Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: D
Pour one out for the No. 1-ranked rushing attack of the last two seasons. It’s gone. Dead and buried. The Bills managed just 3.4 yards per rush Sunday and find themselves 16th overall in the NFL at the conclusion of Sunday’s loss. Blame can be spread all around, from scheme to blocking to LeSean McCoy not making the right reads. “We’ve got to make sure we can run the football, and run our style of offense,” coach Sean McDermott said. Right now, it’s not happening.
PASSING GAME: F
What must Tyrod Taylor be thinking right now? How frustrated must he be that the team traded away Sammy Watkins and chose not to re-sign Robert Woods this offseason, sending him into a potential contract year with a group of receivers who look like they belong in the CFL right now? The Bills’ passing attack is painful to watch. Taylor completed three passes to wide receivers Sunday. After tight end Charles Clay went out, the Bills accomplished next to nothing through the air, save for a nice TD grab by Brandon Tate. That Tate is even in the game is a sign of just how dire things are at receiver right now.
RUN DEFENSE: A
The final numbers look good, as the Bengals were held to 65 yards on 27 carries, an average of just 2.4 per rush. Jerry Hughes and Micah Hyde teamed up to sniff out a reverse to Alex Erickson. Cedric Thornton had a tackle for loss as part of the defensive line rotation. Safety Jordan Poyer contributed with a pretty open-field tackle in run support.
PASS DEFENSE: B-
The secondary continued to be opportunistic, as safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer made interceptions. Poyer also had a fumble recovery after Lorenzo Alexander drilled AJ Green to knock the ball loose. Even though the pass rush was close enough to Andy Dalton to smell his cologne on several occasions, it managed just one sack, from Marcell Dareus, no less. Rookie Tre’Davious White was scorched by Green for a 77-yard touchdown, but bounced back to have three passes defensed.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Brandon Tate’s 40-yard punt return in the fourth quarter set the Bills up at the Bengals’ 12-yard line after a penalty was tacked on. That was a huge play, but the offense wasted it. Stephen Hauschka was solid, going 3 for 3 on field goals. Colton Schmidt’s first punt was a poor one that went into the end zone for a touchback, but he was strong after that, averaging 38.7 net yards on seven punts, three of which were placed inside the 20-yard line. Taiwan Jones neatly covered a punt in the fourth quarter for a 1-yard loss by Erickson.
It’s disappointing, but time to acknowledge that Sean McDermott is no different than any other coach when it comes to fourth down. That was evident when he punted on fourth and 3 from the Bengals’ 46-yard line in the second quarter. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison had no answers for how to get the receivers involved. The Bills’ first offensive drive out of halftime was an ugly three and out – that was a big disappointment in what was a tie game at that point.
Grading the Bengals
RUNNING GAME: D
The three-headed monster of Joe Mixon, Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard wasn’t very scary. Mixon showed a little burst on a 12-yard gain, and bounced outside nicely on a 5-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter that put the Bengals ahead. Other than that, though, the running game did very little. For as talented as Cincinnati’s running backs are, the Bengals sure don’t run the ball very well. Mixon’s touchdown was their first of the season on the ground.
PASSING GAME: B+
The three turnovers keeps this from being an ‘A,’ but only one of those is on quarterback Andy Dalton. The second of his interceptions was a straight drop by Green on a ball that hit him right in the hands. Despite that, Green was a monster, with 189 yards on seven catches, a whopping average of 27 yards per catch. The Bengals had nine completions of at least 15 yards.
RUN DEFENSE: A
Vontaze Burfict might be one of the dirtiest players in the NFL, but boy can he play. He filled the stat sheet with 13 tackles, three of which went for a loss, one sack and one pass defensed. Strong-side linebacker Nick Vigil added nine tackles, while defensive tackle Geno Atkins was a force along the line. Holding McCoy to a long run of 14 yards is a job well done.
PASS DEFENSE: B
William Jackson III and Darqueze Dennard took over the starting cornerback duties after both Pacman Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick were knocked out of the game because of injuries. Outside of a pass interference call against Jackson, they did well. The Bengals’ coverage in general contributed to six sacks of Taylor. Carl Lawson kept a Buffalo drive alive with a late hit against Taylor, but made up for it with a third-down sack on the Bills’ next drive. Safety George Iloka iced the win with an interception.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
The punt coverage broke down in the fourth quarter when it gave up the 40-yard return to Tate, but the defense bailed them out. Erickson did a good job on kickoff returns, averaging 25.7 yards on three attempts. Kicker Randy Bullock went 2 for 2 on field goals, while punter Kevin Huber put three of his four punts inside the Bills’ 20-yard line.
Credit Marvin Lewis for pulling the trigger on changing offensive coordinators after a Week Two loss. It looked like the Bengals’ season was getting away from them, but they’ve played much better since that time, winning two out of three. Lawson’s late hit on Taylor was borderline, but doesn’t necessarily fit in with the reputation the Bengals have, so it’s not fair to say it was undisciplined. The offensive game plan from Bill Lazor – throw it to Green again and again – worked out well.