Running back and offensive line get the highest unit grades in a Buffalo season opener that saw the Bills win a strength-vs.-strength matchup with the New York Jets.
The pressure was on the interior of the O-line, more than the edge, since the interior is where the Jets are outstanding. In fact, the Jets often lined up with three defensive linemen directly over the Bills' "middle three." Bills center Eric Wood and guard Richie Incognito were superb in getting push to create space for LeSean McCoy.
"They were running a lot of jam," Incognito said. "They've got three guys covered up all on the inside, head up. It's difficult to run against it. But we had a pretty good bead on it. Eric was grabbing the nose guard. I was shoving the nose guard over and I was getting up to the backer to get hands on him. Shady had the feel to stick his foot in the ground and get yardage."
Here's our unit-by-unit grading of the Bills' 21-12 win over the Jets (on a scale of 1 to 5).
Stars of the game: 1. LeSean McCoy. 2. Jordan Poyer. 3. Ramon Humber.
Quarterback (3.5): Tyrod Taylor looked much better in the "real offense," as opposed to the "preseason offense." It was a typical, effective Taylor game on a day when McCoy was driving the offensive bus. Taylor was decisive when his first option was open, which happened early on over-the middle throws to Charles Clay for 13 and Zay Jones on a sharp slant for 21.
What everyone wants to see is the poise to make completions from the pocket late in the down. He didn't have to do it much. But credit Taylor for hanging in there for a 13-yard, third-down throw to Jordan Matthews. Rusher Jordan Jenkins got a hand on Taylor's shoulder pad but the QB didn’t give up on the play. A few plays later, Taylor wanted Clay but checked to his second read, Mike Tolbert out of the backfield on a circle route, for a 12-yard gain. That led to the 1-yard TD pass to Clay, which was a good pre-snap read and quick throw.
On the next drive, Taylor stood in the pocket and took a hit from Leonard Williams on a 35-yard pass to Clay. Taylor got jittery in the pocket on a third-and-2 play in the third quarter. He didn't need to elude, but he bailed himself out by flushing left and making a nifty touch pass to McCoy over the middle. The big negative play came at the end of the opening drive, when Taylor slid a tad left in the pocket but threw a tad high and outside for Clay. The pass was tipped and picked off.
Overall, coordinator Rick Dennison put Taylor in good situations to succeed. Taylor showed no problem running pass plays from under center. He was 8 of 13 from under center and 8 of 15 from the shotgun. (The past two years McCoy threw only 13.8 percent of his passes from under center, according to profootballreference.com.)
Running back (4.5): We don't need to elaborate much on the brilliance of McCoy. He got a hefty 27 touches and produced 149 yards. His amazing jump-cuts were on display right from the first series, when he sent Leonard Wilkerson and Juston Burris lunging to the ground on a 21-yard catch and run. His speed through the hole was eye-popping on the 27-yard, fourth quarter cutback run. All it takes is for a linebacker to take two steps in the wrong direction, and Shady is gone. Mike Tolbert hits the hole hard, too. It's going to be fun to watch fullback Patrick DiMarco. He put wicked lead-block hits on Jamal Adams and Darron Lee.
Offensive line (4.5): The Bills stuck with the zone blocking scheme and put up the biggest rushing game on the Jets in the last 28 games.
Unlike in last year's more gap-oriented scheme, Incognito did not pull on a single play. But he and Wood were outstanding. Incognito manned up on mighty Leonard Williams on Mike Tolbert's 16-yard run. Subsequent first-half runs of 10, 14 and 20 yards all went behind the Incognito-Wood tandem. Incognito, Wood, guard John Miller and right tackle Jordan Mills all played all 77 offensive snaps. Left tackle Cordy Glenn, coming off a left foot injury, saw 56 snaps and Dion Dawkins subbed him for 21. Dawkins drove-blocked Wilkerson on Tolbert's 14-yard second-quarter run.
Jets coach Todd Bowles is known for his blitzing, and he didn't disappoint. The Jets ran 12 blitzes on 33 Bills drop-backs, a fairly high 36 percent. The Bills' pass protectors handled them well, giving Taylor time to hit 5 of 9 for 79 yards on blitzes.
Receivers (2.5): Give Dennison credit for spreading the wealth. The wide receiving corps is all new, so the Bills did not lean on it. Matthews, the top wideout, barely has practiced with the team. The backs and tight ends caught 12 passes and the wideouts only four. Taylor took one deep shot to a wideout (Andre Holmes) and it produced a 24-yard pass interference penalty on Morris Claiborne. Obviously, the Bills will need more from the WRs soon.
The blocking by the receivers and tight ends was good. Matthews' downfield blocking on Buster Skrine added 10 yards to 24-yard McCoy. We wouldn't call Clay or Nick O'Leary great blockers but they both showed good effort. They can help the run game. On McCoy's 23-yard run, Clay pulled to the right and drew Jet linebacker Darron Lee out of position. McCoy cut behind him. Dennison mixed formations a lot. The Bills used two tight ends on 25 snaps, three wideouts on 32 snaps, and they went regular (two wides, two backs) on 15.
Defensive line (3.5): The Bills' Kyle Williams only made two tackles but he made life miserable for the Jets' O-line. He created three run-stuffs of Bilal Powell. He read a shuffle-pass to force Josh McCown to improvise. He drew a 10-yard penalty and he had a late hurry on McCown.
Marcell Dareus played 34 snaps and was not credited with a tackle. CBS play-by-play man Kevin Harlan said late in the game: "I don't think we've said Dareus' name all day long." He made no flash plays. . . . However, we're not going to ridicule him on a day when the Jets averaged 2.5 yards a carry. Dareus did plug the middle. Will he be motivated by the fact he was benched for Ryan Davis (21 snaps) on pass downs?
McCown got the ball out of his hands fast most of the day. The Bills used Jerry Hughes and Lorenzo Alexander as the edge rushers on most passing downs. They got 46 and 25 snaps, respectively. Shaq Lawson got 37.
Linebackers (3.5): Ramon Humber and Preston Brown both played the entire game, staying on the field in the nickel defense. Humber had 13 tackles. The Jets' run game doesn't challenge the edge much. Next week will be a different story.
Defensive backs (4.0): All summer, Bills coaches talked about the versatility of the new safety tandem. We thought Poyer was going to be mostly a back-end defender. Not so. He did it all. He blitzed twice (getting one sack), he forced the run, he anticipated swing passes, he got an interception. Safety Micah Hyde deflected the two-point conversion pass, had one blitz and made the late interception. To a man, the Bills' secondary tackled well. The Jets barely had any run-after-catch yards.
The Bills didn't blitz as much as the Jets, but the Frazier blitzes were effective. Buffalo blitzed on nine of 41 Jets pass plays (counting penalties), and those plays produced a net of only 36 yards.
Special teams (2.5): It was a solid opening effort, despite the fact Stephen Hauschka pull-hooked his 46-yard field-goal attempt wide left in the second quarter. Colton Schmidt had a 4.5 hang time or better on three of his six punts, and just two were returned. The Bills used Taiwan Jones and Trae Elston as gunners on punt coverage. Brandon Tate had a 19-yard return.