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Jay Skurski's Report Card: An A-plus-plus-plus, and an F-minus-minus-minus

Grading the Bills


Go ahead and start the “LeSean McCoy for MVP” campaign. I’ll cast the first vote. It’s hard to imagine a player being more valuable to his team right now. The numbers are preposterous – 312 yards on 44 team carries, an average of 7.1 per rush. McCoy went for 140 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries. Tyrod Taylor sprinkled in some scrambles, the option worked again, the Wildcat produced another touchdown. In short, on a day the running game needed to eat, it feasted.


In a word, meh. Taylor’s final numbers aren’t going to wow anyone – 17 of 26, 179 yards – but his two touchdowns looked good, particularly the 30-yarder to Justin Hunter in the third quarter. That’s where we’re at with the passing game right now – make a play when needed and don’t screw things up. In that sense, mission accomplished Sunday, even if the feeling that the Bills will soon need more from Taylor continues to linger.


Preston Brown’s stuff of Mike Davis on a fourth-and-1 play from the Buffalo 40-yard line in the third quarter was one of the biggest plays of the game. It came in a 17-13 game, and set up the Buffalo touchdown to go up, 24-13. Brown finished with nine tackles, while Zach Brown added seven. The Bills were burned a couple times by not using a spy on Colin Kaepernick. The red zone defense once again was on point, forcing the 49ers to go 0 for 2.


A blown coverage in the second quarter led to a 53-yard touchdown against and dropped the grade down from an ‘A,’ but the secondary bounced back from that nicely. When it was obvious the 49ers had to throw in the second half, it looked like Kaepernick would be sacked or throw an interception on every play. The most out-of-nowhere story in the NFL continued when Lorenzo Alexander registered his eighth sack of the season. Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby and Nickell Robey-Coleman all had one pass defensed.


Dan Carpenter has been about the only thing to worry about for the special teams, and he was rock solid Sunday, making all six extra points and a 40-yard field goal. The coverage units were great as usual, Colton Schmidt averaged 40 net yards on three punts and Brandon Tate fielded two punts cleanly in a tricky wind. The only small misstep was a penalty against Lerentee McCray.


So much for a “trap” game. The Bills were supposed to beat the 49ers, and did that easily. Rex Ryan’s defense continues to make plays, Anthony Lynn’s offense is a nightmare to prepare for (at least on the ground) and the team didn’t panic while the 49ers hung around. That’s all good.
The bad would include the confusion on the first play of the second half that led to a 12-men-in-the-huddle penalty, which wasn’t a good look. Another concern is the offense’s slow starts to the second half. The Bills punted on three possessions in a row to start the third quarter.

Grading the 49ers


It wasn’t all that long ago that Kaepernick looked like an unstoppable force, with his long strides cutting through playoff defenses. He’s not the same player anymore, but showed flashes of that electricity Sunday, with 66 yards on eight attempts. Carlos Hyde is a good player who must feel like he’s trapped on offense right now. Other teams can sell out to stop the run knowing the 49ers’ quarterback can’t beat them. Mike Davis did nothing (five carries, 13 yards).


Kaepernick was in a nice rhythm in the first half, going 8 of 11 for 135 yards. Two of the throws he missed, however, could have gone for touchdowns. Things fell apart for him in the second half, though, as he went 5 of 18 for just 52 yards and skipped several passes at his receivers’ feet. Coach Chip Kelly simply doesn’t have much to work with at quarterback. The same is true at receiver, Smith’s 53-yard touchdown notwithstanding. Tight end Vance McDonald looks like he should be a better player than he actually is.


The 49ers set a new record – earning a grade at 2:15 p.m. with the game still in the first half. Seriously, how does a team give up a first down on a third-and-20 draw play? Save for when Arik Armstead blasted through the Bills’ offensive line unblocked to knock the ball away from Taylor and forcing a fumble on Buffalo’s first possession, the 49ers’ run defense was an utter embarrassment the rest of the day. The 312 rushing yards allowed was the second most in team history.


Cornerback Jimmie Ward missed the game because of injury, and his replacement, rookie Rashard Robinson, went out because of a concussion. With that considered, it was an average day for the 49ers’ secondary. The Bills took advantage of Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea on a 30-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hunter. At the time, it was a 17-13 game, so the 49ers’ secondary screwed up at the most inopportune time.


Phil Dawson keeps getting it done at age 41, with a 47-yard field goal. Punter Bradley Pinion didn’t deal with the Orchard Park wind very well, averaging just 34.6 net yards on five attempts. Receiver Keshawn Martin lost a fumble on a kickoff return and Torrey Smith made a bone-headed decision to try and return a kickoff from the end zone, gaining just 13 yards. When will returners learn to simply take a knee and bring the ball out to the 25-yard line?


Punting on fourth and 2 from the Bills’ 40-yard line on the first possession of the game was rather gutless by Chip Kelly. His team came into the game 1-4! Whatever happened to the coach who took the league by storm with his innovative offense in Philadelphia? The 49ers looked like any other bad NFL team Sunday. If they’re going to be bad, can’t they at least be different?

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