Monday, October 21, 2013
Bills' report card vs. Dolphins
By Mike Rodak
MIAMI -- Offering unit-by-unit grades following the Buffalo Bills' 23-21 win Sunday over the Miami Dolphins:
Coaching: B (Last week: B) Another ho-hum week for Doug Marrone, who has only needed to challenge one play this season, tied with three other teams for the fewest in the NFL. There were no obvious blunders from a game-management perspective, while the amount of penalties (six for 53 yards) was also manageable. The one possible breakdown from a scheme standpoint was defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's decision to play just a single high safety on the Dolphins' final drive of the first half. It's hardly uncommon in Pettine's defense, but it led to cornerback Stephon Gilmore being alone on the outside and beaten on a 46-yard catch by Mike Wallace.
Run Offense: C-plus (Last week: B-plus) When your top two rushers (Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller) gain just 47 yards on 17 carries, it's hard to put this grade any higher. But there are plenty of reasons why this grade shouldn't be any lower. First, Jackson aggravated an MCL injury and showed toughness by playing through it, while Spiller was still limited by an ankle injury. Second, the running game came through when the Bills needed it the most: a 10-yard scamper on third-and-4 late in the game, extending a Bills drive that took another two minutes off the clock.
Pass Offense: C-plus (Last week: B) It wasn't as strong a performance this week by Thad Lewis, but he hardly crumbled under the pressure of his first road game with the Bills. Lewis went 21-for-32 for 202 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Like last week, he didn't get the greatest protection from his offensive line, which allowed him to be sacked four times and hit on another play that led to the interception. While there were some instances where Lewis and his receivers clearly weren't on the same page, there were others when you couldn't tell Lewis had just taken over the job last week. He'll need to play better going forward, but his performance (and that of his receivers, who were impressive after the catch) on third down -- the Bills were 9-for-19, including some conversions on third-and-long -- was a positive.
Run Defense: C (Last week: C) Despite having one of the NFL's better front sevens, this unit hasn't been on it's A-game in recent weeks. The loss of linebacker Manny Lawson in each of the past two contests may be a contributing factor, but it has to be a concern for the Bills as they look to make up ground in the AFC East. Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller combined for 103 yards on 21 carries, a 4.9-yard average that helped the Dolphins move the ball, at times, fairly easily. Like last week, tackling was an issue at times, and after notching 22 tackles against the Bengals, rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso had none in the first half Sunday.
Pass Defense: A-minus (Last week: C-minus) This grade slipped a bit as the game progressed, but a pick-six on the third play of the game was a great start for a unit that was gashed in the first half against Cincinnati. Another first-quarter interception, by cornerback Aaron Williams in the end zone, prevented a touchdown. There were times when Ryan Tannehill was able to make some throws -- the 46-yard completion among them -- but the two interceptions trump the rest of his performance Sunday. Meanwhile, the Bills' pass rush was nearly non-existent in the first half, but woke up in the fourth quarter, with Mario Williams' strip-sack the most critical play of the game.
Special Teams: B-minus (Last week: B) It wasn't a terrible performance by this unit by any stretch, but Marrone said after the game that the Dolphins' final kick return probably took years off his life, and with good reason. Kicker Dan Carpenter, moments after drilling the go-ahead field goal, mishit the ensuing kickoff. Marcus Thigpen's 44-yard return could have been longer had it not been for a stumble and a last-ditch effort to force him out of bounds. Meanwhile, Brian Moorman's 43-yard punt late in the fourth quarter also came at a key juncture in the game, setting the Dolphins up at their 48-yard line. Like last week, the Bills got solid special teams up until it mattered most.