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Bills position-by-position grades

Matt Milano was underrated standout in fourth quarter

Matt Milano was an underrated star for the Buffalo Bills’ defense in Sunday’s 21-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

The third-year linebacker made three good plays in the fourth quarter to help the Bills eke out a victory.

On the Bengals’ drive to a go-ahead field goal, Cincinnati had a run off right tackle mostly well blocked. Milano used his speed to beat center Trey Hopkins to the edge and stop Giovani Bernard for a 4-yard gain.

Two plays later, on third and 8 from the Buffalo 25, Milano was lined up in the far slot to the left against Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, a tough assignment for a linebacker. Milano got a good jam on Eifert, who bumped receiver Tyler Boyd off his route, and Andy Dalton’s slant pass for Boyd fell incomplete.

Then on the clinching interception by Tre’Davious White with 12 seconds to go, Milano got good depth on his zone drop, forcing Dalton’s pass for Auden Tate to go a little too high. Tate deflected it and White made the pick.

Here are the position-by-position grades for the Bills against the Bengals, based on video review and on a scale of 1 to 5:

Quarterback (3.5): The cross-body throw that was intercepted spoiled an otherwise excellent game for Josh Allen. He completed 63.8% of his passes and now has connected on 64.1% through three games. He again made the kind of drive-extending plays that only a QB with elite size and athleticism can make.

The “All-Josh” plays in the first half included a 27-yard pass to John Brown, a 17-yard dump down the sideline to Dawson Knox and a 3-yard sack-escape pass to Tommy Sweeney. Then there was the amazing 8-yard scramble on the winning drive. Allen powered out of the grasp of defensive end Andrew Brown and outran Geno Atkins, Josh Tupou and Sam Hubbard to get to the Bengals’ 8.

“He really saved us a lot of times this game,” receiver Cole Beasley said. “There were a lot of plays that wouldn’t have happened today without him being able to move. If we had a typical pocket passer that the NFL loves so much, if he didn’t have those feet today, we’d have been in big trouble.”

 

Running back (3.5): The Bills got by just fine without Devin Singletary but need him for the Patriots game. Frank Gore ran tough. T.J. Yeldon ran north and south. But the Bills’ win would have come easier if Yeldon had not fumbled in the red zone.

Receivers (3.5): The grade gets boosted by the play of Dawson Knox, whose 49-yard catch-and-stomp play was reminiscent of Pittsburgh’s Vance McDonald or former All-Pro Jeremy Shockey (as CBS analyst Jay Feely suggested). Plus, Knox continues to block like a monster. Lee Smith had the key block on Gore's winning TD, knocking off Nick Vigil. The Bills only got two downfield completions to the wideouts (the 27-yarder to Brown and a 23-yarder to Zay Jones), as the Bengals did a good job mixing their pressures. Against 11 blitzes, Allen was 4 of 10 for only 33 yards, with a sack and an interception. The Bills used three wideouts on 42 of 73 plays.

Offensive line (3.0): The run blocking was darn good, headed by left tackle Dion Dawkins. He pancaked Germaine Pratt on a 22-yard run by Gore. Quinton Spain did a good job using his power against Atkins. The one problem Spain has is when he gets isolated against a blitzing linebacker coming downhill from the second level. Look for the Patriots to try to do that. But it was a good game for Spain overall. Jon Feliciano had a bunch of trouble before he left early with a neck injury. Cody Ford didn’t strike first on Carlos Dunlap and whiffed early (Allen bailed him out). Ford also was beaten badly by Atkins on the Allen interception. Ford’s run blocking at guard was powerful. The Bills were better off with Ty Nsekhe at tackle in this game. Nsekhe gave up two hurries but was solid overall. Bengals nose tackle Andrew Billings was a load in the middle. The Bills will need a better pass-blocking game overall against New England.

Defensive line (4.0): The strength of the Bills’ deep defensive line was key in limiting the Bengals’ desire to take shots downfield. The Bills’ four-man rush was a factor on the final drive. Jerry Hughes made just one tackle, but he stood out on the front four. He had five hurries by The News’ count, two on the last drive, forcing a dump off and an incompletion. The Bengals knew Hughes vs. Andre Smith was a bad matchup. Jordan Phillips (22 snaps) had a sack, two tackles for loss and a QB hit.

Leslie Frazier blitzed on only six of 31 drop backs (15.8%).

Linebackers (4.0): Milano’s strong play carried the unit. Tremaine Edmunds didn’t make any splash plays but was sound overall in his pass drops. He had good coverage downfield early on tight end C.J. Uzomah and had a hurry on a blitz. With the Bengals using three wideouts almost exclusively, the Bills didn’t line up in a “regular” 4-3 defense.

Defensive backs (4.0): Cincinnati’s first five drives produced 7 passing yards. Once again, the Bills were assignment sound on the back end to prevent big plays. White stayed on the left side rather than following John Ross. The Bengals move WRs so much and have so many bunch sets, it’s hard for a corner to follow one guy all game. White made a big-time play to break on an out route against Boyd and make his first pickoff. His second interception was a tip-drill play. Levi Wallace was better defending the run on the edge than any of the Bengals’ corners. Micah Hyde starred again, forcing a fumble and causing a sack by getting Kevin Johnson in the proper blitz position. Johnson played 25 nickel snaps, while Siran Neal played 30. Dean Marlowe had six snaps in the “big nickel.”

Special teams (2.5): Stephen Hauschka was 2 for 2 on field-goal tries and almost made a 62-yarder with the wind. Corey Bojorquez had a solid day. His first punt, into a strong wind, had a 4.88-second hang time and a 38-yard net. He had no bad punts. Three of his five punts were Aussie (pooch) punts inside the 20. However, none pinned the Bengals inside the 10. Darryl Johnson missed a tackle on a kickoff that was returned for a TD. Fortunately, a Bengals holding penalty erased it.

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