The season premiere of The Walking Dead aired on Sunday night, but Buffalo Bills fans probably thought they were watching the episode live on Sunday afternoon. During the first half, the Bills looked like the walking dead on the field and it appeared the team was in danger of falling to 2-3 on the season. Luckily, the Bills came out of their zombie-like state in the second half and did just enough to pull away with a 14-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans. Who deserves credit for the win? Who almost cost the Bills the game? Here's a breakdown on each positional unit and how they fared on Sunday.
If this game had ended at halftime, Tyrod Taylor probably would have received a failing grade. Luckily, the quarterback responded once the Bills fell behind 10-0 in the game. At that point, Taylor took over the game and saved the Bllls from falling below .500. The quarterback led Buffalo on two consecutive 80 yard drives to pull ahead of the Titans. On the first scoring drive, Taylor ran for 53 yards on three carries and passed for nine yards. His 26 yard touchdown run was aided by a fantastic block by Robert Woods. While the first drive saw two big runs, he saved his best run for the next series.
Buffalo faced a 3rd and 23 from their own seven yard line after back-to-back Seantrel Henderson penalties. On the play, the Titans left the middle of the field open and Taylor took advantage of the space. He scrambled down the field and picked up 24 yards before getting pulled to the ground by linebacker Zach Brown. Brown was called for a horsecollar penalty (that technically wasn't a horsecollar) on the play that added an additional 15 yards to the play. Taylor was shaken up on the play and had to come out for one play. Facing a 2nd and 9 from their own 47, Taylor threw a deep ball down the field to Chris Hogan. The receiver pulled in the ball for a 46 yard gain and the duo connected again three plays later for the final score of the game. Taylor's feet and arm came up big for the Bills as he carried the offense to a late victory.
Running backs: F
Buffalo has to hope that Karlos Williams is good to go on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. Many people in the media believe that LeSean McCoy will be out of action until the team returns from their bye week, so he's an even bigger stretch to play on Sunday. Without their 1-2 punch at running back, the Bills looked punchless.
Dan Herron led the way with nine carries going for 28 yards. Among the backs, Herron looked the best for Buffalo, despite a near costly fumble. Anthony Dixon chipped in with 19 yards on seven carries. Dixon still doesn't look 100 percent on the field and he also looks a bit heavier than he was last year. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem like he can carry that extra weight effectively. The back almost looked like he was running in slow motion. Cierre Wood added three yards on two rushes before suffering an ACL injury and Jerome Felton had one carry for two yards. There aren't many positives you can take out of this performance.
Wide Receivers: D
Two players saved this from being an 'F': Woods and Hogan. On the stat sheet, Woods was a dud. He finished Sunday's game with one reception going for six yards. However, his block late in Tyrod Taylor's touchdown run took out two Titans players and allowed the quarterback to get into the end zone. Hogan had the best game among the receivers, catching three passes for 52 yards and a touchdown, while also connecting with Taylor on a two yard pass.
Percy Harvin was kept off the stat sheet, despite being targeted four times and Marquise Goodwin caught two passes for 24 yards. Goodwin did surpass his reception total from 2014, but much like the majority of the receivers, he didn't make much of an impact.
Tight Ends: F
Charles Clay was coming off of two strong performances and you'd think the Bills would have utilized the tight end on Sunday. Instead, Clay saw three targets that resulted in one catch for seven yards. Matthew Mulligan and Chris Gragg did nothing of note for the unit on Sunday.
Offensive Line: C-
Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito both received positive grades from Pro Football Focus, and for the majority of the game, they fared well. The same cannot be said for Eric Wood, John Miller and Seantrel Henderson. This side of the line was abused throughout the game. Jurrell Casey had a field day against the interior of the line and Derrick Morgan took Seantrel Henderson's lunch money everytime they faced off.
Glenn and Incognito, the only bright spots along the lline this season, are both free agents at the end of the year. We're only five weeks into the season, but it's safe to assume that the Bills will be drafting some offensive linemen early in the 2016 draft.
Defensive Line: B+
Buffalo's defensive linemen also had their moments of pushing around the Titans offensive line. No player was more dominant than Marcell Dareus. He was a one-man wrecking crew against the run and was also credited with two quarterback hits on Sunday. His second hit on Mariota resulted in an interception for Stephon Gilmore. Kyle Williams and Mario Williams both chipped in with sacks for Buffalo. Jerry Hughes also had a quarterback hit on Sunday, but he was also credited with two missed tackles.
Sunday was a bit of a letdown for the linebackers. In fact, the best play didn't come from Preston Brown or Nigel Bradham. Veteran Manny Lawson made a big play on Sunday that didn't get much attention. The Titans tried a run play to Kendall Wright that saw the rest of the offense moving to the left. Lawson didn't bite on the play and he stayed at home. In doing so, Wright couldn't get outside on the right side of the field and had to cut to the inside. A play that could have gone for a big gain ended in a gain of one yard after Aaron Williams tackled Wright. It wasn't a banner day for the unit, but that happens some weeks in the NFL.
Ronald Darby and Gilmore are a terrific one-two punch at cornerback and their tremendous play continued on Sunday. Darby was targeted five times and gave up three receptions for 20 yards. Gilmore gave up two receptions for 20 yards on six targets and added a pass defensed and interception. Nickell Robey also played well for the Bills. It won't be long until Leodis McKelvin is back with the Bills, but he'll probably have to settle for backing up Darby and Gilmore. A strong unit is going to get even stronger soon. Take note, NFL quarterbacks.
Corey Graham was excellent at CB in 2014, yet he looks like he's played safety his entire career. He's an absolute natural for the Bills and had a terrific game on Sunday. He was called for unnecessary roughness late in the game, but even the commentators believed it was an awful call. Graham timed a hit on Justin Hunter perfectly and helped break up a pass intended for the receiver. He led with his shoulder and made contact just after the ball arrived. It's exactly how coaches would want their safeties to hit, yet he drew a penalty. That said, there's no doubt that Rex Ryan will encourage Graham to continue to play aggressively. Aaron Williams fared well in his return from a neck injury, even after suffering a minor neck injury scare. Buffalo's secondary is much better with Williams in the lineup so it was great to see him back on Sunday.
Special Teams: C
Dan Carpenter connected on both of his extra point attempts, although it felt like his first extra point kick was a little too close for comfort. Billy Cundiff handled kickoff duties for the Bills but wasn't as effective as Jordan Gay. He gave the Titans three kickoff returns on the day and it wouldn't be a surprise if his tenure was over before it started. The same can be said for Denarius Moore who fumbled a punt return in his debut with Buffalo. Somewhere Marcus Thigpen was smiling. Harvin only saw one kickoff return for the Bills on Sunday. The MVP of the special teams unit was Colton Schmidt. He averaged 51 yards per punt and had one punt go for 65 yards.
Buffalo won and at the end of the day, that's all that matters in the NFL. However, the first half saw some terrible offense by the Bills. Greg Roman is missing quite a few offensive weapons, but the unit couldn't move the ball effectively at all. The defense certainly carried the team until Taylor and the offense woke up, but the overall gameplan left much to be desired on Sunday.