The Buffalo Bills are at the quarter pole of the 2016 season.
For those confused by that term, “quarter pole” in horse racing means a quarter-mile from the finish, which the Bills find themselves at by having played 12 of 16 games.
Just like they were after four and eight games, the Bills find themselves at .500 with a 6-6 record.
The offense ranks 19th and the defense is 12th in total yardage, close to where the team was at the midway point. In other words, not much has changed.
The Bills remain the very face of mediocrity in the NFL, capable of beating teams at or below their level and failing to show the ability to beat playoff-caliber teams.
Here is the Buffalo News’ third-quarter report card:
The excuse-making for Tyrod Taylor needs to stop. The Bills are dead last in the NFL in passing. Taylor is tentative with the ball, misses throws that he should make (see the incompletion to Sammy Watkins in the fourth quarter Sunday that should have gone for a touchdown) and takes too many sacks. His two fourth-quarter comebacks in two seasons are against a Tennessee team that got the first pick in the draft last year and a two-win Jacksonville team this year. All of that outweighs the positives that come with his ability to take care of the football. That doesn’t mean that the Bills won’t pick up Taylor’s $27.5 million option – the final four games should help in making that decision – but it clearly puts the Bills in a tough spot. Through 12 games, Taylor simply has not developed the way the team and fans hoped he would, and has in fact regressed. (Previous grade: C-).
Running backs: A
LeSean McCoy returned from the hamstring injury that kept him out for a game in fine form. He has back-to-back weeks with 50-plus yard rushes and ranks sixth in the NFL with 949 rushing yards. He’s well on his way to another Pro Bowl season and has been by far the Bills’ most consistent offensive option. Backup Mike Gillislee is averaging 5.9 yards per carry and has six touchdowns. He has been money on short-yardage situations. Veteran Reggie Bush and rookie Jonathan Williams have gotten very few meaningful carries, although Williams did pick up a fourth and 1 in Week 12. (Previous grade: B+)
Wide receivers: D-
Injuries have basically made this a lost year for Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, the two best receivers on the roster. Watkins has played in two games since coming off injured reserve. He showed what makes him so special with a 62-yard reception against the Jaguars, but hasn’t been on the same page with Taylor at times and is playing at less than 100 percent. Woods had the best game of his career in Week Nine against Seattle and was off to a great start against the Bengals before suffering a sprained knee that has kept him out the last two weeks. Justin Hunter has given the Bills a nice red zone threat, but so far hasn’t been capable of being a top-two option, while Marquise Goodwin hasn’t topped 43 yards in the last four games. (Previous grade: F).
Tight ends: F
Charles Clay has averaged a little more than three catches and slightly less than 30 yards per game this season. For that, he’s got a contract worth up to $38 million. There are times that Clay is open, and he is a good blocker, but for a team starving for big plays in the passing game, he hasn’t given them any. Clay missed the Oakland game for the birth of his first child, and coach Rex Ryan didn’t seem all that pleased, saying, “communication could have been better.” Nick O’Leary has established himself as the second tight end, while Gerald Christian got his first career catch last week against the Raiders. Logan Thomas is an intriguing project for next year. (Previous grade: D).
Offensive line: B
The rushing attack is putting up huge numbers, leading the league in yards per game (161.9), yards per attempt (5.4) and touchdowns (23). The performance in short-yardage situations has improved, while the number of times running backs have been “stuffed” has also gotten better. The team still gives up too many sacks, but not all of them can be blamed on the line. The loss of Eric Wood was a huge one for the offense, but replacement Ryan Groy has done a nice job as his replacement. Right tackle Jordan Mills looked like he might lose his job to Seantrel Henderson, but that went out the window when the latter was hit with a 10-game suspension. Guard John Miller has taken a big leap in his second season, while Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito on the left side have been solid as ever. (Previous grade: B-).
Defensive line: C+
The Bills were 17th in Football Outsiders’ defensive line rankings through Week 12, allowing 3.88 “adjusted line yards” per carry. That measures the performance of an offensive line against a defensive line, adjusted for the quality of the offense. Kyle Williams has given the Bills everything he’s got, as per usual, while Marcell Dareus has been solid since the bye week. Rookie Adolphus Washington has seen his playing time cut since Dareus got back, as has Jerel Worthy. Top backup Corbin Bryant was placed on injured reserve because of a shoulder injury. (Previous grade: C).
Outside linebackers Lorenzo Alexander and Jerry Hughes have cooled down. After combining for 13 sacks through the first eight games, they have just two in the last four, and none of them have come in the last three games. Rookie Shaq Lawson got his first sack in Week Nine. He’s shown flashes, but is still coming back from shoulder surgery. Inside linebackers Zach Brown and Preston Brown continue to put up big tackle numbers, but haven’t been quite as productive in terms of big plays the last four games. The good news is the team has stayed healthy here, so it hasn’t had to rely on backups. (Previous grade: A).
Stephon Gilmore’s up-and-down season has been on the upswing. Coach Rex Ryan said he’s played as good as any cornerback in the NFL in the last three weeks. Fellow cornerback Ronald Darby was threatened with a benching after a poor performance in Seattle, then suffered a concussion against Jacksonville. The safety spot opposite Corey Graham has proven to be a challenge to fill. Robert Blanton took over as the starter for Aaron Williams, but got hurt himself, forcing the team to sign James Ihedigbo off the street. (Previous grade: C).
Special teams: B
The Bills have slipped to 16th in Football Outsiders’ rankings, with punter Colton Schmidt struggling. Kicker Dan Carpenter did make a clutch 54-yard field goal against Cincinnati in Week 11. Brandon Tate has continued to be a solid return man, while the coverage units have been anchored by Ramon Humber and Jonathan Meeks. (Previous grade: B).
Rex Ryan now has a 14-14 record with the Bills. Asked Monday why his defense isn’t close to the elite unit it needs to be to win with a run-first offense, he spun the answer into saying the passing game needed to be better. That may be true, but he’s here because he’s supposed to be the guy who can scheme to stop Tom Brady, not throw up his hands and compliment every opposing offense that carves the Bills up. There have been goofy decisions like having EJ Manuel try to draw a team offside, then waste a timeout when it predictably didn’t work, and moments of coaching scared, like at the end of the Oakland game. Ryan loves to remind everyone what a good coach he is. It’s too bad he doesn’t show it more often. (Previous grade: C).