(WGR 550) -- Another week, and another sixty minutes to sift through as the Buffalo Bills improved their record to 2-2 with a victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
The Bills came out flying in the first half on both offense and defense, which set the tone for the remainder of the game. Although the offense didn't keep up the same amount of production throughout the second half as they did the first, the defense was consistent and locked up the victory down the stretch.
As you'll read, this was the most complete day for the Bills through the first quarter of the season. There were no grades below a 2.0, and the lowest plus-minus rating was a negative-four. Before we get ready for the quick turnaround into the Cleveland game, first is a look at how each individual that took an offensive or defensive snap fared in Week Four.
Every week, with the help of the All-22 film available through NFL.com's Game Rewind package, WGR will provide the standouts, the duds and everything in between from the game that was.
For each player that appeared in the game on offense or defense, you'll see their name in bold, with a set of numbers after it. Example: Creed Bratton (54, -2, 2.7). The first number (54) represents the snap count of that game, the second (-2) represents the individual players plus-minus of positive plays to negative plays in that game. The third number (2.7) represents the weighted Grade Point Average assigned to that player by the author.
OFFENSE (84 total plays)
Coming off the worst game of his very, very young career, EJ Manuel (84, -4, 2.7) had a game that brought him much closer to the form that he exhibited through the first two weeks of the season. Manuel threw some of his best passes of the year against Baltimore, but also made some very clear and obvious mistakes.
First, the good: Manuel made three 'wow' throws that he hasn't done up until this point in the season. On all three, the man he was targeting was fellow rookie Robert Woods which should show you how much trust the quarterback has in his pass catcher. The initial 'wow' throw happened in the first quarter, when Manuel zipped one over the middle into a tightly covered Woods for a 19-yard gain. The most impressive thing about it was his poise in the pocket, which he lacked against the New York Jets. A pair of wide rushers were ridden out, and Manuel coolly climbed the pocket with his eyes fixed down field and delivered the throw.
The second 'wow' throw was more obvious, connecting on the 42-yard touchdown with Woods. The quarterback sold the play action, and delivered a deep throw down the middle of the field with the right amount of touch and velocity in which the wideout didn't have to break stride. The final big throw was an incompletion, but might have been the best of all. Manuel went for the tightest throwing window of his season in the fourth quarter, trying to go over the middle to Woods. He put just enough air under it to get it over a jumping and outstretched linebacker in zone coverage, and hit the wideout in a diving stride. Woods wasn't able to complete the catch, but it was as NFL a throw can get.
Now, the bad: Manuel is starting to get less lucky in the turnover department. A few different times through the first three weeks, a pass that could have been intercepted wasn't. As we saw on Sunday, it was a case of the regression to the mean. Manuel was picked off twice by the Ravens, bringing his total up to three for the season. The first was a bit of a fastball to Stevie Johnson, but the receiver probably should have caught it. His second interception was a product of just flinging up the ball in hopes something good would happen. Instead it was lofted too high and Corey Graham was able to undercut it and pick it off.
Fumbles were also an issue. Manuel fumbled twice more, bringing his official season total to three. He likely would have had a fourth added last week had the Jets not used up both of their challenges earlier in the game. Putting the ball on the ground seems to be an epidemic at this point for the Bills, but something that needs to be corrected -- and quickly.
There were times that Manuel misfired on his targets completely. He threw one behind Johnson on a slant in the first quarter, then again with the same scenario in the third quarter, and even threw it deep into double coverage to T.J. Graham.
However, Manuel improved over the week in hanging in the pocket longer and sidestepping pressure to give his receivers more time. There were instances where he went back to those tendencies from the Jets game, but for the most part it was a much improved showing for the Bills' rookie quarterback.
The running game for the Bills got back on track against the Ravens, often setting the tone for the entire game. It's no secret that the Bills want to set up their offense through the run, and they were able to do just that with C.J. Spiller (31, +3, 3.0) and Fred Jackson (41, +3, 3.0). Spiller was hobbled down the stretch due to an ankle injury but was running much more effectively early on in the game than he had been against the Jets. Spiller was taking what he was given and choosing the proper cutback lanes for the most part. On one play in the first quarter Spiller's best option was to bounce it outside, but instead he plunged forward for one yard, perhaps having both the Patriots and Jets games in mind when he bounced it out too much. Had it not been for the injury, Spiller could have gotten back on track as he did against the Panthers. Jackson got the most time on the field and showed the vision necessary for the position. His cutbacks are ferocious, yielding him eight, nine and even 16-yard gains. Jackson's best run was his 16-yard touchdown where he followed superb blocking and then made safety Matt Elam miss in the open field. Very quietly however, Jackson's ball security is becoming a bit of an issue. He fumbled twice, bringing his season total to three. Both times the Bills jumped on the loose ball, but not without a struggle. Jackson now has 8 fumbles over his last 14 games, which is very uncharacteristic of him throughout his career. Frank Summers (42, 0, 2.3) nailed some of his blocks and missed a few as well in just his second game involved in the offense. He had a key block on an early Spiller run that went for 10 yards in the first quarter. There are times where his size and arm length will work against him in the blocking game, like it did in the second quarter, but Summers did a job that isn't worth replacing. Tashard Choice (12, 1, 2.7) had a seven-yard run that was wide open, but he stumbled forward to stop the play that could have had a much higher yield thanks to a key block from Kraig Urbik.
What was a three-man show at times during this season is slowly turning into just a two-man party. Robert Woods (80, 4, 3.3) keyed the performance throughout the game and is slowly turning into the top receiver on the team. That's right, despite getting paid much less than Stevie Johnson, it's Woods being the focal point of the passing offense for the Bills. Through the whole game, Woods was consistent as both a pass catcher and a blocker. He was the recipient of not only the 42-yard touchdown pass, but another 19-yard gain and even got in on the reverse action with a 13-yard gain. He had a couple of tenacious blocks downfield for wide receiver T.J. Graham (22, 1, 2.7), on both the latter's 26-yard reception and his 14-yard reverse. Graham is seeing his time on the field diminish mostly as the Bills try to get their run game going. At this rate, you have to wonder how much he'll be used once Marquise Goodwin is back from injury. Stevie Johnson (69, 0, 2.0) didn't get many opportunities to make plays throughout the game. His one reception for negative-one yard isn't exactly a stat-line we've grown accustomed to from him. However, Manuel's first interception hit him in the hands and deflected into the air. While there weren't many opportunities for Johnson, he needed to take advantage of the ones that were. Chris Hogan (3, 0, 2.3) and Marcus Easley (1, 0, 2.3) were both mainly special teams players throughout the contest.
In an effort to bring back the run game from last week, blocking tight end Lee Smith (67, 1, 2.7) had 75-percent of his total time on the field this season during the game against the Ravens. Smith was most often given the task of taking out the defender in charge of containing the edge, seeing as how both of their runners love to take cutback lanes in the attempt to get out in space. It was working early on. Smith even got the chance to contribute in the receiving game. He had a long gain in the third quarter and very nearly had a touchdown. On a perfectly executed fake receiver-reverse, Smith chipped his defender then released towards the end zone, but stumbled over his own feet and couldn't get to the ball in time. Scott Chandler (52, +3, 3.0) continued to show his strong hands throughout the game as he had in previous weeks. He proved to be an asset on a key third down pickup in the first quarter, and then again in the second quarter which set the Bills up in the red zone. Although he had a pair of nice blocks on the outside on reverse plays (one in the second quarter and another in the third quarter), his struggles continued as an in-line blocker against bigger players.
The gold star of the game along the offensive line goes to right guard Kraig Urbik (80, +4, 3.3) who battled through a knee injury to have the most productive game of the five. Urbik never relinquished territory to his assignments and had some key blocks in the run game. Even more important, he recovered a Fred Jackson fumble at the bottom of a pile in the fourth quarter that could have been deadly. The second-highest rated offensive lineman? Shockingly, it's left guard Colin Brown (84, +2, 3.0). After having one of the worst three-game stretches imaginable (224, -29, 0.92), the Bills gave him a little more help against the Ravens and it certainly built his confidence up. Brown was much better at the point of attack, and even finished Haloti Ngata on a block during a run play. There were times where his lack of leverage got the best of him, like against Chris Canty in the second quarter on a C.J. Spiller run. All in all, this was a giant step forward for Brown. Center Eric Wood (84, +1, 3.0) had a questionable holding call go against him which drove his plus-minus down, but he was essential to Fred Jackson's 16-yard touchdown run. He helped Brown in his Ngata block, then advanced to the second-level and popped the oncoming linebacker as the key block for Jackson. Wood was a big reason why Ngata wasn't mentioned very much throughout the day.Right tackle Erick Pears (84, 0, 2.7) started off very strong in the game, especially when matched up with Arthur Jones. He was solid in both run blocking and pass protection in the first quarter for the most part, outside of a gaffe that led to a C.J. Spiller tackle for loss. As the game went on, Pears got beat a few more times and just ended with an average day.Left tackle Cordy Glenn (84, -3, 2.0) has been the best offensive lineman through the first quarter of the season, but had his worst performance of the year against the Ravens. He took penalties, struggled in run blocking and had lapses in pass protection which led to negative plays for the Bills. With the way he played through the first three games, the evidence points to it just being a down day. Sam Young (4, -1, 2.0) only saw limited action when Urbik re-injured his knee. He lost a block on Arthur Jones that ended up blowing up a run play after just three yards.
DEFENSE (65 total plays)
Of any positional group on the Bills, the top three of their defensive line proved to be the most productive group on the team on Sunday. Holding the Ravens to just 24 rushing yards on nine carries certainly is a good place to start explaining why that is. Marcell Dareus (35, +6, 3.7) reprised his role of being a dominant performer as he did in Week 1 against New England. The difference in this game, however, is he limited his negative plays early on in the game. He was all over the place against the run in the first half, being one of the key reasons as to why the Ravens had little success in that department. He even registered a sack in the second quarter. Then in the fourth quarter, Dareus turned his game in from good to great. On the Ravens' final drive, Dareus stopped a Ray Rice run for 2 yards and added his second sack of the game. Kyle Williams (57, +4, 3.3) kept getting better as the game went along too. Most of his damage was done in getting off his blocks when the Bills were in pass defense. On four separate occasions in the second half, Williams got off his block and hurried Joe Flacco to force either a scramble or an errant throw. Alan Branch (28, +2, 3.0) excelled along with Dareus in the run game the little time they were in there. Branch also bounced off two blockers and walloped Flacco in the second quarter to force an errant throw. Corbin Bryant (19, +1, 2.7) and Jay Ross (10, 0, 2.3) didn't have very much of an impact. Bryant had the strongest play of the two, rushing past Michael Oher to force running back Bernard Pierce to take a wider angle on a short gain.
In a winnable matchup, Jerry Hughes (39, +4, 3.3) finally showed up the way the Bills were envisioning he would. He did not register a sack, but provided five separate pass rushes that affected Flacco enough to either throw an incompletion or an interception. He truly was one of the most unheralded players of the game for the Bills, beating Bryant McKinnie constantly. The same cannot be said for Mario Williams (56, -1, 2.3) who was a non-factor throughout the contest. Despite Hughes having the much stronger game, Williams registered a sack on a broken play that ended in Flacco scrambling to Williams' side. He had one pass rush where he was clearly held by Michael Oher, but it wasn't called. That was his strongest attempt of the day in an otherwise pedestrian performance.
For the second straight week, Kiko Alonso (65, +6, 3.7) stole the show on defense. He didn't have to do much in the run game because Baltimore basically abandoned it in the second half. In the first half, however, Alonso was one of the key reasons the Ravens were so frustrated. He diagnosed plays, took on blocks and plugged the gaps to allow his teammates or himself to make the tackle. Then there are the interceptions. The first, as anyone will admit, was an absolute gift from Flacco. Wires were crossed and all Alonso had to do was catch it. The second one was a thing of beauty. With the game on the line, Alonso saw the ball deflect into the air and he was able to dive and secure the catch, which in turn secured the victory for Buffalo. Through the first quarter of the season, Alonso has been the best player on the Bills. With the lack of run plays, Arthur Moats (11, +1, 2.7) didn't see too much time on the field. He had a nice pass breakup down in the red zone on a pass intended for Vonta Leach, however.
It didn't get too much credit when he was initially signed, but Manny Lawson (54, +5, 3.3) has been an absolute home run of a free agent acquisition through four weeks. The Bills came into the season thinking he was just a package player that would get around 40 to 50-percent of the snaps. Then when he started performing at such a high level, Lawson became indispensable and has seen his role increase every week. Most weeks it's his work against the run in containing the edge that stands out so much, but this week it was his ability in coverage to limit the Ravens to next to nothing when they threw to his assignments. Lawson even chipped in to the pass rush with a sack, although he wasn't blocked on the play. Marcus Dowtin (11, 0, 2.3) got his most action of the season but didn't stand out one way or the other.
The snap count for Nigel Bradham (7, +2, 3.0) continues to be low, but he did have a pair of nice plays. He was able to withstand a hit from an oncoming blocker, disengaged and made initial contact on a run play. Again in the first quarter, he came on a delayed blitz and combined with Kiko Alonso to force Flacco to scramble and fire a ball away. Jamaal Westerman (5, -1, 2.0) had a neutral zone infraction penalty in one of his five snaps.
Kudos to usual safety Aaron Williams (47, +4, 3.3) for not only stepping up while the top two cornerbacks are injured, but he also battled through his own injuries during the game to have one of his strongest performances of his career. Everyone knows about the two interceptions by now. His first was a thing of beauty which may have happened because of his ever-developing instincts as a safety. He sensed a throw was coming on an out route to a player he wasn't covering, let his man run free and jumped the route for the first quarter pick. He showed good coverage downfield for most of the game, using his athleticism and length to make up for it when beaten. He was taken advantage of only twice, one of which for a huge gain. Torrey Smith beat him outright for a 74-yard catch in the third quarter, and the receiver also got another 22-yard gain over the middle on a different play. Other than that, Williams was sound. Justin Rogers (65, -3, 2.3) bounced back slightly, but still gave up two touchdowns against the Ravens. Both Marlon Brown and Smith hit pay dirt when lined up in front of Rogers. However, Rogers was able to make plays on the ball a couple of times. Nickell Robey (48, +2, 2.7) was thrown at only a few times and was solid in coverage. He also was brought on a blitz to provide heat on Flacco more than once. Brandon Burton (17, -1, 2.3) was forced into duty and made a big play in the end zone on Smith to help prevent a touchdown. However, he got beat deep twice in the fourth quarter that came very close to costing the Bills the game.
With Jairus Byrd out and Aaron Williams playing corner, Da'Norris Searcy (65, +2, 3.0) stepped up in man-to-man coverage in a way that he hasn't done so before. He still had some errors when in a zone look in helping his cornerbacks, but the Ravens struggled to attack Searcy in man-to-man. He made a few separate plays on the ball throughout the second half, culminating with Searcy tipping the final Baltimore play up into the air for Alonso to intercept. Jim Leonhard (65, -1, 2.7) takes a few too many false steps on some plays which puts him in bad position at times, but also made a play when he was presented the opportunity. Ed Dickson had a pass tip right off his hands and Leonhard brought it in for the turnover. He was saddled with a hit on a defenseless receiver in the fourth quarter, which put the Ravens in prime position to potentially take the lead. If they had, that penalty would have been one of the biggest talking points from the game. Duke Williams (11, 0, 2.3) saw his most time on the field in any one game but didn't have any positive or negative plays.
'Upon Further Review' Game MVP: ILB Kiko Alonso/ DT Marcell Dareus 'Upon Further Review' Game LVP: LT Cordy Glenn
Year to date grades, ranked by aggregate GPA (minmum 80 plays)
1) ILB Kiko Alonso - 3.38
2) DL Kyle Williams - 3.24
3) SLB Manny Lawson - 3.13
4) DL Marcell Dareus - 3.06
5) WR Robert Woods - 2.98
6) HB Fred Jackson - 2.93
7) CB Leodis McKelvin - 2.87
8) LT Cordy Glenn - 2.86
9) CB Nickell Robey - 2.86
10) DE Mario Williams - 2.79
11) WR Stevie Johnson - 2.77
12) RG Kraig Urbik - 2.75
13) RLB Jerry Hughes - 2.71
14) HB C.J. Spiller - 2.66
15) C Eric Wood - 2.65
16) TE Scott Chandler - 2.65
17) RT Erik Pears - 2.64
18) DL Alan Branch - 2.61
19) CB/S Aaron Williams - 2.58
20) QB EJ Manuel - 2.56
21) DL Alex Carrington - 2.56
22) S Jim Leonhard - 2.55
23) S Da'Norris Searcy - 2.53
24) TE Lee Smith - 2.53
25) ILB Arthur Moats - 2.48
26) WR T.J. Graham - 2.34
27) CB Justin Rogers - 1.75
28) LG Colin Brown - 1.48