Buffalo Bills Week 17 Positional Grades

Buffalo went out on a high note on Sunday after defeating the Patriots 17-9. The Bills started out strong which allowed them to play conservatively in the second half. Here's how each positional unit fared.

A 9-7 season leaves Buffalo Bills fans encouraged, but not satisfied. Against the New England Patriots, the Bills did enough to come away with a 17-9 victory. The Patriots sat some players for the entire game and had others play the first half but a win is a win. Here’s a look at how each positional unit fared for the Bills. 

Quarterback: B+

Kyle Orton retired following Sunday’s game and he went out in a winning effort. The Bills didn’t need Orton to be a gunslinger on Sunday, they needed him to be a game manager. To his credit, he did a terrific job in that role. Orton only attempted 23 passes on Sunday and completed 16 for 176 yards and a touchdown. He protected the ball and didn’t throw many dangerous passes. After building up a 17-6 halftime lead, that’s all the Bills needed. It wasn’t an aggressive game plan by any means, but against New England’s backups in the second half, it’s all Buffalo needed.

Running Backs: B-

The Bills finished the 2014 season without having any backs go over 100 yards in a game. Fred Jackson led the way for the Bills with 58 yards rushing on 18 carries. Jackson can still play, but he’s lost a step or two. Anthony Dixon added 27 yards and a touchdown on seven carries and C.J. Spiller had 17 yards on five carries. Sammy Watkins also had one carry go for five yards and the backs had 14 yards receiving. Buffalo’s running backs struggled all season behind their offensive line.

There’s plenty of questions about this unit going forward. Spiller will most likely walk in free agency and Bryce Brown will take his place with Jackson and Dixon. Don’t be surprised if the Bills add a running back early in the 2015 draft.

Wide Receivers: B

Half of Orton’s completions went to wide receivers. Sammy Watkins led the way with 57 yards on three receptions. He fell short of 1,000 yards on the season, but it was a terrific rookie year for Watkins. Robert Woods caught Orton’s only touchdown pass and caught all four passes thrown his way. He finished with 39 yards. Chris Hogan added three yards on one reception. The future looks bright with Watkins and Woods, but depth is needed at the position and Woods may be better suited to play in the slot.

Tight Ends: C+

Buffalo’s tight ends were involved in the passing game on Sunday. MarQueis Gray led the way with 25 yards on three receptions, followed by Scott Chandler’s 20 yards on one reception and Lee Smith’s 18 yard catch. It was encouraging to see the tight ends involved as that wasn’t the case on a week-to-week basis.

The Bills have something with Gray. He’s very athletic and made a good impression in his limited time. In his five games with the Bills, Gray caught eight passes for 118 yards with Buffalo. If the Bills ignore the tight end position in the draft and free agency, Gray is the reason. Chandler is also a reliable receiving target and Chris Gragg is also under contract for 2015. Lee Smith is a free agent and while he’s a solid blocker, he doesn’t bring much else to the table.

Offensive Line: B+

Buffalo’s offensive line performed pretty well on Sunday. They helped Buffalo’s running backs rush for 107 yards and kept protected Orton well. The quarterback was only sacked twice and had time to make his passes on Sunday. New England was running a pretty vanilla defense, but it was an encouraging effort after the line’s struggles this season.

Defensive Line: A-

Buffalo’s defensive line was terrific, especially in terms of pass rush on Sunday. The line was responsible for all four sacks, with Jarius Wynn leading the way with 1.5. Mario Williams and Stefan Charles each added one sack apiece and Manny Lawson was credited with one-half sack. Besides that, the unit also pressured Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo throughout the game. The line was credited with 15 quarterback hurries. Jerry Hughes led the way in this category with seven pressures of his own. He missed a few opportunities to get over 10 sacks on the season, but it can’t be stressed enough how important he is to Buffalo’s defensive line.

New England was able to run on the Bills and it was to be expected with Marcell Dareus out for the game. New England rushed for 116 yards on 25 carries against the Bills. Overall, the line was terrific in their final performance of the season.

Linebackers: B

Preston Brown looked terrific on Sunday and Brandon Spikes played decently as well. Nigel Bradham struggled the most among the starters. He is always flying around the field, but sometimes he’s a bit too out of control. Ty Powell and Keith Rivers saw a few snaps and were fine when they were in the game.

TSpikes is a free agent and it’d be nice to bring him back, but Brown is most likely going to start next season at middle linebacker with Bradham and Kiko Alonso on the outside.

Secondary: C+

The secondary was a mix on Sunday.  

Corey Graham was terrific. This has been the case most of the season. He gave up one reception on Sunday for 14 yards. New England only targeted him three times. Aaron Williams also played well in coverage, but he struggled against the run. Nickell Robey was decent on Sunday, giving up four receptions on six targets for 35 yards. Only eight yards occurred after the catch, so Robey was quick to tackle his man.

On the negative side, Ron Brooks struggled starting in place of Stephon Gilmore. He was targeted 11 times and gave up eight receptions for 93 yards. A lot of Bills fans don’t understand how good Gilmore has become this season. He’s become a terrific cornerback and opposing teams certainly wouldn’t target him 11 times in a game. Da’Norris Searcy also struggled a bit. He was credited with three missed tackles against the Patriots. He’s had a nice season overall but Buffalo may not think of him as a priority in free agency.

Special Teams: A-

Dan Carpenter set a franchise record for field goals made on Sunday after making his only field goal attempt of the game. His 34 field goals helped win various games for the Bills throughout the season.

Jordan Gay was strong on Sunday as the kickoff specialist kept New England from having any kick returns. Colton Schmidt was decent on Sunday with his five punts. His 36.6 yard average doesn’t look great but a lot of that had to do with field position.

In the return game, Marcus Thigpen continued to shine for Buffalo. He had one 49 yard kick return and finished with a 36.5 yard kick return average. Thigpen wasn’t as effective in the punt return game on Sunday, but he’s done enough to win the job in 2015.

How would you grade Buffalo’s positional units based upon their play in Week 17? Let’s discuss it in the forums!


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