The young receivers are breathing life into the Buffalo Bills’ passing game.
Robert Foster and Isaiah McKenzie combined for 113 yards from scrimmage on six touches in a 24-21 win over Jacksonville. The Bills are giving the two speedsters more work at the expense of veteran Kelvin Benjamin.
Foster and McKenzie each played 33 of 58 offensive snaps, or 57 percent. Newly acquired Deonte Thompson played 16 snaps. Benjamin saw his playing time drop to 23 snaps (40 percent), his lowest of the season.
The passing game produced only 160 yards. However, if you add Josh Allen’s scrambles on called pass plays, it was a healthier 244. The Bills will take it.
Here are the position-by-position grades for the Bills against the Jets, based on video review and on a scale of 1 to 5:
Quarterback (4.0): You want to see Allen show accuracy from the pocket, make some elite athletic plays and protect the ball. Triple check. Picking the coverage apart late in the down from the pocket surely is going to have to wait until next year. Obviously, the TD pass to Foster was an elite throw. But it was great to see his accuracy while taking a hit on the 19-yard pass to Foster in the third quarter. And the 16-yard, third-down dart to McKenzie (it got called back) was great. The Bills averaged 17 yards on 12 play-action plays.
Running back (2.5): LeSean McCoy averaged only 2.7 yards on 17 carries. However, he ran north-south against a tough defensive line. He was trying to get every possible yard. It’s a case where the stats look bad but McCoy was not bad. He was playing team football.
Receivers (2.5): It looks like the Bills have an undrafted steal in Foster. Zay Jones had no catches. He made some good blocks on the edge. Brian Daboll even motioned him into the backfield as a sixth pass protector several times. Logan Thomas dove and got just enough of blitzing Myles Jack to spring Allen on his 45-yard run.
Offensive line (3.0): It was a tough challenge for the O-line but all the play-action and extra pass protection helped. Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell was nothing short of brilliant. He had four hurries, a tipped pass, a run-stuff and drew two penalties (by John Miller and Russell Bodine). Nevertheless, protection held up reasonably well. No sacks (thanks to Allen’s legs) and no turnovers. Bodine walled off big DTs pretty well. Ryan Groy played 34 snaps after Miller got hurt.
Defensive line (3.5): The Bills blitzed Blake Bortles only six times because they had an edge on the D-line and they wanted him throwing from the pocket. Jerry Hughes had six pressures, including a shared sack with Kyle Williams. Star Lotulelei was solid in the middle in 31 snaps. He had two key run-stuffs in the second half. Harrison Phillips had a rough first half but made a run stuff with the Jags backed up on their own 2. Jordan Phillips again made an impact in 24 snaps. He penetrated on first-and-goal from the 1 to force a 1-yard loss, which started the Bills’ goal-line stand.
Williams on the bad run defense in the first half:
“It wasn’t physical issues and being outmatched,” he said. “It was a guy being in the wrong place here, you take a wrong step, a guy takes a wrong angle and missed tackles. It really snowballed on us in the first half. We knew they were going to come in and try to run the football. We were prepared. We had the right things called. I think guys may have been trying to do too much, trying to get the guy rather than just doing your job.”
Linebackers (3.5): Because Jacksonville uses “heavy” personnel, the Bills used their base 4-3 front with Lorenzo Alexander in a traditional strong-side linebacker role on 23 plays (33 percent). They had been averaging 17 percent this season. Matt Milano had another interception, and Tremaine Edmunds was pretty good against a tough run team. On the second interception, Edmunds’ long arms made it tough for Bortles to get the ball in the hole in the zone.
Defensive backs (3.5): A good day against a bad QB. Tre White had a third-down break up and had good coverage on Donte Moncrief on a third-quarter sack. He also got pinned inside on the 43-yard jet sweep. We say it every week: Taron Johnson plays tough in run support. His sure tackle on a pass to Dede Westbrook set up a key third-down stop in the fourth quarter. Jordan Poyer missed a tackle in the hole early but redeemed himself by being sure-handed on the tipped-ball interception. Micah Hyde is rarely fooled on deep shots. He stayed home on a deep incompletion in the fourth quarter.
Special teams (2.5): Colton Schmidt has struggled in his three games back with the Bills. He had subpar strikes on the ball on five of his seven punts, although he got away with it on four of them. That included hang times of 2.8 seconds, 3.35, 3.6, 3.7 and 3.9 on full kicks. He made a good pooch punt in a critical situation that was downed at the 2. McKenzie had a 30-yard kickoff return and continues to look dangerous.