 58 yards. Considering that one-third of Orton’s completions went to the running backs, I couldn’t be too harsh on the backs.

Wide Receivers: B

Sammy Watkins led the way on Sunday with seven receptions for 87 yards. His final catch of the game helped set the Bills up for their game-winning 58 yard field goal.

Marquise Goodwin finished with one reception, but it was Buffalo’s longest play of the game. The speedster caught a 42 yard pass down the right sideline that set up Buffalo’s only touchdown of the game. Having Goodwin on the field keeps defenses honest, as Orton showed he’ll throw the ball to the speedster down the field.

Robert Woods finished the Lions game with three receptions for 37 yards. The stat line itself won’t blow you away, but Woods’ demeanor on the field was extremely positive. Over the first four weeks of the season, Woods’ body language showed a great deal of frustration towards E.J. Manuel. As for the other receivers, Chris Hogan added two receptions for 27 yards and Mike Williams finished with one reception for eight yards. The latter hasn’t made as much of an impact as expected, but his chemistry with Orton should improve with time.

Tight Ends: C

The Bills don’t utilize the tight end position enough for whatever reason, but on Sunday they were more active than usual. Scott Chandler caught four passes for 21 yards and Chris Gragg scored Buffalo’s only touchdown on a two-yard reception. Gragg is the most athletic tight end on the team, so it’d be nice to see him take on an expanded role with the team.

Lee Smith didn’t have any catches and was called for two penalties. Smith is known as a terrific blocker, but if he continues to make mistakes, he may see less snaps.

Offensive Line: C-

Buffalo’s offensive line is struggling. Two players performed well among the starters: Cordy Glenn and Eric Wood. Glenn appears to be back to himself after needing a few weeks to shake off the rust of not participating throughout the off-season. Eric Wood has been the only consistent lineman through five weeks, although he did have one bad snap that Orton had to fall on.

The rest of the offensive line struggled. Seantrel Henderson, the team’s right tackle, flashed at times but also had his struggles against the Lions defensive line. The guard play for the Bills has been their biggest weakness. Cyril Richardson had a game to forget against the Lions. He was abused early and often his play stopped the Bills from getting the running game going. Erik Pears’ play at right guard wasn’t much to write home about either. His biggest struggles came in pass blocking, however. There is a lot of room for improvement along the offensive line.

Defensive Line: A+

The defensive line is the one constant for the Bills. For Jim Schwartz’s defense to work, the defensive line needs to create pressure on its own. This was no problem against the Lions. Buffalo’s defensive line accounted for all six sacks on Matthew Stafford. Marcell Dareus led the way with three sacks and one forced fumble. He took on two offensive linemen throughout the game and was still a disruptive force in pass and run defense. Jerry Hughes added two sacks and a forced fumble. Hughes’ speed gives defensive ends fits, but he’s also worked on quite a few pass rush moves. He’s done a great job in pass defense and has improved greatly in run defense. Mario Williams added one sack on the day. Williams benefits from having talented players next to him on the line, but defenses still focus plenty of attention on Super Mario. Last, Stefan Charles played well for the injured Kyle Williams. Charles wasn’t as disruptive as Williams in pass or run defense, but few players in the NFL are. Overall, Charles showed that he can fill in as a starter.

Linebackers: B-

None of Buffalo’s linebackers stood out on Sunday, for better or worse. They performed decently but they’re missing Nigel Bradham, the most athletic linebacker currently on the roster. Keith Rivers still doesn’t look 100 percent following a groin injury, but he’s still doing a decent job. Brandon Spikes was the best linebacker on the field Sunday, and he performed very well in pass coverage, generally an area of weakness for the MLB. Last, Preston Brown played a bit inconsistently on Sunday. You have to expect this for a rookie who has been asked to play so many snaps over the first five games.

Secondary: B

Golden Tate gashed the Bills for 134 yards receiving, but overall the secondary played well. The secondary limited Calvin Johnson, who clearly played at less than 100 percent, to one catch for seven yards. The second leading receiver behind Tate was Reggie Bush who had 30 yards on two receptions. Lions quarterback, Matthew Stafford, finished with 221 yards receiving, a low total for the QB. Buffalo’s defensive line certainly helped, but Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Corey Graham, Nickell Robey, Aaron Williams and Da’Norris Searcy played respectfully. The back end of the defense needs to work on limiting long passing plays, but overall their play was solid against the Lions.

Special Teams: A

Dan Carpenter missed one field goal, but finished 3-of-4 on field goal attempts. His 58 yard kick with four seconds remaining won the game for the Bills. Carpenter has been extremely consistent since joining the Bills in 2013.

Colton Schmidt has done an excellent job of punting for the Bills and Sunday was more of the same. Schmidt had eight punts in the low scoring affair and three landed inside the 20 yard line. His average was 43.1 yards and his longest punt went 61 yards.

Jordan Gay, the team’s kickoff specialist, continued to do his job. Detroit did not have one kick return on Sunday. His ability to kick the ball out of bounds consistently has prevented teams from long kick returns and has helped Buffalo in terms of field position immensely.

The only reason the special teams unit did not earn an A+ is due to the return game. Buffalo did not have the opportunity to return any kickoffs, but Leodis McKelvin’s 6.7 yard punt return average leaves much to be desired.

How would you grade Buffalo’s positional units based upon their play in Week 5? Let’s discuss it in the forums!

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