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Bills position-by-position grades

Taron Johnson was unsung hero with late plays vs. Redskins

Taron Johnson was an underrated hero in the Buffalo Bills’ victory over the Washington Redskins.

The second-year nickel cornerback made two strong plays in the fourth quarter with the Bills clinging to a 17-9 lead and the Redskins marching at the Bills’ 46-yard line.

On first down, Johnson made a textbook pass breakup in coverage of a crossing route by Washington slot receiver Trey Quinn.

On second down, the 192-pound Johnson took on a block from 330-pound tackle Morgan Moses on a run wide right by Adrian Peterson. Johnson held the edge long enough for Jordan Phillips to defeat a cut block, swoop in and tackle Peterson for no gain.

The Bills forced an incompletion on the ensuing third-and-10 play, and the Washington threat was averted.

A strong showing by the Bills’ defensive backfield tops this week’s position-by-position grades, based on video review and on a scale of 0 to 5:

Defensive backs (4.0): Tre’Davious White shadowed Washington’s Terry McLaurin and held him down. McLaurin managed four catches with a long of just 13. Then, White recorded the first sack of his career on a corner blitz in the fourth quarter. White had blitzed on only two previous plays all season, according to Buffalo News charts.

“We don’t really do that a lot,” White said. “It was a great call. I don’t do a good job of disguising, though.”

It was good enough, Tre. Meanwhile, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer did their usual dirty work, combining on 16 tackles. Poyer was caught biting on a 22-yard screen pass. He also made a key third-down tackle in the red zone. Levi Wallace was abused by Peterson on an 8-yard run that could have been a 2-yard loss. Welcome to the club. But Wallace’s tight coverage on Paul Richardson helped produce a Trent Murphy sack.

Defensive line (3.0): The great Peterson got 82 of his 108 yards on four big gainers of 17-plus yards. On the first, guard Brandon Scherff beat Ed Oliver at the point of attack. On the next, Star Lotulelei got shoved aside, and Ereck Flowers blocked Oliver. On the third, Lotulelei and Oliver plugged it up, but Peterson broke free of the arms of Johnson in the backfield. The fourth was a short-yardage play with the linebackers jamming the line. Jordan Phillips penetrated and was shoved way out of his gap.

The Bills adjusted starting the fourth drive by putting a bigger DT combination out there on run downs. Oliver (18 snaps) was replaced by either Phillips (33 snaps) or Vincent Taylor (nine snaps). It worked. Against uber-physical lines or runners like Peterson, that’s going to have to be the adjustment. Phillips whipped Donald Penn on a key no-gainer, one of three run stuffs he made, in addition to his sack. Shaq Lawson had two hurries and a tackle for loss. Both Murphy and Jerry Hughes had a sack and two hurries.

Jordan Phillips making himself a boatload of money as an impending free agent

Linebackers (3.0): Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano had a good tackling day against tough competition. Milano fouled up a first-down incompletion in Bills territory with good zone coverage on receiver Kelvin Harmon. Ten of Lorenzo Alexander’s 27 snaps came as a linebacker in the 4-3 front because Washington was using big personnel.

Quarterback (2.5): Do the Bills need more passing yards? Absolutely. Still, Josh Allen did a solid job. He made three superb plays on the field-goal drive in the first quarter, twice eluding near-certain sacks and then hitting John Brown with a back-shoulder throw. Allen failed to step into a deep throw for an open Robert Foster, but that was because pressure off left tackle prevented him from doing so. The final TD drive stayed alive because Allen made an incredible escape from a sack and nearly hit Brown downfield. Those are the kind of plays the Bills need their elite-athlete-QB to make.

Receivers (2.5): John Brown now is on pace for 1,206 yards. Cole Beasley has TD catches in three consecutive games, a first for a Bill since Charles Clay in 2016. Isaiah McKenzie was a big plus to the run game out of three wides. Andre Roberts saw 18 snaps and showed his blocking value. He had a nice pin block on Ryan Anderson on a 17-yard run. Dawson Knox pinned Fabian Moreau inside on another 17-yard run. Knox also was beaten at the point of attack by Ryan Kerrigan (a bad matchup for a tight end) and by Noah Spence on a split-zone run. It shows the confidence offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has in Knox that he used him alone as the X-receiver to the left. That produced a slant catch. Let’s see more of that. Knox played 47 snaps, Tyler Kroft 16.

Isaiah McKenzie's jet-sweep action made big impact vs. Redskins

Running backs (3.5): Devin Singletary produced 140 yards from scrimmage, and 50 of them came after contact or by making guys whiff. It included the Bills’ best screen pass of the year, for 49 yards. Singletary eluded Moreau at the line of scrimmage on a 9-yard run that started the second TD drive. It was a rare day for Frank Gore, who saw eight of his 11 runs go for 2 yards or fewer.

Offensive line (3.0): It was a good pass-blocking day for tackles Dion Dawkins and Ty Nsekhe. They allowed only one hurry each. Nsekhe missed a block on a tight end screen but made a good cut block on a 17-yard run. It was nice to see the mobility and hustle of the middle three, Quinton Spain, Mitch Morse and Jon Feliciano, on the big screen play. Spain had power blocks at the point of attack on three good run gains. Morse was beaten for a sack by tough Matt Ioannidis and was pushed back on a fourth-and-1 stuff by Daron Payne. The run stuffs came mostly into the teeth of the 3-4 front. Maybe they should have spread them out more in short yardage.

Special teams (4.0): Roberts’ 66-yard kickoff return led to the touchdown that put the Bills up, 17-3. Game under control. The blocking for Roberts by all 10 members of the kickoff return team was outstanding. On kickoff coverage, the Bills had two tackles (by Robert Foster and Alexander) inside the Washington 20. Corey Bojorquez had a 15-yard punt into the wind, but we’re going to give him a mulligan. Sometimes the wind simply blows the ball on the drop.

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