It's unrealistic to expect the Buffalo Bills to get above-average play from their no-name, banged-up receiving corps.
Given that handicap, it's near impossible for the Bills to win if they can't get above-average play from either the offensive line or the quarterback in any given game.
In losing to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday, the Bills' got below-average play from the blockers. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor played slightly below-average by his standards. The result was a 16-point output. Buffalo started three drives deep in Cincinnati territory but got only 10 points out of those great opportunities.
Here's our unit-by-unit grading of the Bills' win based on video review (on a scale of 1 to 5):
Quarterback (2.0): It was a typical Taylor performance in a Bills loss against a capable defense. He protected the ball (until the very end). He didn't make enough plays. His margin for error is small since he can't count on his wideouts to win one-on-one outside and he can't take much advantage of his deep throwing ability, given the lack of speed on the outside. The throws he leaves on the field get magnified.
On first play of the Bills' last drive, Taylor needed to pull the trigger for either Kaelin Clay on a deep in-cut to the right or Zay Jones on a hitch to the left. He didn't. It was a 5-yard sack. Taylor threw an interception for Jones on third down, but he had to force it at that point.
Taylor didn't pull the trigger quickly on a red-zone bootleg pass for tight end Logan Thomas, who had a step on linebacker Nick Vigil. Tough decision. If Thomas had adjusted his route for the pylon, maybe Taylor could have hit him. Late in the second quarter, Taylor was off target on passes for Clay and Nick O'Leary.
On the plus side, Taylor did protect the ball despite shaky protection. He made a tough throw from the pocket over cornerback Josh Shaw on the TD to Brandon Tate. He had nice touch on the 24-yarder to Charles Clay. He made good throw on the run to LeSean McCoy.
Offensive line (2.0): Rookie Dion Dawkins has impressed with run blocking this season but had a rough game against good Bengals defenders. He gave up a sack to Geno Atkins on an inside rush in the first quarter. He gave up another sack in the fourth, getting caught leaning forward and losing the edge to Carl Lawson on a third-and-10 play. Dawkins also had a hold on Lawson that wiped out a 10-yard Taylor scramble. On the other side, Jordan Mills gave up four hurries.
Power-blocking Vlad Ducasse got the call over struggling John Miller at right guard. He had four nice run-blocking plays in the first half. Then he was beaten by Atkins on a third-and-1 in the second quarter. Overall, Ducasse was slightly below par. The Bengals D-line was slanting play-side a bunch. Star linebacker Vontaze Burfict and Vigil did a good job playing downhill against Bills runs.
Ideally, the Bills would have played more smash mouth with the Bengals. But Buffalo ran 13 times for 70 yards on first down, a 5.5-yard average. The pass game needed to move the chains more to give the run game more cracks.
Receivers (1.0): Rookie Zay Jones drew a 19-yard penalty and had one catch. But he dropped a run-pass-option throw from Taylor in the red zone. Brandon Tate did a great job getting both feet in bounds on his 12-yard TD. He couldn't come down with a pass over the middle in Bengals territory in the third quarter. It was a good throw by Taylor but would have been an A-plus catch. A holding penalty on Thomas (it was a good call) wiped out a 44-yard McCoy run in the fourth quarter. It likely would have been a shorter gain if not for the hold. Nick O'Leary continues to show good hands and is an asset as a No. 2 tight end. He's still working on blocking. He couldn't get to charging Burfict on a key 4-yard loss in the fourth quarter.
Running backs (3.0): McCoy made the most of his 25 touches. The Bills didn't convert enough first downs to get him more. Fullback Patrick DiMarco had two pancake lead blocks on safety Shawn Williams and Vigil.
Defensive line (4.0): Jerry Hughes gets the highest marks for another all-out effort. He was stout all game against the run, notably defeating the tight end to create a 6-yard loss on a reverse. He had six pressures. His personal foul on Andy Dalton was bad luck. He stumbled into the QB.
Marcell Dareus played only 22 snaps (33 percent) and likely didn't do enough to warrant more snaps in the next game. Dareus got his first sack of the season in the second quarter. Bengals guard T.J. Johnson lost his balance. Give Dareus credit for being in position to take down Dalton. Dareus made one other notable play, shedding a block at the point of attack and making a tackle on a 2-yard run. But he was walled off early by Russell Bodine on a 12-yard run and did not show enough power and explosiveness off the ball. On the Bengals' late fourth-quarter drive when the Bills needed a stop (Cincy got a field goal), Dareus was on the bench in favor of Adolphus Washington for the first five plays.
Washington got pocket push in the fourth quarter. Shaq Lawson was solid again vs. the run, making a hustling backside tackle on a second-quarter toss play. The Bengals' runners averaged just 2.8 yards a carry.
Linebackers (4.0): Lorenzo Alexander made one of the big plays of the game, hustling to blast A.J. Green after a 20-yard catch and force a fumble. It took points off the board. Alexander defeated tackle Andre Smith early for a no-gain stuff and set the edge on a third-and-2 run stop. Preston Brown again was assignment-sound in the middle. Matt Milano (41 snaps) showed the athleticism necessary to fill in for Ramon Humber with no notable dropoff.
Defensive backs (3.0): The secondary gets an above-average grade despite the fact rookie Tre'Davious White got beat by A.J. Green for a 77-yard touchdown and a 47-yard catch-and-run.
Give the Bengals' coaches credit on the 47-yarder, which set up the eventual winning TD. Buffalo blitzed seven men on the third-and-10 play. But Cincinnati blocked with seven, keeping a back and a tight end in the backfield.
It wasn't all bad for White. He didn't let the early burning get to his head. He made a textbook pass breakup against Green down the right sideline in the second quarter. He had a breakup on a slant for Brandon LaFell. White also had a coverage bust in Cover 3 vs. tight end Cethan Carter (who dropped the pass).
It's fun to watch the tandem of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Hyde's fourth interception of the season was another instinctive, diving grab on a deflection off Green's hands. Hyde showed discipline staying home on a double reverse, too. Poyer caught a carom off Green's chest in the third quarter. Yes, it went right into Poyer's arms. But we've seen many Bills' safeties over the years (Donte Whitner) not make that kind of bang-bang play.
Shareece Wright, subbing for injured E.J. Gaines, played tough in run support and solid in coverage. Rookie Greg Maybin was forced to play 28 snaps due to the injury to capable nickel corner Leonard Johnson. Maybin had a breakup in the end zone late to force a field goal. But he made one big mistake. He grabbed LaFell for a pass interference penalty on a third-and-10 play late in the third quarter that was going to be an incompletion. Costly. The Bengals scored the go-ahead TD on the drive.
Special teams (4.0): Brandon Tate showed why he's needed on the active roster every week with his 40-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. It was a poor punt of just 3.58 hang time by Kevin Huber. Tanner Vallejo had a timely block in the middle of the field on the play. Taiwan Jones is becoming a quality gunner on punt coverage. Bengals return man Alex Erickson is dangerous. The Bills kept him bottled up.
Bills three stars: 1. Jerry Hughes. 2. Micah Hyde. 3. Brandon Tate.
Bengals three stars: 1. Vontaze Burfict. 2. A.J. Green 3. Nick Vigil.