Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: D
So maybe this zone-blocking scheme is an issue. For the second straight week, LeSean McCoy and the Bills’ vaunted rushing attack was stymied. McCoy managed just 21 yards on 14 carries, finding precious little room to run. Backup Mike Tolbert had more success, carrying 11 times for 41 yards. The Bills stuck with the run, attempting 33 rushes, but had just 75 yards to show for it – an average of just 2.3 per carry.
PASSING GAME: A-
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor played exactly the type of game he needs to when the running game is stuck in neutral. He completed 20 of 26 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns, compiling a passer rating of 126.0 that is the third best of his career. Tight end Charles Clay caught all six of his targets, while McCoy caught all seven of his. One disappointment is that rookie Zay Jones was held without a catch on two targets, but that can be overlooked in a win.
RUN DEFENSE: B
Allow me to channel my inner London Fletcher for a moment — if you take away a 32-yard run by C.J. Anderson, the Bills held Denver’s leading rusher to 4 yards on his other seven carries. Of course, that Anderson carry still counts. Linebackers Preston Brown and Ramon Humber combined for 18 tackles. Adolphus Washington had a good tackle for loss. The Bills didn’t seem to miss Marcell Dareus.
PASS DEFENSE: B+
Rookie Tre’Davious White was picked on early, but credit him for sticking with it and showing big-time improvement in the second half. White finished with a team-high four passes defensed, had his first career interception and made a solid tackle on third down. Fellow cornerback E.J. Gaines had another interception and it continues to look like the Bills got a good player in addition to a second-round pick for Sammy Watkins. Through three games, the Bills have not allowed a passing touchdown.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Stephen Hauschka was nails – drilling four field goals, including one from 55 yards and one from 53 yards. Colton Schmidt put two of his five punts inside Denver’s 20-yard line and averaged 38.0 net yards. Brandon Tate had a 17-yard punt return. Mike Tolbert’s fair catch of a kickoff was a bizarre play. The coverage units also had a couple bad moments, which took away from the overall grade.
Give Sean McDermott credit for throwing a good challenge flag in the second quarter. The Bills’ coach saw Denver receiver Emmanuel Sanders bobble the ball as he went to the ground, and winning the challenge wiped out a 44-yard gain for the Broncos. McDermott seemed to be a little slow in using his timeouts at the end of the first half, but Hauschka bailed him out by hitting his 55-yarder. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison called a good game in getting Taylor in position through designed rollouts to find open receivers.
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Grading the Broncos
RUNNING GAME: C+
Anderson didn’t look like the NFL’s leading rusher outside of that 32-yard gain. He was outplayed by veteran Jamaal Charles, who showed some glimpses of his glory days with 56 yards on nine carries, including a nice 12-yard touchdown run. The Broncos gained seven first downs on the ground, leading coach Vance Joseph to say “we ran the ball fine in my opinion.” That’s fair.
PASSING GAME: C-
Trevor Siemian played a good first half, completing 15 of 22 passes. He got careless with the ball in the second half, though, throwing a pair of interceptions. The second of those was particularly terrible, as he needed to throw it away, but couldn’t get enough on it to make sure the ball went out of bounds. Sanders’ drop on the play that was overturned was huge. Denver would have been in Buffalo territory with the lead had he held on.
RUN DEFENSE: A-
It’s tough to quibble when a team allows just 75 yards on the ground. If there was a negative, the Broncos couldn’t get the third-down stop that they needed in the fourth quarter, allowing Taylor and McCoy to convert first downs that kept the clock running and got the Bills in position for a field goal that gave them a two-possession lead. Linebackers Todd Davis and Brandon Marshall combined for 20 tackles. Denver had four tackles for loss that weren’t sacks.
PASS DEFENSE: C-
The pass rush got to Taylor for four sacks, but there were way too many lapses in coverage. How did Charles Clay get so wide open in the middle of the field on his go-ahead touchdown catch? The Broncos’ top-flight cornerbacks, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., were solid, but where were safeties Justin Simmons and Darian Stewart? Neither one of them had a single pass defensed.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Kicker Brandon McManus was perfect on three field goals. Isaiah McKenzie had a 16-yard punt return, while kick returner Cody Latimer had a 36-yard return. Punter Riley Dixon averaged just 28.3 net yards on his three punts, one of which went for a touchback. The Broncos’ punt coverage allowed 20 yards on two returns.
The fake punt call in the fourth quarter backfired, even if I didn’t hate the call. The Broncos had a player coming on the field late for it, which coach Vance Joseph took the blame for. There was talk in Denver of this being a “trap game,” which was ridiculous. The Broncos came in 2-0 – not 12-0. The performance in the red zone (1 for 3) left a lot to be desired. The Broncos dropped their first road game of the year, which doesn’t bode well for a team that has seven of its final 11 games away from home.