Buffalo Football Report will give out grades to each positional unit on the Buffalo Bills following games. After a 34-21 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, here’s a look at how each positional unit graded out.
EJ Manuel came out and had a terrific opening drive on Sunday. Before the half, he also put together a great drive to get the Bills within three points. He made some good passes on Sunday, but there is plenty to criticize as well.
Between Buffalo’s two first half touchdowns, Manuel led the Bills offense on four three and out series, including one that ended in an interception on a poor throw. Manuel’s struggles on offense kept the Bills in poor field position in the first half, while giving the ball to the Bengals near midfield.
Manuel also showed that he’s still very inaccurate with his passes. On Sunday, Manuel threw some passes into the ground and airmailed a few passes as well. His decision making could also be questioned.
He also had a bad intentional grounding penalty on a play where he had time to get rid of the ball before that moment and threw the ball short of the chains throughout Sunday’s game.
Manuel is fine as a backup, but hopefully this was his only start of the season. Tyrod Taylor is far from perfect himself, but at least he can connect with accuracy on intermediate and deep passes.
Running backs: A
LeSean McCoy might not be 100 percent but he looked pretty close to it on Sunday. The running back made some great cuts and showed plenty of burst in the backfield. He finished with 90 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries (5.3 YPC). Bills fans got a glimpse of what McCoy can do when healthy and his success in the run game will go a long way the rest of the season.
Wide receivers: C+
Sammy Watkins finished as Buffalo’s leading wide receiver but only played one half. That’s a problem. Watkins was really good in the first half, catching four passes for 48 yards and a touchdown, but why couldn’t anyone else step up when Watkins left the game? Robert Woods finished Sunday’s game with 47 yards on four receptions, one of his better statistical outings of the season, but he didn’t step up as much as I had hoped. Chris Hogan added two receptions and 31 yards. The receiving corps is thin right now with Watkins, Harvin, Goodwin and Easley dealing with injuries, so the team needs to add someone who can contribute immediately. Don’t be surprised if draft pick Dezmin Lewis is added to the roster this week.
Tight ends: A
Charles Clay has been worth every penny at this point for the Bills. He finished Sunday’s game with 62 yards on nine receptions. At this pace, he may set new franchise records for receptions and yards in his first season with Buffalo. Clay wasn’t the only tight end to step up on Sunday. Chris Gragg made the most of his opportunity, catching five passes for 54 yards. In addition to his receptions, Gragg looked great as a run blocker. He’s earned some additional playing time with the Bills.
Offensive line: B+
The unit was pretty good for the Bills on Sunday. The left side of the line was terrific. Cordy Glenn played well and Richie Incognito is having a Pro Bowl type of year at left guard. After watching the game, Eric Wood and John Miller probably each had their best games of the year. Even Cyrus Kouandjio did well in relief of Seantrel Henderson. The unit opened up plenty of running lanes and only allowed two sacks to the Bengals. Hopefully, the unit is starting to mesh. They should get even better with offensive line coach Aaron Kromer returning as well.
Defensive Line: INC
I can’t even give this unit a grade. They aren’t being used correctly and they don’t deserve the negative grade. Occasionally, everyone would be okay with dropping back into coverage, but Dennis Thurman is getting too cute with his play calling. Let Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes get after the quarterback. It’s that simple. Losing Kyle Williams for a few weeks will hurt the unit.
Preston Brown led the Bills in tackles on Sunday but he didn’t always put himself in the best spots in run defense. Veteran linebacker Manny Lawson was the best linebacker on the field on Sunday, which shouldn’t be the case with Brown and Nigel Bradham on the field, but Lawson deserves plenty of praise for his strong play. Nigel Bradham was also pretty solid on Sunday, especially in coverage. He’s a very good athlete.
Darby and Gilmore each gave up some receptions on Sunday, but it wasn’t because they were out of place. Andy Dalton simply put the ball in perfect spots at times. Look no further than Marvin Jones’ deep ball reception on a play where Gilmore had perfect coverage. Nickell Robey struggled at times on Sunday, something Bills fans rarely see. It wasn’t the unit’s best effort, but they are a bright spot on this defense.
Corey Graham is a natural at safety and he played very well, as usual. Duke Williams put together one of his better efforts on the season on Sunday as well. The unit isn’t as strong without Aaron Williams, but this unit was solid on Sunday.
There’s not much to complain about here. Dan Carpenter connected on all of his extra points on Sunday. The biggest issue with the kicking game was on kickoffs. Cincinnati had four kickoff returns on Sunday, one that Adam Jones took for 49 yards. Having a kickoff specialist wasn’t ideal but Jordan Gay was pretty consistent on kickoffs.
Colton Schmidt had another terrific outing on Sunday. Schmidt punted the ball five times on Sunday, averaging 48.6 yards per punt. Buffalo struggled with field position, but Schmidt wasn’t to blame with his terrific punts.
There’s a lot of injuries on this team but you can’t excuse poor coaching before of injuries. Look no further than the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team, led by third string quarterback Landry Jones, defeated a very good Arizona Cardinals team on Sunday.
Buffalo’s offense featured far too many three and out series on Sunday and a lot of EJ Manuel’s yards came in garbage time. Greg Roman isn’t necessarily to blame for EJ Manuel’s shortcomings, but the game plan didn’t put Manuel in good spots at times. We’ve seen uneven play calling from Roman but he’s the least of the team’s worries.
On the defensive side of the ball, Dennis Thurman is doing a poor job of letting his defensive linemen create havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Having a guy like Mario Williams drop back from time to time is okay but he shouldn’t be doing this consistently. Let the unit pressure the quarterback and you’ll see a better defensive effort.
Last, Rex Ryan has talked the talk for six weeks but he hasn’t walked the walk. The team is still undisciplined and taking too many foolish penalties and Ryan isn’t coming up with strong adjustments in-game with the Bills. Buffalo has lost to some very good teams this year, but his overall coaching effort has been lacking.