Our vote for the collective unsung heroes of the Buffalo Bills’ season-opening victory goes to the three tight ends, Lee Smith, Tommy Sweeney and Dawson Knox.
They combined to catch only three passes, but their blocking on the edge was a key to the Bills’ off-tackle runs in the second half. Blocking by the tight-end position was a weakness last season. Not any more, it seems.
Sweeney pinned Frankie Luvu inside on Devin Singletary’s 20-yard third-quarter run, then pinned Harvey Langi inside on Singletary’s 15-yarder to the 3. And Sweeney got just enough of defensive end Harry Anderson to allow Josh Allen to reach the pylon for a 3-yard TD run. Smith, known as one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL, sealed Neville Hewitt inside on the 23-yard run and blocked Tarell Basham to allow Singletary to get the edge for 12 yards.
Here are the position-by-position grades for the Bills against the New York Jets, based on video review and on a scale of 1 to 5:
Quarterback (3.0): If Josh Allen completes 64.8% of his passes this year, the Bills are in for a big season. If Allen contributes four turnovers a game, the Bills are in trouble. As Rich Gannon said on CBS, the pass to Cole Beasley on the pick-six by C.J. Mosley was catchable but too low. It’s a bit of bad luck that a batted pass got intercepted. But Allen was lucky Marcus Maye dropped a forced pass to the goal line just before the Bills’ field goal. Still, 254 passing yards and a fourth-quarter comeback is good, especially by Bills quarterbacking standards.
Running back (3.0): Singletary produced 98 yards on nine touches. He showed burst through the hole, speed to the edge and made linebacker Blake Cashman look silly with a – whoop! – cut in the flat. Maybe Allen should have checked to a different run on the safety against Frank Gore, who ran into the teeth of a nine-man, over-front to the left.
Receivers (3.0): “The John Brown effect” is real. The deep speed of the Bills’ new veteran wideout already is causing defenses problems. He beat Trumaine Johnson on a 28-yard cross in the second quarter and had Johnson giving huge cushion on a 14-yarder in the third. Then on the winning TD pass, Darryl Roberts protected deep, allowing Brown to stop short and catch the good throw from Allen. What do you know? The Bills’ wideouts had 14 catches. That’s more than in all but one game last year.
Offensive line (3.0): Good debuts for center Mitch Morse and guard Jon Feliciano, who showed their mobility in the run game in the second half. Feliciano and Quinton Spain generally did a good job passing off rushers when the Jets ran twists. Spain is a mauler, not a dancer. He got isolated in space on a second-quarter blitz by Neville Hewitt. But Spain pulled and took out Jamal Adams on Singletary’s 20-yard run. The tackles were not tested by elite speed rushers. Dion Dawkins gave up an early sack but had a very strong second half. Cody Ford played 37 snaps and Ty Nsekhe 32. Nsekhe was on the field for the two fourth-quarter TD drives. Considering the lack of continuity for the front five this summer, the performance was encouraging.
Defensive line (4.0): The Bills’ defensive line did a good job pushing the middle of the pocket and staying disciplined in rushing off the edge, not letting Sam Darnold wreak havoc outside the pocket.
“Some of it was trying to take advantage of the interior guys not playing as much on their side,” said Lorenzo Alexander. “I don’t think any of those guys played during preseason. When you can match up guys ... we have a lot of different guys who can get after it. So being able to change some of the looks on them, we were able to get some pressure. Then it’s just guys hustling. Like the one sack Shaq [Lawson] had. That’s guys just playing 100%, never giving up and just straining.”
Le’Veon Bell looked good but still only averaged 3.5 yards a carry. Ed Oliver played with power. He shoved guard Brian Winters aside to get a hurry. He knocked Kelechi Osemele backward on the third-quarter sack by Alexander. Oliver played 47 snaps. Star Lotulelei didn’t yield any ground to Winters or center Matt Kalil. Harrison Phillips (24 snaps) showed more stoutness than in some games last season. Meanwhile, Lawson made the most of his 22 snaps. He was too strong for tight end Ryan Griffin on an effort sack and had a third-down bat-down at the line. He hustled down the line to hold Bell to an 8-yard gain early in the game.
Linebackers (4.0): Matt Milano was an all-purpose weapon and was one of the Bills’ stars of the game. He caused havoc on blitzes, with a hurry and two hits on Darnold. He made nine tackles. In the second half, he gave up a TD pass to Bell on a tough coverage in the flat. But his key plays included an athletic bat-down at the line and overcoming a head-on block from tackle Brandon Shell to hold Jamison Crowder to a 4-yard gain. Tremaine Edmunds never got beat by Bell cutbacks. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was aggressive.
The Bills blitzed on 13 of 45 pass plays (28.8%). Frazier blitzed 22.4% last year, according to News charts. Darnold was 4 of 11 for 29 yards with two sacks against the blitz.
Defensive backs (4.0): Jordan Poyer showed off his versatility and toughness. He had nine tackles, including a blitz sack. He made a sure third-down tackle on a receiver screen in the fourth quarter. Taron Johnson plays bigger than his size, too. He also had a key pass breakup in the end zone in the second quarter before he got hurt. Levi Wallace got lucky when Darnold underthrew Robby Anderson deep but he recovered just in time. One criticism of Adam Gase’s offenses in Miami is they were too much dink and dunk and ranked in the bottom 10 in yards per pass play the past two years. The Jets averaged just 4.2 yards per attempt against the Bills.
Special teams (4.0): Corey Bojorquez had a solid debut with three good punts: One downed at the 5, a 4.9-second hang-timer for 60 yards and a quick get-off punt at the end of the game. No mistakes. No penalties.