What a change from a year ago at this time.
The 2017 Buffalo Bills season got off to a surprising 3-1 start, capturing the attention and imagination of the team’s long-suffering fans. That hot start went a long way toward the Bills ending a 17-year playoff drought.
Fast forward to today, though, and it’s a different story. The Bills have started 2018 with a 1-3 record, and have been blown out in each of those losses. A shocking Week 3 win over Minnesota has been the lone bright spot.
“I’m not a patient guy by nature, and maybe that served me well in a job like this, but at times, maybe it doesn’t, either,” coach Sean McDermott said this week. “As we go and develop these guys, you think ‘we’re a young team overall and there’s going to be some of these moments.’ As hard as it is, you’ve got to understand where we are in the build. These moments, if you learn from them, these scars that we’re taking on, if you used them the right way, you’ll look back on them and say, ‘that was good for us. We got the right education early and the guys learned from it.’ ”
Speaking of education, here is The Buffalo News’ quarterly report card.
Running backs: F
Here’s how bad things have been – rookie quarterback Josh Allen is the team’s leading rusher. LeSean McCoy has failed to gain even 40 yards in the three games he’s played. The idea that the Bills should trade him makes sense until you consider a 30-year-old running back with 85 rushing yards and a base salary north of $6 million doesn’t have much value, and that’s before even considering the ugly allegations of domestic, child and animal abuse that have been brought against him. Things aren’t any better behind McCoy. Chris Ivory is averaging a paltry 2.6 yards per carry. Marcus Murphy hasn’t made much of a difference. We’ll include fullback Patrick DiMarco here. With a grand total of 25 offensive snaps, he’s been a non-factor.
We can all agree that the Nathan Peterman Experiment needs to be over. He racked up a 0.0 quarterback ranking in the first half of his only start. Outside of one decent showing in the snow against Indianapolis, Peterman has been nothing short of a disaster. It’s surprising the Bills trust him to even be the backup. Peterman’s meltdown forced rookie Josh Allen into the lineup. Allen has one good showing, one bad showing and one so-so showing. He’s done a poor job of getting the ball out of his hands at times. His interception toward the end of the first half against Green Bay was one of the worst plays you’ll see a quarterback make.
Wide receivers: F
The Bills legitimately need to replace all five wide receivers on their roster. This is the worst position group in the NFL, and it’s really not close. So-called No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin has seven catches. Total. With each game, his value as a free agent after this season continues to diminish. Of Zay Jones’ 10 catches, nine have come with his team trailing by more than 17 points. He’s been an absolute non-factor when the game is close. I have no clue what purpose Robert Foster serves on the roster. Fellow rookie Ray-Ray McCloud has one catch. Veteran Andre Holmes tries hard and is a key contributor on special teams, but he’s not scaring any defenses. A total rebuild is needed here.
Tight ends: C+
Charles Clay has done what he normally does – put up decent numbers and show up on the injury report. Clay is second on the team with eight catches for 87 yards. He’s practiced sparingly the last two weeks as he deals with an assortment of injuries. Jason Croom has risen to the No. 2 job at the position. He had a 26-yard touchdown catch in Week 3 against Minnesota. There is hope he can continue to develop into a threat in the passing game. Logan Thomas has been a healthy inactive. It feels like the window for him is closing. Blocking tight end Khari Lee was released Saturday to make room on the 53-man roster for safety Dean Marlowe. Perhaps Lee returns once the team gets healthy at safety.
Offensive linemen: F
The line ranks 24th in Football Outsiders’ run-blocking rankings, and that feels generous. When the team has needed a push, it hasn’t come close to getting it. The Bills have given up 21 sacks, which leads the NFL. Not all of those are on the line, but it’s not a good reflection of their performance. Right tackle Jordan Mills has been charged with four allowed sacks by analytics website Pro Football Focus. He’s the 47th-ranked run blocker among offensive tackles. Left tackle Dion Dawkins is even worse, ranking 68th out of 78 graded tackles in run blocking. Grading for offensive linemen can be subjective, but those poor rankings pass the eyeball test. Right guard John Miller has been charged with eight pressures allowed. Center Ryan Groy was benched for Russell Bodine. There are plenty of changes needed here, too.
Defensive ends: B-
Jerry Hughes is the fourth-ranked pass rusher, according to PFF. He has 21 total pressures, which is third in the NFL. Hughes’ run defense grade has taken a big dip since 2017, as he ranks tied for 80th through four weeks. Fellow starter Trent Murphy has graded out poorly, ranking 91st overall among edge rushers in PFF’s grading. Murphy has a total of seven pressures. His run defense ranks 107th. The eyeball test would suggest he hasn’t been that bad, and has provided a player offenses have to account for opposite Hughes. Shaq Lawson shifted inside to defensive tackle last week. The Bills wouldn’t have made such a move if they thought he could be an elite pass rusher. Eddie Yarbrough hasn’t made any splash plays, but is fine as a reserve.
Defensive tackles: C
Gone are the days when Kyle Williams was the PFF Golden Boy. He ranks 77th in the group’s grading of interior defenders. Star Lotulelei has never been a favorite of the analytics community, and that’s true again this year. Lotulelei’s impact on the Bills’ run defense, though, has been noteworthy. The team is giving up just 2.9 yards per carry on runs up the gut, which is where Lotulelei can be found. That ranks eighth in the NFL. Rookie Harrison Phillips has been the third member of the rotation. There is hope that Phillips can be the long-term replacement for Williams. It's been a revolving door at the fourth defensive tackle spot, from Adolphus Washington to Robert Thomas and now Jordan Phillips.
Veteran Lorenzo Alexander has found the fountain of youth. Alexander evidently heard all the talk about being a possible training-camp cut, because he’s responded with a terrific first quarter of the season. Rookie linebacker Tremaine Edmunds has taken every defensive snap so far. He’s got a lot of growing left to do. Matt Milano won AFC Defensive Rookie of the Week honors for his performance against the Vikings, but inexplicably continues to lose snaps to veteran Ramon Humber. That needs to end. Julian Stanford and Deon Lacey are mostly special-teams players.
Tre’Davious White has taken on the duties of handling the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver every week, and done so well. Davante Adams made some plays against White in Week 4, but otherwise it’s been a solid start to his second season. It’s been an adventure, to say the least, on the other side of White. Vontae Davis’ mid-game retirement in Week 2 will go down as one of the stranger happenings in team history. Phillip Gaines has gone from starter to hurt to healthy inactive in four weeks. Ryan Lewis has gone from claimed off waivers to released to the practice squad to starter in four weeks. Rookie Taron Johnson has been banged up in seemingly every game, but he’s a tough kid. He looks like he could be a good one in the slot.
The duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer aren’t on pace to make as many big plays as they did a year ago, but they’re still trusted starters. Rafael Bush has been a nice addition as the third safety. Rookie Siran Neal has flashed some of the athleticism that made him a fifth-round draft pick. Dean Marlowe was promoted from the practice squad Saturday with Hyde and Bush banged up. Marlowe had a solid training camp.
Kicker Stephen Hauschka is 5 for 6 on field goals and hasn’t missed an extra point. Rookie punter Corey Bojorquez is tied for the NFL lead with 14 punts that have been downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. He did make a mistake in the season opener against Baltimore when he dropped a snap in the heavy rain and was unable to get a punt off. Long snapper Reid Ferguson has been solid.
Coaching staff: F
Save the Minnesota game, the Bills have not been ready at the start of games. The team has given up 70 points in the first half of their three losses. Buffalo’s average margin of defeat is 25.6 points. They aren’t just losing, they’re getting blown out. It took a game and a half for Sean McDermott to strip defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier of play-calling duties, although those were later restored. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has abandoned the run far too frequently. His offense ranks 31st in both points per game (12.5) and average yards per game (220.8), and is dead last in passing yards (132.5) and third-down percentage (24.1). Ouch. Wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie has coaxed precisely nothing out of his group.
Story topics: Andre Holmes/ Brian Daboll/ Charles Clay/ Chris Ivory/ Corery Bojorquez/ Dean Marlowe/ Dion Dawkins/ Eddie Yarbrough/ Harrison Phillips/ Inside the Bills/ Jason Croom/ Jerry Hughes/ John Miller/ Jordan Mills/ Jordan Poyer/ Josh Allen/ Kelvin Benjamin/ Khari Lee/ Kyle Williams/ LeSean McCoy/ Leslie Frazier/ Logan Thomas/ Marcus Murphy/ Micah Hyde/ Nathan Peterman/ Patrick DiMarco/ Phillip Gaines/ Rafael Bush/ Ray-Ray McCloud/ Reid Ferguson/ Robert Foster/ Russell Bodine/ Ryan Groy/ Ryan Lewis/ Sean McDermott/ Siran Neal/ Star Lotulelei/ Stephen Hauschka/ Terry Robiskie/ Tre'davious White/ Trent Murphy/ Vontae Davis/ Zay Jones