Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: F
Maybe this is harsh, but now is no time to be lenient. LeSean McCoy got off to a good start, with a 36-yard gain on the first possession, but managed just 13 yards on his other seven carries. Mike Tolbert rushed twice for minus-2 yards. It’s at the point where we need to ask why he’s on the roster. Any carry by someone other than McCoy or Tyrod Taylor is a joke. Maybe the running game would have been better with more opportunities, but that’s not making me change this grade.
PASSING GAME: F
Remember this game all those times the national media tells you that Tyrod Taylor is “criminally underrated.” There’s no other way to put it – Taylor was awful Sunday. “I definitely have to learn from this one,” he said afterward. “Just a bad game overall.” Terrible is more like it. Receivers rarely got open, Taylor missed them when they were and the offensive line started to crumble late. In a word – yuck.
RUN DEFENSE: F-
To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, “What the ‘heck’ is going on out here?” Just an utter embarrassment up front for the Bills. The defensive tackles, all of them, got it handed to them. So did the linebackers, defensive ends and secondary, for that matter. “They killed us in every single stat. Everything you could talk about,” linebacker Preston Brown said. In a word – yep.
PASS DEFENSE: F
Four sacks in the last six games for the pass rush. Gaping holes in the zone defense. Running backs leaking out of the backfield and finding acres of open space. That about sums up the effort defensively in this regard. The only reason New Orleans didn’t throw it more is because they didn’t need to. Add in an injury to defensive end Jerry Hughes and things could get worse before they get better here.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Even Colton Schmidt didn’t have a great game. His first two punts, when the game was still close, netted 30 and 24 yards, respectively. He got better after that, but the Bills were well on their way to being blown out by that point. Stephen Hauschka hit a 37-yard field goal to open the scoring – that’s right, the Bills actually led in this game – but things went downhill from there. Brandon Tate returned three kicks, but averaged just 21 yards in doing so.
This is back-to-back straight stinkers from Sean McDermott. The team once again took an avalanche of dumb penalties. Not all of those can fairly be pinned on the coaching staff, but it doesn’t reflect well on them. Once again, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s effort is easily called into question. How many times can one man call for Mike Tolbert to get the ball in space before someone rips that page out of his playbook? It’s not good when the word “quit” is thrown around, and that’s happened two weeks in a row with McDermott’s team, which was outclassed in every way.
* * *
Grading the Saints
RUNNING GAME: A++
That’s right, two pluses. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara were that good as a one-two punch. Both of them topped 100 yards, with Kamara averaging a silly 8.8 yards per carry. Credit starts with the Saints’ offensive line, which was awesome. Center Max Unger, right guard Larry Warford and left guard Andrus Peat, in particular, were absolutely dominating their counterparts. Even third-stringer Trey Edmunds got in on the fun with a 41-yard touchdown run.
PASSING GAME: B+
The only thing holding this grade down slightly was the number of attempts being down. At one point, the Saints ran the ball 24 straight times. Drew Brees was as accurate as ever, completing 18 of 25 passes for 184 yards. He’s getting it done without an overly impressive group of receivers, save No. 1 option Michael Thomas. He was great, making nine catches for 117 yards.
RUN DEFENSE: A
Leading tackler A.J. Klein left the game in the first half with an ankle injury. Second-leading tackler Kenny Vaccaro missed the game with a groin injury. No big deal. Linebackers Manti Te’o and Craig Robertson covered plenty of ground, while Sheldon Rankins and Tyeler Davison were stout in the middle. “I was contemplating running extra half gas just to keep my conditioning,” defensive end Cameron Jordan said. “I think we came out and did what we had to do.” Yes, yes you did.
PASS DEFENSE: A
You know things are going well when Rankins, a 305-pound defensive tackle, almost returns an interception for a touchdown. “One of the things we wanted to do defensively is try and contain Tyrod,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “He’s an exceptional quarterback when he’s outside of the pocket, and I thought we did a really good job for the most part of keeping him at that launch point.” Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore is legit.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Punter Thomas Morstead didn’t need to bring his shoulder pads. He wasn’t called on to punt for the third time in his career. It was just the fifth time in Saints history they haven’t punted in a game. Kicker Wil Lutz missed an extra point, which was the only hiccup. Daniel Lasco suffered a spinal injury while covering a kick and left New Era Field in an ambulance. The Saints reported he had feeling in his extremities and was being evaluated at a Buffalo-area hospital. Here’s hoping he makes a full recovery.
Sean Payton may be cantankerous, but the guy can call an offense. The 10-play, 94-yard touchdown drive that featured all runs in the second half was one heck of a statement. Payton set the tone early by going for it on fourth and 1 from the Bills’ 30-yard line on New Orleans’ first drive. That set the tone for the rest of the game.