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Bills-Titans Report Card: Running game, defense earn high marks

Grading the Bills

RUNNING GAME: A-

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll listened to the fans, and head coach Sean McDermott, as the Bills ran the ball 43 times, a season high. Although the team’s yards per carry was not dynamic – 3.3. – the offense stuck with it, and grinded out the needed yards at the end to get in position for the game-winning field goal. LeSean McCoy showed some of his trademark elusiveness on a 16-yard gain, finishing with a season-high 85 yards on 24 carries. Chris Ivory pulverized the Titans’ defense on the final drive for a crucial 22 yards. Rookie quarterback Josh Allen again used his legs to make a play, scrambling for a 14-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

PASSING GAME: D+

This was not pretty. Allen finished 10 of 19 for just 82 yards and one interception. He missed a couple of easy throws and otherwise displayed some shaky accuracy. The wide receivers were again underwhelming. Zay Jones led the team with three catches for 20 yards. Kelvin Benjamin had just one catch for 11 yards, while Andre Holmes did not make a catch on two targets. He had the ball bounce off him on a nice throw by Allen in the fourth quarter, which led to an interception. The longest completion of the day was just 13 yards, to McCoy.

RUN DEFENSE: A-

The linebackers were buzzing. Matt Milano led the team with 10 tackles, one of which went for a loss in the first half. Rookie Tremaine Edmunds was next with eight tackles. Newcomer Jordan Phillips brought plenty of energy. He made three tackles, one of which went for a loss in the second quarter. Star Lotulelei’s one credited tackle went for a loss. There were some missed tackles on outside runs that need to be cleaned up, but overall it was another solid showing against the run.

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PASS DEFENSE: A

No Micah Hyde and Rafael Bush? No problem in the secondary, as Dean Marlowe stepped in to make his first career start and didn’t look out of place. No. 1 cornerback Tre’Davious White continued his strong season, largely limiting Titans receiver Corey Davis. Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander had a nice pass defensed in coverage. He continues to impress at 35 years old. Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy registered sacks, and Edmunds had a quarterback hit that resulted in an incompletion. Rookie cornerback Taron Johnson made an interception.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-

It was a first quarter to forget for one of the Bills’ key special-teams contributors. Linebacker Deon Lacey lined up offside on a kickoff, which should never happen, and then missed a tackle in punt coverage. The aborted field goal try in the second quarter was very ugly. Punter Corey Bojorquez chalked it up to “miscommunication.” Bojorquez also had a bad punt go for a touchback in the second quarter. Things got much better in the second half, though, as Hauschka made a pair of field goals, including the game-winner from 46 yards. Bojorquez gutted through a shoulder injury to punt well and have clean holds on both field goals.

COACHING: A-

Sean McDermott wanted to establish the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and his team was able to do that. It would have been nice to see some aggressiveness in the second quarter with the Bills facing fourth-and-3 from the Titans’ 40-yard line. Allen was called for a false start, but it seemed like the plan was to try and get the Titans to jump offside. Why not just go for it there? The Bills did that on two fourth-and-1 situations, and converted both times. Kudos on those calls. McDermott also had an ill-advised challenge in the second quarter trying to overturn a spot of the ball. Those two things don’t diminish what was a solid team win.

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Grading the Titans

RUNNING GAME: D

Dion Lewis tormented the Bills when he was with the Patriots, but didn’t do much Sunday. He gained just 34 yards on a team-high 12 carries and lost a fumble. Derrick Henry had a decent game, with 56 yards on 11 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per rush. Quarterback Marcus Mariota didn’t do much damage with his legs, gaining 10 yards on two carries.

PASSING GAME: D-

Mariota didn’t look anything like the quarterback who carved up the defending Super Bowl champions in Week 4. He finished 14 of 26 for 129 yards and an interception – a quarterback rating of 51.6. Davis was held to four catches for 49 yards. He’s impressive in person, and there are good things in store for him moving forward. Lewis was held to 14 yards on three catches out of the backfield. Receiver Taywan Taylor lost a fumble in the first quarter.

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RUN DEFENSE: C

Defensive tackle Jurell Casey is a bad man. He made five tackles, two of which went for losses. Defensive end DaQuan Jones had nine tackles, two of which went for losses. Linebacker Jayon Brown started in place of the injured Wesley Woodyard and led the Titans with 10 tackles. Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson paid the price when tackling Ivory on the Bills’ final drive – getting absolutely trucked on the play. When they needed to clamp down late, Tennessee’s run defense wilted.

PASS DEFENSE: A

Jackson had an interception when he brought in an Allen pass that bounced off the intended receiver. Brown had the Titans’ only sack, one of just two times they hit Allen. Linebackers Kamalei Correa and Derrick Morgan each had passes defensed. The Titans’ top three cornerbacks – Malcolm Butler, Jackson and Logan Ryan – are near the top of the league.

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SPECIAL TEAMS: B+

Kicker Ryan Succop hit a pair of 50-yard field goals, including one that put the Titans up, 12-10, with less than 5 minutes to play. Punt returner Nick Williams gained 39 yards on two returns, while kickoff return Darius Jennings took his only attempt 33 yards. The Titans did allow a 27-yard kickoff return – which qualifies as a long one in today’s NFL.

COACHING: C-

There was an absolutely baffling sequence in the second quarter, when the Titans took a delay-of-game penalty when they had three timeouts. That turned a third and 4 into a third and 9, and the play clock almost expired again, forcing coach Mike Vrabel to use one of those timeouts. Succop bailed the coaches out by hitting a 54-yard field goal, but it was a baffling sequence. Vrabel has been mentioned as an early candidate for Coach of the Year, but this is a big letdown after wins over Jacksonville and Philadelphia.

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