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COMMENTARY

Inside the Bills: Midseason report card

The second quarter of the 2018 season looked painfully similar to the first for the Buffalo Bills.

The team went 1-3 again in the second quarter of the season, dropping its record to 2-6 halfway through the season. More troubling is the way they are losing. The offense is historically bad, leading to games feeling like they’re over the minute the team falls behind by two possessions.

"I was realistic about where we were in the process and how we’re trying to get this thing turned in the right direction,” coach Sean McDermott said. “That doesn’t mean that I don’t have, and continue to have, high hopes for this football team. I’ve got a tremendous outlook on this football team, and I’m confident in these young men that we’re building a football team that, over the course of the long haul, will be able to achieve success and sustain it.

"You saw last year — we know how to win. Right now, we’ve got to continue to develop these players and the habits and the process and the mindset of winning."

Here is The Buffalo News’ position-by-position, midseason report card:

Quarterbacks: F

That promising performance by Josh Allen feels like it happened a long time ago. Allen started off the second quarter of the season on a strong note by leading a fourth-quarter comeback win against Tennessee — even if his stats weren’t that great — but got hurt in Week 6 at Houston. Nathan Peterman came in against the Texans and did what Nathan Peterman does, throwing the game-deciding pick-six, and then another interception to cement the loss. The Bills then turned to veteran Derek Anderson, who had been with the team for all of a week, against Indianapolis. Anderson accounted for four turnovers in a blowout loss to the Colts, then failed to lead the team to an offensive touchdown for a second straight game against the Patriots on Monday Night Football. He suffered a concussion in that game, making it likely Peterman starts the second half of the season Sunday against the Bears. Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?

Pregame primer: 5 things to watch when Bills host Bears

Running backs: D

LeSean McCoy looked like he was getting it going after rushing for 75 yards against the Titans and 85 against Houston, but he suffered a concussion against the Colts on the Bills’ second offensive play. He returned in Week 8, but was held to an unbelievable 1 yard on his final 11 carries against the Patriots. McCoy looked and sounded as frustrated after the loss to the Patriots as he has at any point in his four seasons in Buffalo, and it’s hard to blame him. Backup Chris Ivory has been about what should have been expected. He’s averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, but has had some strong moments. Third-stringer Marcus Murphy is averaging 5.9 yards per carry, but he’s faced some softer defenses at garbage time. Still, it might be a decent idea to try and get Murphy a few more touches. We’ll include fullback Patrick DiMarco, who is playing just 13 percent of the offensive snaps and clearly does not have much of a role in Brian Daboll’s offense.

Wide receivers: F

Kelvin Benjamin is still here after the trade deadline — much to the chagrin of Bills fans who can’t stand his effort. Benjamin has 16 catches for 262 yards. Zay Jones has taken over as the No. 1 receiver, but a little too much is being made of his “coming on.” Jones has 25 catches for 281 yards, but he’s fattened his numbers up during garbage time. The rest of the receivers on the roster — veteran Andre Holmes and rookies Ray-Ray McCloud and Cam Phillips — are non-factors. There isn’t a worse group of receivers in the league, and there’s never been one in franchise history. The move to bring in Terrelle Pryor this week was a worthwhile gamble by General Manager Brandon Beane. He can’t be any worse.

Tight ends: F

Charles Clay, the $9 million man, lost a fumble inside the red zone when it was still a game against the Colts. His contract is looking more and more like the worst in the NFL. Jason Croom hasn’t done much of anything since his touchdown catch in Week 3 against Minnesota. Logan Thomas is what he is — a third-string tight end.

Nathan Peterman to start with Derek Anderson downgraded to out

Offensive line: D

Far too often, there’s been nowhere for McCoy or the other running backs to go. That’s on the offensive line. Analytics website Football Outsiders ranks the Bills’ offensive line 26th in adjusted line yards, at 3.82. That’s a measure of the responsibility the line has on runs. Buffalo’s power ranking of 67 percent is tied for 19th. That’s the amount of times the team converts a first down or touchdown on third or fourth down with 2 or fewer yards to gain. The Bills’ “stuffed” percentage, the amount of runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage, is 20.7 percent, which ranks 21st. The Bills’ highest-graded offensive lineman according to the rankings done by analytics website Pro Football Focus, is John Miller, at No. 33. After wide receiver, rebuilding up front will be one of Beane’s biggest priorities in the offseason.

Defensive line: B

One of the goals last offseason was to improve this unit, and that’s largely been accomplished. Jerry Hughes has been a force, with 4.5 sacks and several more pressures. Star Lotulelei has done what he was brought in to do, which is make the run defense stronger. The Bills rank ninth against the run and 14th in sacks per pass attempt, two areas they were near the bottom of the league in 2017. The team has stopped 25.5 percent of runs at or behind the line of scrimmage, which ranks sixth in the league. Veteran Kyle Williams is still humming along at age 35, while rookie Harrison Phillips and Jordan Phillips have formed a decent second unit at defensive tackle. The one disappointment along the line has been Trent Murphy’s inability to stay healthy. He’ll miss his second straight game Sunday because of a knee injury. Shaq Lawson will start in his place. The 2016 first-round draft pick has settled into a rotational role, which is a disappointment given his draft status.

Linebackers: B+

Lorenzo Alexander is turning in an amazing season at age 35. He’s got 32 tackles, 3.5 sacks, five passes defensed, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in addition to the leadership he provides. Rookie Tremaine Edmunds has been up and down. He leads the team with 62 tackles, but that’s to be expected from a middle linebacker. Edmunds has had some ugly moments in coverage, but he figures to be a key part of the defense for years to come. He suffered a concussion in Week 8 against New England, which is a concern. Second-year veteran Matt Milano has 53 tackles, an interception, five passes defensed and an NFL-leading three fumble recoveries. He has struggled at times, but largely responded to being challenged earlier in the season. Backups Julian Stanford, Ramon Humber and Deon Lacey are all primarily special-teams contributors, although Stanford stepped in for Edmunds in Week 8. He’ll be called upon again Sunday in all likelihood, with Edmunds still in concussion protocol.

Secondary: A-

The Bills are giving up just 5.9 yards per pass play against, which is third in the league. Tre’Davious White is developing into the type of shutdown cornerback the Bills hoped he would be when they drafted him in the first round in 2017. He’s taking the other team’s No. 1 receiver every week. The safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer has picked up where it left off last year. The other starting cornerback job has been a bit of a revolving door, but Phillip Gaines hasn’t killed the team. Rookie slot cornerback Taron Johnson is tough. He’s been solid in run support and ranks tied for 17th among slot cornerbacks in averaging 7.9 coverage snaps per reception, according to PFF. He has given up a pair of touchdowns, but it’s overall been a good start for the fourth-round draft pick.

Special teams: C-

Kicker Stephen Hauschka raises this unit to a passing grade. He’s 12 of 13 on field goals and 7 for 7 on extra points this season. He’s been an excellent free-agent acquisition. Punter Corey Bojorquez injured his shoulder against the Titans, and although he played in the next three games, he eventually landed on injured reserve. He struggled against the Patriots, which may have prompted the move. Old friend Colton Schmidt is back to handle the punting duties. Rookie Ray-Ray McCloud lost a critical fumble against the Texans on a punt return and was subsequently benched. That was part of a horrendous showing on special teams that included a blocked punt, a big reason for the loss. It’s not ideal to continue to use Hyde on punt returns, given his importance to the defense. There have been no return touchdowns, either for or against.

Coaching: D+

It’s been troubling to hear players talk about not being prepared for what the other team was going to do, particularly after the loss to the Colts. That’s on the coaching staff. McDermott is doing his best to focus on the positives, but that’s getting increasingly difficult to do. The results under offensive coordinator Brian Daboll have been disastrous, but it’s tough to truly judge him because of the woeful weapons he has to work with. The defense under Leslie Frazier has been very good three out of the last four weeks, save the Indianapolis meltdown.

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