Grading the Bills
Running Game: A-
How in the world does a team rush for 240 yards and lose? The Bills accomplished this feat on Sunday somehow. Of course, most of the damage was done after they fell into a 28-3 hole but the Bills ran all over Washington. Whoever spoke up internally to sign Mike Gillislee mid-season deserves a raise — he’s a keeper. The former Florida Gator now has 146 yards on 14 carries in his three games (10.4 avg.) with two touchdowns. He might be featured with LeSean McCoy now down with a knee injury. The team wanted Tyrod Taylor to run more and, at times due to pressure, he added 79 yards himself.
Passing Game: C-
Again, Taylor’s passing statistics sparkled. He completed 59 percent of his passes for 235 yards with two touchdowns to Sammy Watkins — the deep ball was again a thing of beauty — but there many, many problems in the passing game that dug Buffalo's grave this day. Robert Woods dropped a potential touchdown and Chris Hogan dropped a potential 50-plus yarder. Taylor missed receivers. As Kirk Cousins heated up in the first half, Buffalo couldn’t convert third downs.
Run Defense: D-
Rex Ryan loves to reference his team’s “fight.” Well, there wasn’t much of that on Cousins’ 13-yard touchdown run. The quarterback with 4.93 legs slipped through five Bills defenders with ease on third and goal. Urgency, tackling, basic effort and awareness was severely lacking on the play. And Alfred Morris — who is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry on the season — shredded Buffalo for six a pop. OK, so Mario Williams only has four sacks on the season but where is he as a run defender? This $100 million man has been invisible in more ways than one.
Pass Defense: F
Stephon Gilmore is scheduled to make $11 million in 2016, the last year of his rookie deal. Beyond this, he’ll be a very, very rich man. The cornerback was having a career year before going on IR with a shoulder injury and it’s painfully obvious to see how much the Bills miss him now. Cousins picked on Ronald Darby and Leodis McKelvin outside all game as his 153.7 passer rating was the third-highest ever against Buffalo. And both safeties — Corey Graham and Bacarri Rambo — looked lost on DeSean Jackson’s decisive 77-yard touchdown catch. Lockdown cover corners are hard to find. Buffalo should try to extend Gilmore long term in the off-season.
Special Teams: D-
Punter Colton Schmidt has been effective on coffin-corner kicks this season, no easy feat. Sunday? Eh, not so much. Schmidt made the Vine-worthy blooper reel on fourth and 9 from the Redskins’ 41-yard line, letting the ball drop too low to the ground before booting it like a soccer ball. He’s lucky it rolled 17 yards. Elsewhere, the blocking was borderline sad on an eight-yard kick return by Marcus Thigpen — he was immediately engulfed deep in his own end. Ryan mentioned “drastic” changes coming for Buffalo. There's a good chance he'll start, first, with his brutal special teams units.
Enough with the injury excuses. It’s beyond comical, trending toward troublesome. Yet again, Ryan groused about the Bills’ injuries at the podium. “It’s ridiculous the amount of injuries we’ve had,” Ryan said. “Is that contributing factor? Of course. And it would be a ridiculous if you don’t think it is.” Please. Give me a break. The Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) and Kansas City Chiefs (9-5) lost both of their starting running backs for the season. Kansas City is missing its best pass rusher — and maybe the best pass rusher in football — in Justin Houston. The Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger for five starts. You can play that game for days. Pointing to injuries is a convenient, lazy attempt to shield bigger problems at One Bills Drive.
Grading the Redskins
Running Game: A
Maybe I’m in the minority in thinking it’s still OK to invest in running backs, be it draft picks or contracts despite Buffalo’s bungling of the position seasons past. But this year’s Redskins team is proof that teams can get by with undrafted placeholders. Neither Alfred Morris (3.6 yards per carry) or Matt Jones (3.4) have starred, but they’ve done just enough to loosen up defenses. Morris (84 yards) was a tackle-breaking problem for Buffalo Sunday. On his 48-yard run, Morris said he caught the Bills “overplaying” their zone-heavy scheme. He found a crease back side and was one on one with the safety.
Passing Game: A+
What if I told you that Kirk Cousins would complete 79 percent of his passes for 319 yards with four touchdowns and no picks against a Rex Ryan defense? Chances are, you wouldn’t rush to the ticket office and you'd ignore this 30 for 30 entirely out of pure fear. Cousins tormented the Bills in the flats, constantly finding tight end Jordan Reed underneath, and deep to DeSean Jackson. His best throw of the game was an 18-yarder to Pierre Garcon on third and 16. With a stop, down 28-17, the Bills might’ve had a shot to claw back. Instead, Cousins resembled Mark Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI (with a dash of Joe Montana).
Run Defense: C+
Maybe the Redskins were gouged for 7.7 yards per carry, but they get a passing grade here with a momentum-changing, goal-line stand. After Taylor gained five yards on first and goal from the six, the Redskins stonewalled LeSean McCoy for no gain once, again but were called for offisdes and then a third time on third and goal with 354-pounder Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton clogging the middle. On fourth and goal, Taylor floated one out of the end zone. Then again, why is Greg Roman running the shifty McCoy right up the gut?
Pass Defense: B+
When it mattered, the Redskins’ secondary shut down Taylor. The Bills starter was only 3 of 8 for 27 yards with three sacks and a 47.4 passer rating in the decisive first half. The Redskins are doing it with a hodgepodge mix, too. DeAngelo Hall slid back to safety. The 2014 fourth-rounder Bashaud Breeland, Hall said, has become “a shutdown corner.” Nine-year vet Will Blackmon signed in mid-September. And sixth-round rookie Kyshoen Jarrett plays multiple positions. They’d have a fighting chance in the wild card round with this group.
Special Teams: B
The Redskins pinned Buffalo at its own 11-yard line once but, really, it wasn’t a noteworthy day for their special teams because they weren’t needed. They punted only three times and didn’t need to kick any field goals because Cousins and company were completely unstoppable. Kicker Dustin Hopkins might’ve liked to get a little revenge on his former team but he wasn’t needed beyond five extra points.
Props to Jay Gruden for sticking with Cousins as his starting quarterback. Ownership reportedly pushed him to play Robert Griffin III — the second overall pick in 2012 who dazzled as the rookie of the year — but from Gruden stuck to his guns all along and now it’s paying off. Big time. Cousins sure looked like the franchise quarterback Sunday worth a long-term contract soon. Gruden deserves credit for his conviction and his ability to develop quarterbacks. Cousins is reading the entire field without the back-breaking interceptions that dogged him in the past.