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Report Card: Bills run the ball at will, but tackling woes continue on 'D'

Grading the Bills

Running Game: A

The Bills offensive line heard Bill Polian’s criticism loud and clear and responded with a 236-yard game. They’re the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL. Maybe Polian has watched this Bills team closely but calling the line “aging” and “unathletic” suggests he is out of touch. Richie Incognito, 32, has been pulling all season and should’ve made the Pro Bowl. Eric Wood, 29, is a Pro Bowl alternate. And Cordy Glenn might be set for a lucrative, well-deserved contract extension. The Bills' line play is a strength, the least of Buffalo's concerns.

Passing Game: C

The interception before the half was about as bad as it gets, a play that’d give any front office pause on anointing a quarterback its long-term answer. Tyrod Taylor underthrew Chris Hogan and the Bills came away with no points. In that read, it looked like Taylor had Greg Salas open for a touchdown, too. Earlier, Hogan dropped a deep fourth-and-5 pass — drops have been an issue for "7-11" of late. Again, Taylor and Sammy Watkins connected enough to keep a defense honest but the Bills ran the ball 66 percent of the time in this one.

Run Defense: C-

Darren McFadden ripped Buffalo for 99 yards on 19 carries with Robert Turbin adding another 23 on five carries. Injuries don’t help here. When Marcell Dareus left with a neck injury, the Bills were down to practice squad call-up Jerel Worthy — the former second-rounder has been on five teams since 2013 — up front. Inside linebacker Nigel Bradham missed a fourth game with his high ankle sprain. Kyle Williams has been out since October. The Bills gave up runs in chunks but the dam never broke which was enough to win Sunday.

Pass Defense: C

First, the good news: Kellen Moore had a passer rating of 48.6. Next, the bad news: He is Kellen Moore, a quarterback who had no business starting in the first place. And while Dallas does have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, the lack of pressure from a Rex Ryan defense was again startling. The Bills had zero sacks and one quarterback hit. Is Mario Williams dropping into coverage more than he should? Maybe. Is he getting one-on-one opportunities to rush? Absolutely. And he’s doing nothing with those chances, even getting stoned by Dallas tight end Jason Witten.

Special Teams: C+

The special teams play this season has been shaky at best. Buffalo has shuffled through new returners all season, picking up players off the street multiple times. After Marcus Thigpen, Denarius Moore and then Thigpen again, it was Walter Powell’s turn on Sunday. He fair caught one punt and had one kick return for 25 yards. Kicker Dan Carpenter has missed five extra points — do the Bills need an “extra point specialist,” too? And Marcus Easley, a stalwart on special teams since 2010, suffered what appears to be a severe knee injury. He was carted off in agonizing pain. Sunday did provide a fleeting moment of joy. Linebacker A.J. Tarpley forced a fumble on a Dallas’ kick return to seal the win.

Coaching: C

Nobody get ahead themselves. The Bills defeated a 4-11 Dallas Cowboys team down to Kellen Moore — whose arm strength may be rivaled by quarterbacks in Section VI Class C and D football — and players you’ve never heard of at wide receiver. Still, the Bills’ overall effort was at least better in this game. Amid turmoil, amid players calling out his scheme daily, Ryan’s players at least didn’t quit. And it sure looked like they were starting to wave the white flag week ago in Washington, too.

Grading the Cowboys

Run Game: B

The Cowboys are an intriguing case study in team building. They drafted offensive linemen in the first round of three of four drafts. As a result, DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing last season with 1,845 yards and Darren McFadden, a NFL outcast, is three yards away from breaking the 1,000-yard plateau himself. Just look at Murray now in Philadelphia to see how rock solid this Dallas O-Line is. Then again, the Cowboys have four wins because they lost Tony Romo to injury. The NFL is, and forever will be, a quarterback’s game.

Pass Game: D

Moore was bad and the Bills’ tackling might’ve been even worse. So we’ll lump that all together as one “D” here. Moore fluttered passes into the turf. But the Bills’ tackling? Coaches must reconsider how they go about contact next summer in training camp. This was hard to watch at times. On an unfathomable third and 19 conversion, both A.J. Tarpley and Corey Graham had point-blank shots at Terrance Williams and missed. Safety Bacarri Rambo missed often — once on a 34-yarder to Brice Butler and again on a third-down receiver screen to Williams. He gets flat-footed too often and can't close. Tackling, still, remains a problem for the Bills.

Run Defense: F

Richie Incognito described this Cowboys front as fast, attacking. Greg Roman called the Cowboys a “horde of locusts.” Whatever it was, it wasn’t good enough. Mike Gillislee and Karlos Williams were decisive all game long, the Bills’ offensive line dictated the physicality up front and Tyrod Taylor made defenders miss... even if he took a few bruising hits along the way. Dallas’ band of misfit toys on defense — Rolando McClain, Greg Hardy, Randy Gregory, et al — was run over by the Bills.

Pass Defense: B

The Bills were able to find ways to get the ball to Watkins enough even with Dallas paying extra attention to the wideout — top corner Brandon Carr was a target. Dallas broke up five of Taylor’s incompletions themselves, so sure, Buffalo could use a threat out wide opposite Watkins. Another threat to take the top off the defense. Percy Harvin was supposed to be that player before he ended up on injured reserve. Who’ll be that guy in 2016?

Special Teams: D

The Lucky Whitehead fumble was costly in the fourth quarter and Whitehead also had a holding penalty on a 17-yard McFadden run offensively. This was a Christmas trip to forget for this player with the awesome name. The Cowboys also had an offside on one kickoff — one of eight total accepted penalties—  and didn’t do much of anything else on special teams. Whitehead averaged 26 yards on five kicks last week, and had one 79-yarder last month, but wasn’t a factor Sunday.

Coaching: F

If Mario Williams is indeed checking out for the Bills, Jason Garrett might be checking out for the Cowboys. He repeatedly (and inexplicably) decided to punt in Buffalo territory on fourth down Sunday. Fourth and 9 from the Buffalo 39. Fourth and 4 from the Buffalo 44. Fourth and 8 from the Buffalo 44. Punt, punt, punt. Garrett referenced his punter as “outstanding” at changing the field position afterward and cited the “wind” as a factor. Yeah… OK. To everyone else, it simply looked like Garrett was giving up on the 2015 season.

 

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