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Jay Skurski's Bills midterm report card: Grades are mediocre, just like the record

Say this for the Buffalo Bills this season – they’ve been consistent.

After going 2-2 over the first quarter of the season, the team duplicated that record in the second quarter, giving it a .500 record at the midway point of the season.

Average is a great way to describe the Bills. They ranked 18th in total offense and 16th in total offense heading into Sunday’s games. That’s about as mediocre as a team can get.

“I am concerned about the lack of consistency,” coach Rex Ryan said following Buffalo’s loss to New England in Week Eight.

Hope should not be lost, though. According to the NFL, 40 teams have reached the halfway point of the season since 2000 with a record of .500 or below and made the playoffs, including at least one in each season. Last year, there were five such teams.

Here is The Buffalo News’ position-by-position midterm report card:

Quarterbacks: C-

The biggest question hanging over the franchise is what to do about Tyrod Taylor's contract. He has a $27.5 million option due in March, and his performance through the first half of 2016 presents a serious dilemma: There isn't another, obvious better option at the game's most important position, but his performance doesn't scream "franchise quarterback." If anything, it says, "are you sure you really want to pay this guy?" The Bills rank 31st in the NFL in passing yards per game at 179.4. Taylor's struggles in the fourth quarter are well-documented. He simply can't bring a team back with his arm. Backup EJ Manuel has thrown just five passes, while third-stringer Cardale Jones is said to be progressing nicely in practice, but likely won't see the field again until the 2017 preseason. (Previous grade: C).

Running backs: B+

This was well on the way to an 'A' grade until LeSean McCoy injured his hamstring in practice leading up to the Week Seven game at Miami. McCoy tried to play against the Dolphins, but aggravated the injury, leading to a woeful performance on the ground. The Bills bounced back without him in Week Eight, as backup Mike Gillislee carried 12 times for 85 yards, but there is an obvious drop off from McCoy – who was playing like an MVP candidate – to Gillislee. Reggie Bush has negative yardage on nine carries this year, while rookie Jonathan Williams hasn't gotten any meaningful playing time. (Previous grade: B).

Wide receivers: F

Replacing Sammy Watkins has proven to be as difficult as feared. The Bills don't have a receiver in the top 80 in the league in yards. De facto No. 1 receiver Robert Woods has been slowed by a foot injury. His stats – 29 catches, 290 yards, one touchdown – are mediocre at best. Marquise Goodwin has provided the deep speed people hoped he would, but has just 12 catches on the season and suffered a concussion against the Dolphins. That has left the Bills with a preseason-like lineup of Justin Hunter, Walter Powell and Brandon Tate at times. Watkins is eligible to return in Week 12 against Jacksonville. That can't come soon enough. (Previous grade: D).

Tight ends: F

Charles Clay's lack of production doesn't get talked about enough. He has 26 catches for 274 yards, which ranks 92nd in the NFL overall and 19th among tight ends. For that, he's got a contract worth up to $38 million, which is the seventh-richest among tight ends. Yes, he's used in all situations, but he's paid to produce more than that in the receiving game. Nick O'Leary has taken over as the No. 2 tight end and has seven catches for 94 yards. The third tight end spot, currently occupied by Gerald Christian, has been a non-factor. (Previous grade: D).

Offensive line: B-

The running game is second in the NFL in yards per game (154.1), first in yards per rush (5.5) and touchdowns (14), but a closer look reveals some problems. The Bills rank 29th in Football Outsiders’ “power success,” which measures the number of successful runs on third or fourth down needing 1 or 2 yards for a first down or touchdown. Some of that can be on the backs, but that’s a sign that the line isn’t blowing people off the ball. The Bills are also getting “stuffed” 22 percent of the time, according to Football Outsiders, which ranks 27th in the league. That’s when a run is stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. The protection for Tyrod Taylor has had some issues, too, allowing 19 sacks, which is tied for seventh most in the league. (Previous grade: B).

Defensive line: C

Ryan’s teams have always been able to stop the run, but a nightmare showing against Miami in Week Seven sent the Bills plummeting down the standings. Buffalo ranks 25th against the run, allowing an average of 118.4 yards per game. The line is 12th in “power success,” allowing a 63-percent conversion rate, according to Football Outsiders. Kyle Williams has been an anchor in the middle, while rookie Adolphus Washington has started to come on in the second quarter. Marcell Dareus, the potential $100 million man, has played one game all year. (Previous grade: B).

Linebackers: A

Inside linebacker Zach Brown continues to lead the NFL in tackles with 87. He’s also got three sacks and two forced fumbles. Preston Brown has 64 tackles, including three for losses. Throw out the Miami game and they’ve been great. Outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander leads the NFL with nine sacks and has been one of the league’s best free-agent signings. On the other side, Jerry Hughes’ sack total isn’t quite as robust, but he’s been creating a ton of pressures. (Previous grade: A).

Secondary: C

Stephon Gilmore’s up-and-down season took a big dip in Week Eight against the Patriots as he was torched by former teammate Chris Hogan. According to analytics website Pro Football Focus, Gilmore ranks 82nd out of 118 graded cornerbacks this season. That’s not what he had in mind for a contract year. The Bills have struggled against the other team’s No. 1 receiver, according to Football Outsiders, allowing an average of 75.3 yards per game. The loss of Aaron Williams at safety in Week Seven will be a big one going forward. (Previous grade: C+).

Special teams: A-

The Bills were in the top six in Football Outsiders’ rankings until a tough week against the Patriots, but shouldn’t be penalized too much for one poor performance. The team is tied for the league lead in opponent punt-return average (4.6 yards), 13th in kickoff coverage (20.5 yards per return) and 14th in punt-return average (10.2 yards). Newcomers Brandon Tate and Ramon Humber have been solid additions, while punter Colton Schmidt is having a good year. Kicker Dan Carpenter has missed four field goals. (Previous grade: B).

Coaching: C

Rex Ryan has a 12-12 record with the Bills and is 58-62 in eight years as a head coach. At this point, we know what we’re getting. His players love him, he’ll say some goofy stuff in the media and he has weeks where his defense looks great. There are also weeks where it looks lost. The Bills don’t have what would be classified as a “good” win yet this season – although they’ll get a chance Monday night for one in Seattle. The team still takes too many penalties, but it’s debatable how much of that should be blamed on Ryan. His conservative nature can be maddening at times on fourth down. It’s fitting that “mediocre” best describes the team, its record, and its head coach.

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