First down plays on Sunday showed how the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans think about their quarterbacks and approach offensive football.
The Bills trusted Josh Allen more than the Titans trusted Marcus Mariota.
The Bills called 17 pass plays and 11 run plays on first down. The Titans called 14 run plays and nine pass plays.
First down is a good time to pass, especially with a young quarterback, because the defense is playing more honest. It has to respect the run and the pass.
Both quarterbacks were facing tough defenses. The Bills put more on Allen’s plate. He dropped back 40 times and passed for 219 yards. Mariota dropped back 31 times and passed for 183 yards.
Allen was 10 of 14 for 138 yards and a TD on first-down passes.
Mariota was 6 of 6 passing for 58 yards with two sacks. Four of those six completions were on screen passes. Mariota did not use his wideouts as well as Allen.
Here are the position-by-position grades for the Bills against the Titans, based on video review and on a scale of 0 to 5:
Quarterback (3.5): Brian Daboll called pass plays on 15 of the first 20 snaps, and Allen produced. He connected on 9 of 12 passes on those plays. Allen finished at 71.8% completions. He made good decisions on run-pass option plays. He made some accurate throws in key situations, including a 14-yard rifle to John Brown on the first TD drive from a muddy pocket. Allen also had four throwaways. Yay. He should have had five, because his interception was a late throw over the middle.
The Titans rushed defensive backs against Allen six times, about their usual rate, but only blitzed five or more men on three of 40 drop backs, according to Buffalo News charts. They rushed three and dropped eight six times. The plan was to see if he could be goaded into forcing the ball into coverage. He only did it once.
Offensive line (3.5): Give an unsung hero award to Jon Feliciano, who stepped in at center for 41 of his 65 snaps and ran things smoothly. It wasn’t easy, either, because he had beefy DaQuan Jones over him a bunch. Quinton Spain held off mighty Jurrell Casey. Casey had three hurries but no sacks and not a single tackle. Spencer Long, who played 41 snaps after Mitch Morse went out, had some good blocks on Casey and sealed off Jones for a late, 11-yard run. The edge rushing competition was not as tough as last week. Still, Dion Dawkins had another good game, with just a single hurry allowed. Cody Ford gave up a sack on a speed rush by Harold Landry. Otherwise, Ford did a decent job steering Reggie Gilbert wide and in playing physical. Ryan Bates played 20 snaps after Ford was injured.
Running back (3.5): It’s a coup for the line and the backs when you can run out the last four minutes of a game. Frank Gore’s ability to get tough yards never ceases to amaze. He’s averaging 4.4 yards a carry. The late, 19-yarder was all Gore. He made Landry miss in the backfield.
Receivers (3.0): Duke Williams played 51 snaps, and Zay Jones played one snap. Two of Williams’ three catches, including the winning TD, came on third down. John Brown helped get the offense going early and continues to draw respect. How about the giant cushion Malcolm Butler gave him on the 21-yarder to the Titans’ 8? The rookie tight ends each had a drop. But Dawson Knox made up for it with a textbook cut-block on Isaiah McKenzie’s 46-yard jet-sweep play. Lee Smith was beaten for a sack but did superb run blocking and caught a TD pass.
Defensive line (4.0): Only one of the Bills’ five sacks came on a blitz, according to News charts. Leslie Frazier didn’t need to take many chances because the front four was winning the line of scrimmage. The Bills had six more three-and-out possessions.
Linebackers (4.0): Tremaine Edmunds’ best plays came late. He stuffed a wildcat run on second-and-goal from the 5 to help force a missed field goal. He made a tackle in the hole on the next drive. Then on the Titans’ final play, he recognized a slant pass and got in Mariota’s throwing window for a long-armed pass-breakup. Matt Milano had bad luck on a personal foul penalty. He got flipped into Mariota’s legs.
Defensive backs (4.0): The Titans’ wideouts burned Atlanta for 11 catches and 206 yards last week. Against the Bills, they managed nine catches for 97 yards. Levi Wallace had disciplined coverage on A.J. Brown on one sack play. He also had tight coverage on Delanie Walker on a key third-down stop. The Bills have weathered the absence of Taron Johnson just fine by rotating Kevin Johnson (20 snaps), Siran Neal (16) and Dean Marlowe (8).
Special teams (3.5): Corey Bojorquez had a solid day. He put four punts inside the 20 and had two touchbacks. All six of his punts had hang times of 4.50 or better, and he had a 64-yarder with a 5.16 hang time that pinned the Titans at their 11 (with the help of good coverage by Matt Milano). Daryl Johnson had a blocked field goal. It was a good bounce-back game after the disaster against the Patriots.