The Buffalo Bills’ defense moved up to second in the NFL in yards allowed and second in the league in three-and-out drives forced after Sunday’s game against New England.
The Bills gave up just 224 yards to a Patriots offense that entered the game ranked fifth in the NFL in yards gained, at 408 a game. And the Bills forced an amazing seven three-and-out possessions. That makes 16 three-and-outs in 48 possessions, or 33%. Only the Giants’ defense (34%) has produced more through four weeks.
Here are the position-by-position grades for the Bills against the Pats, based on video review and on a scale of 0 to 5 and starting with the defense:
Defensive line (4.0): The Pats wanted to run the ball. Even though they lost fullback James Develin to injury, they plugged in Jakob Johnson at fullback on one-third of the plays. Remember, this is a Pats team than ran for 273 yards against the Bills last December. But the Bills’ D-line controlled the trenches. The Pats’ backs averaged just 3.5 a carry. A-grades across the board. Worthy of special note was backup Darryl Johnson, a seventh-round rookie whose stoutness is a revelation. He played 21 snaps and had a hurry and four standout plays against the run. The coaches trusted Kyle Peko enough to give him 18 snaps. Peko was elevated last week from the practice squad after Harrison Phillips' season-ending knee injury.
The Bills got most of their heat with a four-man rush. Leslie Frazier blitzed Brady on six plays (15%). Brady was just 2 of 6 for 21 yards on those plays.
Linebackers (4.5): Tremaine Edmunds was sensational in his best game of the season. He had 11 tackles, two for loss. He was quick to diagnose and run down a sweep late and had a pass breakup of a key fourth-quarter pass. Matt Milano continued his Pro Bowl-caliber play. He capped a strong day with a deep sideline breakup in one-on-one coverage against James White. Lorenzo Alexander played 16 snaps as a linebacker in the 4-3 and 22 as a rush man.
Defensive backs (5.0): The Bills gave up just two plays of 20-plus yards, the perfect throw from Brady to White early and the rub-route reception to Josh Gordon for 31 yards. Best plays: Micah Hyde read Brady’s eyes for the end-zone interception and Jordan Poyer made a tough tackle in the hole at the 2-yard line on Sony Michel. Levi Wallace and Tre'Davious White continue to be a sure-tackling corner tandem.
Quarterback (1.0): Josh Allen’s struggles were apparent to all. The killer interception arguably was the one late in the third quarter along the sideline for Zay Jones that should have been thrown away. The Bills were down, 13-10, and it gave the Pats another field goal. Obviously, while Allen needs to use his elite mobility, he can not continue to put his body in harm’s way, as he did on the play that led to his leaving the game with a concussion.
Running back (4.0): Frank Gore is a marvel at age 36. His 41-yard run would have been an 8-yarder if he hadn’t run through the tackle of 23-year-old, 255-pounder Ja’Whaun Bentley. He ran through linebacker John Simon on a 6-yard run. T.J. Yeldon showed his good hands in producing 68 receiving yards. Allen needs to dump it to Yeldon more. It looked like Yeldon missed the pass protection on Kyle Van Noy’s QB hit on Matt Barkley, which caused the final interception.
Receivers (2.5): It wasn’t a great day for the wideouts, but they were facing a great defense. A 280-yard passing total against the Pats is a good day – without the interceptions, of course. John Brown caught five passes for 69 yards with Stephon Gilmore shadowing him all day. Solid. Cole Beasley produced. Too bad a couple of those late throws to him from Matt Barkley were just a tad short. The Bills’ offense is one more top-end wideout away from being outstanding. It would have been nice if Jones could have gathered himself and broken up one of those two interceptions thrown his way. On this scorecard, both those throws were 90% the fault of the QB. Lee Smith made three penalties. He had a key block on Gore’s 41-yard run. But he gave up a hurry to John Simon on a key third-and-10 from the Pats’ 42.
Offensive line (2.0): Cody Ford and Ty Nsekhe each played seven series. Ford continues to have trouble with speed rushes off the edge. He’s solid for stretches and powerful in the run game. But it’s on-the-job training for him in pass protection. He gave up 1.5 sacks and three other hurries. Nsekhe is more solid in pass protection. Dion Dawkins had a good day against tough competition pass blocking. He had one legitimate hold. The other holding call against him on the Allen injury play was dubious. Chase Winovich was stumbling and fell down on his own.
Special teams (0.5): Obviously, the Bills were not ready for the Pats’ 10-man rush on the first punt. New England rushed 10 men again on the first punt of the third quarter. This time, the Bills brought both gunners in to block (which should have happened the first time). Still, the Pats got pressure off left tackle. Corey Bojorquez got off his punt quickly to avoid another block, but it only went 21 yards. The Bills’ punt return team burned a time out in the third quarter. Siran Neal had a block in the back on the Bills’ last punt return. Stephen Hausckha missed a 49-yard try. Why not a 0.0 grade? Andre Roberts looked good on returns.
Here are The News’ cumulative position grades for the Bills through four games. They’re based on weekly video review on a scale of 1 to 5.
Running back, 3.5.
Offensive line, 2.87.
Defensive line, 3.87.
Defensive backs, 4.25.
Special teams, 2.6.