Bills' report card vs. Saints

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
8:00
AM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Offering unit-by-unit grades following the Buffalo Bills' 35-17 loss Sunday to the New Orleans Saints:

Coaching: C (Last week: B) After challenging a play only once through the first seven games, Doug Marrone used both of his challenges in quick succession in the second half, losing each time. He's now 0-for-3 on the season, one of just six coaches not to win a challenge this season. Marrone placed blame on himself after the game, saying he would review the process that goes into making a challenge. Otherwise, it's tough to knock Bills' coaches too much in this game. One area where they could look to improve is keeping their players sharp through the entire first half; they've had defensive lapses late in the second quarter in each of their past two games.

Run Offense: C-minus (Last week: C-plus) If this grade only considered just the early part of the game, the Bills would have received high marks. Fred Jackson ran for 42 yards on his first five carries, while Tashard Choice broke a 20-yard run early in the second quarter. It can mostly be attributed to playing from behind, but the Bills gained just 13 yards on nine carries in the second half, with Jackson picking up just three total yards on his final 10 rushes of the game. The situation made it necessary for the Bills to throw, but with the NFL's third-worst passing offense, that's hardly the sort of game they want to play.

Pass Offense: C-plus (Last week: C-plus) Another game, another good-but-not-great performance by Thad Lewis. His worst moments came early in the game, losing fumbles on the first and third Bills possessions. He bounced back, driving 72 yards early in the second quarter and finding a rhythm with leading receiver Stevie Johnson. But then Johnson pulled up with a groin injury and was limited for the rest of the game, leaving Lewis' best option at less than 100 percent. Meanwhile, Lewis has yet to find a groove with Robert Woods, which has hurt both players in the past three games. Ditto for the pass protection, which allowed four more sacks Sunday and has seen Lewis hit the ground 13 times since being named the starter.

Run Defense: B-minus (Last week: C) The Saints never really needed their running game, which is often the case with New Orleans. But when they turned to Pierre Thomas, he was effective. Thomas finished with 65 yards on 14 carries, a 4.6-yard average that kept the Saints moving the ball in between passes. The Bills had more success stopping Khiry Robinson, who gained just 9 yards on seven carries. There weren't any major breakdowns -- Thomas' longest run was 13 yards -- but there was definite room for improvement in this area.

Pass Defense: D-plus (Last week: A-minus) It's tough to be too harsh on the Bills here, given that they were tasked with slowing down one of the NFL's best quarterbacks on his home turf. But at the same time, the Bills went out and hired Mike Pettine as defensive coordinator so that they could stand a better chance in these games. Their secondary is back to full strength, with a Pro Bowl safety (Jairus Byrd) and an emerging top cornerback (Stephon Gilmore). They have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, with a $100 million pass-rusher in Mario Williams. So at some point, Brees going 26-for-34 for 332 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions -- his 146.1 QB rating was flirting with a perfect mark in the second half -- just isn't acceptable. The Bills have built up enough playing and coaching talent to reach that point, from this view.

Special Teams: B-minus (Last week: B-minus) The Bills had a few miscues in this game: a missed 50-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter, as well as a 32-yard kickoff return by Darren Sproles. Neither is cause for major concern -- a 50-yarder is hardly a chip shot and Sproles is one of the NFL's most dynamic returners -- but it was the sort of the game where the Bills couldn't afford any slip-ups on special teams. Credit to the Saints, meanwhile, for managing touchbacks on all six of their kickoffs. The Saints had one of the NFL's worst kick coverage units entering the game but they were able to neutralize return threat Marquise Goodwin.

Mike Rodak

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter

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