Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: C+
It’s not at the level we have come to expect after the last two seasons, but the Bills ran the ball better than they have the last two weeks. LeSean McCoy went for 76 yards on 20 carries, while Mike Tolbert added 31 yards on eight rushes. The long run between the two of them was just 8 yards, though. The 19-play drive that spanned the third and fourth quarters featured nine runs in a row to start and 15 runs overall. Tolbert was lucky that left tackle Dion Dawkins alertly hopped on a fumble in the third quarter.
PASSING GAME: C+
Give Tyrod Taylor credit – he’s finding a way to move the ball despite minimal contributions from his receivers. On Sunday, that meant going to tight end Charles Clay, who caught five of seven targets for 112 yards. Taylor’s 44-yard hookup with Clay was an impressive throw on the move, and helped set up a 9-yard touchdown when he showed good patience in the pocket and waited for Jordan Matthews to get open in the end zone. Taylor did, however, miss a couple deep balls he’d like back. There were just four completions to receivers, and a horrid drop by rookie Zay Jones, who now has just four catches in four weeks.
RUN DEFENSE: C
First, the good. The Bills held Devonta Freeman – the league’s highest-paid running back, to 58 yards on 18 carries. They’ll take that any day. Now, the bad. Tevin Coleman went for 79 yards on nine carries. That added up to an ugly number from the Bills’ side, 149 yards against on 29 carries – an average of 5.1 yards. Marcell Dareus played sparingly as he comes back from an ankle injury, which isn’t helping this area.
PASS DEFENSE: A
This game was defined by big plays, and the secondary turned in a whole bunch of them. Jerry Hughes’ sack-fumble led to rookie Tre’Davious White racing 52 yards for a touchdown. Both of Micah Hyde’s interceptions in the second half were pretty. Shareece Wright replaced the injured E.J. Gaines and didn’t look out of place. Lorenzo Alexander recorded three of the Bills’ seven quarterback hits, even though Hughes had the only sack.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Holy cow, Stephen Hauschka. A week after hitting field goals from 55 and 53 yards, he outdid himself by drilling a 55- and 56-yarder in the fourth quarter Sunday. He’s in some sort of groove. Colton Schmidt had a great day punting, averaging 45.3 net yards on four punts, putting one of them inside Atlanta’s 20. Hyde took over as the punt returner, but needed only to make three fair catches. The one negative was a 61-yard kick return allowed in the fourth quarter.
Sean McDermott has his team believing. The Bills are a close-knit bunch, and the coach gets a lot of credit for that. McDermott did lose a challenge in the first half, but at that point with three timeouts, it was probably worth taking a chance since nobody really knows what a catch is. The decision to take a delay of game on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line could have been heavily criticized had the Falcons won. As it is, it was a strange play. It worked out, though.
Grading the Falcons
RUNNING GAME: B
It’s a nice luxury to have on a day when Freeman was largely held in check that Coleman goes off for 8.8 yards a rush. “Pleased with the run game,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “To have that kind of action for the running backs and the factor they were, that’s what we expect from our offensive line. Even quarterback Matt Ryan picked up 8 yards on a scramble, doing a decent Tyrod Taylor impression. Old friend Andy Levitre led the way for Freeman on a 1-yard touchdown run.
PASSING GAME: C-
League MVP Matt Ryan completed passes to seven different receivers in the first half alone. A wheel route to Coleman produced a 37-yard gain in the second quarter and came after Julio Jones left because of a hip flexor injury. Atlanta also lost Mohamed Sanu for the game, which understandably put a big strain on the passing game. Hyde’s second interception came after the ball bounced off receiver Nick Williams’ hands.
RUN DEFENSE: B-
Defensive tackles Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe were tough up front. Jarrett had seven tackles, two of which went for a loss. Defensive end Brooks Reed blew through tight end Charles Clay to blow up a Buffalo run play. The Bills converted a pair of third downs on the ground on their 19-play drive, which helped them run more than 11 minutes off the clock.
PASS DEFENSE: C
No. 1 cornerback Desmond Trufant was beaten by Matthews on the Bills’ touchdown pass as he tried to undercut the route. Safety Keanu Neal had a tough day, giving up a 44-yard reception to Clay before leaving the game because of a hand injury. Clay’s a good player, but he shouldn’t have been as open as he was all game. This grade could have been worse had Taylor connected on a few of the long balls that were there, but overthrown.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Punter Matt Bosher got great hang time on his three punts, putting all of them inside the Bills’ 20-yard line and forcing fair catches. Kicker Matt Bryant hit his only field goal, from 28 yards. Reed and safety Sharrod Neasman was called for penalties on special teams. Roberts’ 61-yard kick return got the ball into Buffalo territory, but Ryan was intercepted three plays later.
The Falcons were more than touchdown favorites playing against a defense that they know well from Sean McDermott’s time in Carolina. Maybe they were looking ahead to the bye week, but that’s not a good look for Dan Quinn’s team. The fourth-and-1 pass intended for Gabriel at the end is an easy play to second guess. Given the way Atlanta was running the ball, they could have tried that and still had plenty of time left.