Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: B+
LeSean McCoy looked like the MVP candidate of the first six weeks early, gaining 33 yards on five carries before getting hurt. The good news is the running game didn’t miss a beat with him out. No. 2 running back Mike Gillislee gained 72 yards on 14 carries, part of 183 yards on 34 team carries. The big problem for the run game was near the goal line. On three runs from inside the 5-yard line, the Bills were stopped, and a holding penalty on guard Richie Incognito negated a 3-yard touchdown run by Tyrod Taylor on another play.
PASSING GAME: C-
Tyrod Taylor probably slept well Sunday night. Between his designed runs and scrambles, he was constantly on the move. It didn’t amount to much for the passing game, though, as he finished 19 of 27 for 166 yards and an interception. With a chance to win the game late, he overthrew Percy Harvin on a simple route. That’s a throw he simply has to make. The Bills got catches from eight different players, but none of them had more than Brandon Tate’s 48 yards.
RUN DEFENSE: A-
The final numbers look good: The Bengals managed just 93 yards on 27 carries, an average of 3.4 yards per rush. Kyle Williams was a beast in the middle of the line, making four tackles, including one for a loss. The difference Marcell Dareus makes for the Bills is obvious. Teams have to pick their poison when it comes to doubling him or Williams. Zach Brown played a great sideline-to-sideline game with 12 tackles.
PASS DEFENSE: B+
Coach Rex Ryan challenge his secondary during the week, and they responded. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore had Buffalo’s first interception since Week Five at Los Angeles, then added another one for good measure in the first half. Opposite him, Ronald Darby ended up starting after being threatened with a benching and responded with a solid game. Safety James Ihedigbo played meaningful snaps just six days after signing with the team, and might be needed even more next week after Robert Blanton suffered a foot injury that left him on crutches after the game. Rookie Kevon Seymour will be kicking himself over a dropped interception. He got credited with one of the Bills’ nine passes defensed.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Dan Carpenter has taken some criticism in this corner this year, but deserves credit for burying a 54-yard field goal in the second half to give the Bills the lead. Tate clearly enjoyed playing his old team – in addition to his 48 receiving yards, he averaged 33 yards on two kick returns and 11 yards on three punt returns. Punter Colton Schmidt dropped three of his five punts inside the Bengals’ 20-yard line. The coverage units weren’t dominating, but got the job done.
The usual problems were there: Wasted timeouts are maddening, and the Bills had another one in the second half. The undisciplined personal fouls put Ryan in a tough spot. It’s not like he can bench Jerry Hughes, but the coach has to find a way to send a message that the team has to stop hurting itself with penalties, of which there were nine for 75 yards. For the second week in a row, Ryan’s defense made some solid halftime adjustments. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn called quite a few option plays that subjected Taylor to some big hits.
Grading the Bengals
RUNNING GAME: D
Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard are a nice one-two punch, but could never really get much going against the Bills, outside of a 20-yard gain up the gut by Hill. Things got so bad in the second half, fans starting booing as soon as the ball was handed off. Their angst was understandable. Quarterback Andy Dalton is an underrated runner. He scored on a 2-yard touchdown run, but otherwise was limited to 10 yards on four carries.
PASSING GAME: C-
It’s pretty easy to see why Andy Dalton is winless in the postseason. He’s an average quarterback in a league with several bad players at the position, which makes him look better by comparison. Losing star receiver AJ Green on the second play of the game was a gigantic swing – he simply can’t be replaced. It’s a bit curious the Bengals didn’t look for tight end Tyler Eifert more. He’s a size mismatch for the Bills, but finished with just three catches for 37 yards.
RUN DEFENSE: D
Gillislee is a good player, but the Bengals have to be disappointed they allowed him to average 5.1 yards per carry. After McCoy went out, the Bengals needed to dominate here. Instead, they mostly got dominated. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict toes the line of being a dirty player – or crosses it entirely, some might say – but is a talent. He finished with 13 tackles and a sack. Veteran Karlos Dansby had six tackles. Overall, the Bengals recorded four tackles for loss.
PASS DEFENSE: A-
Safety Shawn Williams and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick were both knocked out of the game with injuries, so all things considered, the secondary did a nice job. Had Woods not gotten hurt, he might have done some serious damage. The Bengals blew a coverage that left him wide open for a 24-yard gain that set up Buffalo’s first touchdown.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F
Doink! Double doink! Veteran kicker Mike Nugent might want to start updating his resume after missing a pair of extra points Sunday. If even one of those is good, the Bengals might not have needed a touchdown at the end of the game. Cincinnati’s coverage units were mostly mediocre. Rookie Alex Erickson, who took Tate’s job, had a 36-yard kick return and 13-yard punt return, but that wasn’t enough to erase the failing grade earned mostly by Nugent.
There was nothing imaginative about the Bengals’ offensive game plan – to the point that fans were openly deriding the calls before the play was even finished. There were blown timeouts and mass confusion getting plays in – both of which ring a bell in Buffalo. Coach Marvin Lewis didn’t say whether the team was deflated after Green got hurt, but his lack of a response is telling.