Grading the Buffalo Bills in their 20-3 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday at New Era Field:
Running game: A+
It was all working. Devin Singletary topped 100 yards for the first time in his career. Frank Gore passed Barry Sanders for third place on the NFL’s career rushing list. Let that sink in for a second. Barry. Sanders. Josh Allen scrambled his way to 56 yards on the ground – showing an uncanny ability to get out of trouble multiple times. Add it up and it came out to a whopping 244 yards on the ground – easily a season high. If there’s such a thing as a quiet 244 yards, this was it. That speaks to the grind-it-out nature of the run game. Singletary didn’t have a gain longer than 11 yards, but still averaged 5.0 yards per carry. The only run plays that seemed to go nowhere were designed carries by Allen. A handoff to receiver Isaiah McKenzie was also easily sniffed out by the Denver defense, resulting in a 5-yard loss. Those don’t do much to overshadow what was an otherwise huge game on the ground. Taking over with 7:02 left in the game, the Bills ran the ball nine consecutive times to ice the win. The Broncos knew what was coming and still couldn’t stop it.
Passing game: A-
Allen’s streak of consecutive passes without an interception ended at 171, but he rebounded nicely from that miscue. Cole Beasley and John Brown each had touchdown receptions in the second half. It’s scary to think where the Bills would be without those two. Brown’s streak of 10 consecutive games with at least five catches and 50 yards ended, but he helped put the game away with a 34-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter. The offensive line, which was without right tackle Ty Nsekhe and center Mitch Morse, allowed just one sack for a loss of 5 yards. Allen deserves credit for that, buying time with his legs. “It makes us tired, just having to run all day and chasing around receivers. That’s what a scrambling quarterback does. … Allen is a great scrambler. He can run, so I don’t know if we contained him too well, but he’s a great player to me and he has a bright future,” Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. Allen’s stats weren’t overwhelming, but he got the job done, going 15 of 25 for 185 yards and a quarterback rating of 92.9. On another windy day at New Era Field, that’s a better performance than the numbers might indicate. For proof, look at Broncos quarterback Brandon Allen’s stat line – which we’ll get to later. Robert Foster’s only catch was a big one, picking up 24 yards. It was a quiet game for the team’s tight ends, as Dawson Knox and Tyler Kroft combined for three catches for 25 yards.
Run defense: A-
The Broncos have a strong rushing attack led by Phillip Lindsay, but the Bills largely neutralized it. Denver ran for a healthy 5.0 yards per carry, but just 17 attempts meant the Broncos were held to 85 yards. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds shared the team lead with six tackles. He now has 203 tackles for his career. He’s the first player since at least 1999 to have that many tackles prior to turning 22 (Carolina’s Luke Kuechly is next, with just 164). The Broncos’ only drive that resulted in points was their first of the second half. After getting to the Bills’ 24-yard line, Lindsay was stopped by Corey Liuget for a 2-yard gain. That was the biggest play of the game for the Bills’ run defense because it forced Denver to go to the air. As you can see below, that spelled trouble for the Broncos.
Pass defense: A+
New Era Field was a No Fly Zone for the Broncos. Brandon Allen went 10 of 25 for 82 yards and one interception, a passer rating of 32.4. He was sacked four times for a loss of 33 yards. He looked overwhelmed at what he was seeing from the Bills’ defense. An unsung hero for the Bills was linebacker Matt Milano. He was all over the field, making six tackles, including one for a loss, three passes defensed and one quarterback hit. Milano was able to cover Broncos tight end Noah Fant and running back Royce Freeman in space – not an easy thing for any linebacker. That’s a luxury for the defense. Nickel cornerback Taron Johnson played a strong game, finishing with four tackles and one pass defensed. “Trying to find completions out there was tough, and I obviously didn’t do a very good job with it,” Allen said. Give the Bills credit for that.
Special teams: B
With the defense doing a great job of getting the Broncos’ offense off the field, return man Andre Roberts got plenty of chances. He muffed one punt, but was able to pick it up and make something out of the return. Roberts gained 41 yards on five punt returns, an average of 8.2 yards per return. He dangerously let one bounce, but it didn’t hit any of the Bills. A pair of holding penalties against Lorenzo Alexander backed up the offense, resulting in a combined loss of 27 yards of field position. Kicker Stephen Hauschka was perfect on a windy day, making two field goals and two extra points. Punter Corey Bojorquez placed all four of his punts inside the Broncos’ 20-yard line. That made for an easy day for the punt-coverage unit.
The clock management at the end of the first half was utterly baffling. Taking over at their own 15-yard line with 57 seconds left and two timeouts, the Bills got the ball to their 46-yard line with about 20 seconds left. Instead of using their final timeout, Allen clocked the ball with 10 seconds left. The Bills then attempted to use their final timeout of the half while the clock was stopped, but were bailed out by a delay-of-game penalty. After a false start by Singletary pushed the offense back even more, the Bills mercifully ran out the clock. At the very least, the offense should have been able to get into a position to attempt a Hail Mary to the end zone. Gross clock mismanagement meant that didn’t happen. Coach Sean McDermott also used a curious timeout in the fourth quarter. Leading 20-3, he called timeout before punting from the Denver 41-yard line. Sure, the timeout probably wasn’t going to matter, but why not just take the delay of game there? The Bills were penalized a whopping 12 times for 90 yards. Those issues will be covered up by the win, but they need to be cleaned up moving forward.
Story topics: Andre Roberts/ Cole Beasley/ Corey Bojorquez/ Corey Liuget/ Dawson Knox/ Devin Singletary/ Frank Gore/ John Brown/ Josh Allen/ Lorenzo Alexander/ Matt Milano/ Sean McDermott/ Stephen Hauschka/ Taron Johnson/ Tremaine Edmunds/ Tyler Kroft