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Conservative coaching, confusing defensive game plan hurt Bills in loss

Jay Skurski

HOUSTON – Grading the Bills in their 22-19 overtime loss to the Texans on Saturday at NRG Stadium …

Running game: B

Only 13 carries for rookie running back Devin Singletary will be questioned during the offseason. Singletary ran hard all evening, breaking tackles and keeping his legs moving until the very end. He fought for every one of his 58 yards.

Quarterback Josh Allen showed off his rushing ability by gaining 92 yards on nine carries. It was clear offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was saving some Allen runs for the postseason, including the 42-yarder on the Bills’ opening possession.

Veteran Frank Gore, in what may have been his final game, added 22 yards on eight carries. Gore had a 14-yard run in the second half to make his rushing total respectable. By and large, though, he failed to get much going on the ground, averaging 2.8 yards per carry.

Singletary lost 2 yards on a third-and-3 carry in Houston territory. The Bills then punted from the Texans’ 40-yard line. Those missed opportunities proved critical to the outcome.

Passing game: D

Who needs caffeine when you can just watch Allen play quarterback? In perhaps the greatest example yet of the Josh Allen Experience, the Bills’ quarterback showed the good, bad and ugly of his play. Sometimes, the very ugly. Allen finished 24 of 46 for 264 yards, a seemingly boring stat line that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story.

He caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver John Brown on a perfectly designed trick play. He made some throws other quarterbacks can only dream about. He also showed some world-class buffoonery, like when he tried to inexplicably lateral the ball to tight end Dawson Knox on the Bills’ last drive in regulation. After speaking all season of the importance of taking care of the football, Allen fumbled twice against the Texans. He was lucky not to throw a pick-six.

Brown failed to get his feet inbounds in the first half, forcing the Bills to have to settle for a field goal – a huge mistake. Duke Williams failed to make a pair of contested catches – the kind the Bills need him to make.

Run defense: D

It started on a bad note when Tremaine Edmunds missed a tackle on the Texans’ first play from scrimmage, leading to a 19-yard gain. It didn’t get much better, as the Texans finished with 141 yards on 33 carries.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson did most of the damage, rushing 14 times for 55 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown that opened the scoring for Houston.

The Bills largely kept Carlos Hyde in check, holding him to an average of 3.0 yards per rush, but Duke Johnson chipped in 38 yards on just three attempts.

Edmunds and Matt Milano led the Bills with 12 tackles each.

Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei did make a big play by stopping Watson on fourth and 1 with a little more than a minute left in regulation, giving the Bills’ offense another chance.

Pass defense: C-

The pass rush was ferocious. Watson was sacked seven times. Jerry Hughes had three of them, while Trent Murphy added two. Of course, it should have been eight, but Watson somehow bounced off of both Milano and Siran Neal to find Taiwan Jones for the decisive play. Watson finished 20 of 25 for 247 yards and a touchdown.

The Bills’ coverage was way too soft, including on the Texans’ third-and-18 conversion in which Johnson caught the ball well short of the first-down marker, but was able to get the necessary yardage. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier seemed worried about getting beat over the top. Overly so, because the team gave up too much underneath.

Johnson caught three passes for 30 yards, while Hyde added a 5-yard touchdown reception. Most of Watson’s rushing yards came when he scrambled away from pressure. The Bills’ pass rush needed to be more disciplined so that he couldn’t get outside so often.

Special teams: A-

Stephen Hauschka was perfect on four field goals. He also kicked five touchbacks. It was a good way to end an up-and-down season for Hauschka.

The Bills’ kick coverage was strong, holding the Texans to just 7.5 yards on two returns (though one of them came when Houston took a knee at the end of the second quarter).

Punter Corey Bojorquez had good hang time on his first punt, which covered 56 yards and netted 45 after a return of 11 yards by DeAndre Carter.

Bills returner Andre Roberts chose to take four touchbacks on kickoffs and returned his only punt return 8 yards.

Outside of Hauschka, the Bills weren't able to make any game-changing plays on special teams. That was true both of Saturday's game and the entire season.

Coaching: D

It looked early like the Cleveland Browns, who are scheduled to interview Daboll on Sunday for their head-coaching job, might hire him during the game – that’s how good the Bills’ first drive was. By the end of the game, though, fans on social media were begging the Browns to take Daboll.

The Bills' coaching staff just doesn't seem capable of coaching Allen not to try to do too much. The reliance on Gore did not make any sense – he has done next to nothing for two months.

The clock management at the end of the first half was bad – again. The Bills had the ball at the Texans’ 32-yard line with 1:17 remaining and two timeouts facing a second and 8. After a 6-yard completion to Cole Beasley, the Bills ran Singletary for 3 yards and first down, using a timeout with 30 seconds left from the Houston 23. On first down, Gore ran for 1 yard, and then Allen clocked the ball – essentially wasting two downs.

At the end of regulation, the Bills had time to try at least one play over the middle of the field from the Texans’ 29, but instead they called for low-percentage throws by Allen to Williams down the right sideline. It was a coaching failure as much as execution to allow the Texans to convert third and 18 in overtime on the winning drive.

“You know, we didn’t get the job done,” coach Sean McDermott said.

Sadly for Bills fans, that’s an accurate summary.

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