(WGR 550) -- The Buffalo Bills lost more than just their contest against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night of last week.
The loss against the Browns will be the last time fans of the team will see rookie quarterback EJ Manuel for at least a month. Before we charge forward into the Thad Lewis era of Buffalo Bills quarterbacking, let's first hit the rewind button and analyze the performance of every player that took an offensive or defensive snap for Buffalo, including Manuel and his understudy Jeff Tuel.
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: Meriadoc Brandybuck (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 (77 total plays)
Before the rest of his game was taken away from him in the third quarter, EJ Manuel (46, -4, 2.0) had yet another Forrest Gump 'box of chocolates' type of day. His decision making and precision were at times very good, and other times left a lot to be desired.
Credit where credit is due, the Bills were going up against a very good defense in Cleveland on Thursday night, but there were plenty of opportunities for the passing game to have a much bigger day with Manuel at the helm than they did.
In the first quarter, Manuel declined to take the chance to hit two intermediate windows (by NFL standards) and instead elected to dump the ball down to a safer option. The throws would have required the precision that the great quarterbacks of the NFL all possess, and are opportunities to take yards in big chunks. Both throws would have come over the middle of the field, the first to Stevie Johnson and the second to Scott Chandler. Outside of one very nice slant throw to Johnson in the first quarter, his accuracy was not a strength.
The Bills didn't hold the ball all that long in the second quarter, but Manuel delivered a solid intermediate throw with a big window to Robert Woods. Shortly after, he delivered perhaps his worst pass of the evening. He had time in the pocket after Fred Jackson picked up a blitz, but instead panicked and delivered a pass over the middle that wasn't within five yards of any of his receivers. Had Paul Kruger not jumped up and tipped the ball, there was a chance Buster Skrine would have intercepted it on the backside.
Manuel's strongest showing was in the third quarter with a wonderful back shoulder throw to Woods that resulted in a big run after the catch, and also his run on third down that ultimately ended his evening prematurely. It wasn't a perfect quarter though, with Manuel again showing hesitance to deliver a throw to a tighter window. A perfect example of this came when he was flushed out of the pocket and scrambled to his right side. T.J. Graham beat his man at the goal line and cut towards the pylon within Manuel's sightline. Instead, Manuel wanted to try and run it and took a sack.
On his final play, the modus operandi moving forward for Manuel and head coach Doug Marrone will likely be for the rookie quarterback to just get out of bounds when he runs for the first down. It's a rookie mistake that will likely cost him at least a month of action.
When Manuel went down, undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel (31, -7, 0.7) came in and the complexion of the game changed the rest of the way. The Bills were already in the red zone when he took over the huddle and the Bills were able to combine a penalty and a pair of running plays for a touchdown. That was really the last ounce of positivity coming from the offense for the remainder of the game.
It was an incredibly tough situation for Tuel to come into. Not only was he playing in a regular season game for the first time in his life, but it was on a short week where the repetitions during practice were limited for him because the team was trying to install the game plan with Manuel. With that said, Tuel was missing badly on routine passes for NFL backup quarterbacks.
On the first drive that was totally his and not Manuel's, Tuel's first pass skipped in the dirt about four yards in front of Woods on a comeback route along the left sideline. That was just a precursor of what was to come. He went on to continue struggling with his accuracy, threw into double coverage and locked on to his targets at times. The latter was evident on the crushing pick-six in the fourth quarter where Tuel didn't even look at the safety.
Tuel had a beautiful pass down the right sideline that should have been completed. It was a deep throw that landed perfectly in T.J. Graham's hands but the second-year player couldn't come up with the catch. That was undoubtedly his best pass of the day. When it counted and the Bills were still within one possession of taking the lead though, Tuel proved to be a major liability.
The play of this group can best be defined by the age-defying Fred Jackson (50, 4, 3.3) who somehow seems to just keep playing through injuries like someone who is ten years younger. His two touchdowns were cemented by solid blitz pickups, cutbacks and a block down the field for Manuel on his injury run. Jackson was also uncharacteristically flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, counting as his lone negative play of the evening. Playing on an injured ankle, C.J. Spiller (13, -1, 3.0) was limited throughout the evening. Even though he was injured, Spiller was able to bust a run outside and outrun everyone else on the field for a 54-yard touchdown. There was a big cutback lane that he missed in the third quarter, but that may have been a product of trust in his ankle than anything else. Tashard Choice (14, 0, 2.3) proved to be very valuable on a third down run where he had to dive to get the ball past the first down marker, but did so and helped keep the drive alive on what looked like a stuffed play up the middle. The fullback Frank Summers (14, 1, 2.3) helped out with some paving-the-way type blocks early on, but was used less as the game continued. His penalty for taunting on Jackson's second touchdown likely didn't help matters with his coaches.
Although it was for a bit of a different reason, rookie Robert Woods (73, 3, 2.7) was the wideout that spent the most time on the field. Woods was targeted 13 times but could only make a handful of plays due to poor accuracy. His top play came on a back shoulder catch in which he made his defender miss and then ran up the field for an even bigger gain. With the other top wideout sidelined due to an injury, it was a big chance for TJ Graham (61, -1, 2.0) to show his stuff to coaches with rookie Marquise Goodwin nearing a potential return. Graham failed to impress despite starting the game off with a nice 12-yard reception that required a feisty run after the catch. He got a case of 'alligator arms' in the fourth quarter when Jeff Tuel threw to him deep down the right sideline, and he didn't bring in the reception with the safety barreling over. If he wants to stay on the field, he needs to make those plays. Stevie Johnson (13, 1, 2.7) injured his back early on in the contest, but that wasn't before he drew a pass interference call in the end zone on the team's reverse pass and in freezing his defender on a third-and-6 to catch the ball over the middle for a first down. Chris Hogan (38, 0, 2.3) got a lot of time on the field late and even chipped in a pair of catches. Marcus Easley (8, 0, 2.3) was barely noticeable when he took the field on offense.
The strong stretch of play for Scott Chandler (65, 4, 3.0) continued Thursday night against Cleveland. He caught a pass that very well could have been intercepted, when EJ Manuel missed Stevie Johnson over the middle of the field. The ball deflected off Johnson's hand when he tried to reach back for it and caromed over near Chandler's vicinity. The tight end not only had the concentration to corral it, but turned up field and gained 20 yards on the play. His blocking also showed up well in the running game. He had the key block to get C.J. Spiller the edge on his 54-yard touchdown run. Lee Smith (34, -1, 2.7) nearly had a a dropped pass land in the arms of a defender, but was able to make up for it later on in the blocking department. He also helped Spiller get the edge on his long touchdown, and a few plays after Manuel went down with his injury, Smith was one-on-one with the player that caused the injury and celebrated over their injured quarterback. Seeing this matchup, Smith lined up against Tashaun Gipson and blocked him all the way through the back of the end zone, even after Fred Jackson had already scored the touchdown and the play was over.
The play of center Eric Wood (77, 3, 3.0) helped pave the way for the Bills to have a positive day against one of the better run stuffing teams in the league. He also chipped in on a pair of screen plays that helped the runner gain additional yardage and had perhaps the best stonewalling pass block of the day, surrendering maybe half a yard to nose tackle Phil Taylor for a full five seconds. Left tackle Cordy Glenn (77, 1, 2.7) started off with a very strong performance against rookie Barkevious Mingo in pass protection. He seemed to be having a normal, Glenn-like day in that aspect but then surrendered two pressures late in the fourth quarter when the Bills were trying to mount a comeback. There were also some struggles early on in run blocking for the left tackle. While it was an improvement from last week, it certainly wasn't his best showing. Right guard Kraig Urbik (77, 1, 2.7) had mostly a solid evening, including paving the way for Fred Jackson on a six-yard gain in the third quarter with a big block on linebacker Craig Robertson. After a strong start to the season, right tackle Erik Pears (77, -3, 2.0) is trending down the past couple of games. Twice in the first quarter he allowed his assignment to get to EJ Manuel for a quarterback hit. Only one of them resulted in a sack, but he was beat cleanly both times. Left guard Colin Brown (76, -8, 0.7) returned to his normal stat line from the first three weeks. In 80-percent of his games this season, he has shown to be a major liability in both pass protection and run blocking. With Doug Legursky (1, 0, 2.3) now healthy, Doug Marrone said the competition for that starting job has been reopened. Thomas Welch (2, 1, 2.7) got his first action of the season on the goal line. He had a nice block that helped Jackson get in for his second touchdown.
DEFENSE (68 total plays)
If you want to look at any reason why the defensive front seven have become such a solid unit on the whole, it all starts with the two men up the middle. Kyle Williams (59, 4, 3.3) helped lead the way along with Marcell Dareus (57, 5, 3.3) who has been quietly dominant through most of the games this season. Williams created pressure, fought through blocks and was just an overall nuisance throughout the game. He had a sack of his own and helped create one for Mario Williams by making the blocker stay with him rather than picking up the pass rusher. It's the story of his career, but Williams was called for a pair of offsides penalties. With how quick he is off the snap, that will happen from time to time. Dareus didn't bring the pass-rushing prowess, but was particularly efficient against the run. He constantly got off blocks and plugged gaps against the Browns' rushing attack, making them settle for minimal gains multiple times. Alan Branch (34, -2, 2.3) had a slow start and didn't get much of a push on run plays in the first half. It reached a low point when he was blocked to the ground on a one-on-one block during Willis McGahee's second quarter touchdown run. Branch was able to fight off a Shawn Lauvao block and helped bring down McGahee on a tackle for loss in the third quarter. Both Corbin Bryant (28, -3, 1.7) and Jay Ross (12, -3, 1.3) proved that Alex Carrington's absence is especially missed. Bryant struggled to hold the edge against the run and Ross was pushed around in one-on-one opportunities.
Here is a major reason why the accepted defensive statistics can be very deceiving to how an individual player actually performed: If a player has two sacks against a team, many would consider that to not only be a good day… but a great one. If you watched Mario Williams (61, -3, 2.3) on every single play, you would come away particularly unimpressed despite the statistics. To give credit where it's due, he did have to disengage a little bit from left tackle Joe Thomas on his first sack, but it was mostly a product of Kyle Williams' play up the middle. His second sack was a complete miss by left guard John Greco, who failed to even look or get a hand on Williams as he went in untouched on a stunt. For the rest of the game, Williams was no match for Thomas. The All-Pro left tackle often times stood him straight up, not even allowing him to get within a couple of yards of the quarterback. Actually, Jerry Hughes (26, 0, 2.7) had a better day against Thomas than Williams did. Hughes fired off the edge on a wide rush, got past Thomas, and had a strip sack of Brandon Weeden in the third quarter. He also chipped in half a sack with Jamaal Westerman (1, 1, 3.0) in the fourth quarter. Since all of Westerman's appearances have come in a pass rushing capacity, he's been moved to this section from the weakside linebacker position.
Once again, the Bills received top flight linebacker play from rookie Kiko Alonso (68, 6, 3.3). Multiple times against the run, Alonso was the man to plug the gap to either make the tackle or to force a play elsewhere for a minimal gain. He was a major reason why the Browns needed so many chances on their second quarter touchdown drive at the goal line, because he wouldn't surrender any territory in the run game. Although he didn't have an interception, his play on the goal line to leap over the offensive line and make initial contact on running back Willis McGahee will be one that many remember for a long time. There were a couple of times where Alonso got covered up and it led to a big Browns gain on the ground (one on a second quarter run for 11 yards and the other on a 16-yard gain in the third quarter). His day was such an overwhelming one though that he was one of the best players on the field once again. Arthur Moats (21, 2, 3.0) was able to sniff out some run plays and drop them for no gain after fighting through blocks. His reaction time this week was better than it has been over the first four games.
The long and lean Manny Lawson (64, 4, 3.0) once again used his genetic advantages to enhance his performance on the field. The Browns didn't run at him too often when he was containing the edge, and when they didn't he rushed over from the backside to pitch in for the tackle. His best play of the day was when he recognized a screen play in the fourth quarter, hurried over to the running back and dropped him for a five yard loss. Marcus Dowtin (4, 0, 2.3) was mostly unnoticed.
There wasn't much time spent on the field for Nigel Bradham (8, 1, 3.0), but he made it count in reading a third quarter run to plug the gap, make initial contact on Willis McGahee and to help his teammates make the stop for a minimal gain. His role hasn't increased in the past several games, so barring an injury, this will likely be all one can expect from him on a weekly basis.
Following quite a solid two-interception performance, safety Aaron Williams (67, -4, 1.7) started at cornerback once again. This time around, Williams wasn't as fortunate. With the return of Leodis McKelvin (58, 0, 2.7) from injury, the Browns turned their attention to picking on the former cornerback. Williams was beat by Josh Gordon multiple times, including gains that went for 12, 16, 37 and 18 yards throughout the day. Gordon also beat him on a deep post early on in the game that hit the receiver in the hands, but was ultimately dropped. Williams also surrendered a 47-yard reception to Greg Little and was even flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty for a hit on Davone Bess after an incompletion. His biggest problem throughout the game is the exact reason why he was switched to safety in the first place: he just could not turn and run with receivers due to a lack of hip fluidity. McKelvin wasn't picked on all that much despite coming back from a hamstring injury. He actually covered impressive tight end Jordan Cameron on more than one occasion, and did it well for the most part. He was only beat by Cameron for a 14-yard gain and then also let up a Little reception that went 16 yards in the fourth quarter. After two early receptions allowed, Justin Rogers (5, -2, 1.0) was benched for the remainder of the game in favor of the mending McKelvin. Bucking the trend of the rest of the position, Nickell Robey (39, 2, 2.7) is a strength in the slot. He has quietly been one of the more consistent performers for the Bills, not allowing much outside of the first week to Danny Amendola. He's a threat when blitzing and has the ability to stick with the receivers underneath. You don't hear much from the opposition's slot receivers, and he's the reason.
With Aaron Williams playing cornerback once again, the Bills were down to their backup safeties. Da'Norris Searcy (68, -2, 2.0) had a normal evening in which he struggled in the coverage aspect of his game, and was much better in run support. There even was a point in the second quarter that Searcy failed to react to a slant pattern quickly enough even though Leodis McKelvin had warned him it was coming before the snap. On that third down try, the Browns converted and McKelvin was visibly upset with Searcy after the completion. Jim Leonhard (63, 2, 2.7) was mostly quiet throughout the game. He provided good coverage on Davone Bess during the play that Brian Hoyer was injured on a scramble. He also provided solid run support on a fourth quarter attempt by Willis McGahee that resulted in only a two-yard gain. Duke Williams (5, 0, 2.3) once again got some time on defense, but really wasn't all that noticeable.
'Upon Further Review' MVP: DL Kyle Williams 'Upon Further Review' LVP: LG Colin Brown
Year to date grades, ranked by aggregate GPA (minimum 100 plays)
1) ILB Kiko Alonso - 3.37
2) DL Kyle Williams - 3.25
3) DL Marcell Dareus - 3.12
4) SLB Manny Lawson - 3.10
5) HB Fred Jackson - 3.02
6) WR Robert Woods - 2.93
7) CB Nickell Robey - 2.84
8) LT Cordy Glenn - 2.83
9) CB Leodis McKelvin - 2.82
10) WR Stevie Johnson - 2.77
11) RG Kraig Urbik - 2.74
12) C Eric Wood - 2.72
13) TE Scott Chandler - 2.72
14) DE Mario Williams - 2.70
15) RLB Jerry Hughes - 2.70
16) HB C.J. Spiller - 2.69
17) TE Lee Smith - 2.58
18) S Jim Leonhard - 2.58
19) ILB Arthur Moats - 2.57
20) DL Alex Carrington - 2.56
21) DL Alan Branch - 2.55
22) RT Erik Pears - 2.51
23) QB EJ Manuel - 2.48
24) S Da'Norris Searcy - 2.43
25) S Aaron Williams - 2.42
26) WR T.J. Graham - 2.26
27) CB Justin Rogers - 1.74
28) LG Colin Brown - 1.33