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Bills Position Grades: No A-gap blitzes is a second-guess for defense

It’s no surprise the Buffalo Bills’ defense isn’t gambling much this season, given the team’s chaotic situation at cornerback.

The Bills have endured injuries to both of their slot cornerbacks – Taron Johnson and Phillip Gaines – through two weeks. Of course, the Vontae Davis midgame retirement only added to the coverage problems in Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

As a result, the Bills only blitzed Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers six times in 30 pass plays. There were three rushes of five or more men in the first half. After Sean McDermott took over play-calling in the second half, there were three blitzes. He didn’t dial up the heat, but the Bills played better.

Both of the Bills’ second-half sacks came on four-man rushes. We expected some A-gap blitzes against the Chargers’ suspect middle three on the offensive line. There weren’t any. That’s the biggest second-guess of the defensive plan. The Bills are going to have to either turn up the pressure or get more solid play from their Nos. 2 and 3 cornerbacks. Or, preferably, both.

Here is a clip of one of Davis' second-quarter plays, after he gave up a TD pass. Sure doesn't look like he wants to stick his nose in to make a run stop.

Here are the position-by-position grades of the game, based on a scale of 1 to 5:

Quarterback (1.0): Josh Allen has the ability to make plays outside the pocket. But throwing on rhythm from the pocket is going to be a season-long learning process. On the second sack, he missed an open Zay Jones on a hook. On the third, he missed a quick check-down (to LeSean McCoy or Jones). On the fourth and fifth sacks he needed to throw hot. He didn’t pull the trigger to an open Charles Clay on the goal line in the third quarter. The interception aimed for Jason Croom was worth a shot but was underthrown.

Running back (1.0): Early deficits and three-and-out drives have prevented the Bills from establishing any kind of running attack to help support their young quarterbacks. The Bills called seven runs that gained 3 net yards in the first half. They called 18 first-half pass plays that netted 107 yards. They were 0 for 6 on third down in the first half. On first down, they called seven passes and three runs in the first half. No problem with passing on first down against a defense stacking against the run. But there needs to be more production.

Receiver (1.0): Elite cornerback Casey Hayward shut down Kelvin Benjamin. His late TD came against Trevor Williams. The offense needs somebody to get quick separation out of the slot to help out Allen. Thomas failed to block a blitzing Derwin James, which caused a 6-yard loss and foiled the second drive.

Offensive line (1.0): John Miller and Dion Dawkins combined to allow a sack that ended the first drive. Darius Philon beat Miller for a run-stuff on the third drive and Jordan Mills for a run-stuff on the fourth drive. A Mills hold wiped out an early 18-yard run by McCoy. Vlad Ducasse was mostly stout. Miller and Mills were the shakiest of the linemen.

Defensive line (2.0): The run defense wasn’t awful, even though Melvin Ingram and Austin Ekeler broke a few runs. Jerry Hughes gambled instead of setting the edge and was burned on Gordon’s 20-yard TD run. But otherwise Hughes had a strong game, with a sack, two other QB hits and two run stuffs. Kyle Williams did a good job penetrating. Eddie Yarbrough failed to set the edge on a 22-yard Ekeler run.

Linebackers (1.5): The Chargers isolated Tremaine Edmunds on the 9-yard TD pass to Melvin Gordon and on some underneath zone completions. Good scheming by play-caller Ken Whisenhunt. Edmunds had seven tackles and a stop for no gain. Matt Milano played fast. He chased down a jet sweep early. It’s hard to blame him on the 2-yard TD pass to Gordon. Great play by Rivers.

Defensive backs (1.0): The grade is a reflection of Vontae Davis’ first-half play and halftime retirement. Davis was slow to break on the TD pass to Mike Williams, which was well defended by Jordan Poyer. Only superhuman ball placement by Rivers made the TD possible. Tre’Davious White had a strong game. He shadowed Keenan Allen for about 75 percent of the snaps. All of Allen’s six catches came against zone coverage and not on White. Too bad Philip Gaines hurt his elbow in the first quarter.

Special teams (1.5): The first two punts by Corey Bojorquez were subpar, with only 3.66 and 3.7 hang times. His last three were excellent. Thomas’ 10-yard penalty on the first punt helped set up the Chargers with a drive start at the Buffalo 38. Marcus Murphy should not have fielded a booming punt at the Bills’ 8. Robert Foster failed to down a Bojorquez punt inside the 10. The Bills need cleaner special teams.

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