(WGR 550) -- Capturing their first road win in over a calendar year, the Buffalo Bills took a definitive step forward under their rookie head coach. The Bills went down to Miami and beat the Dolphins in a dramatic, last-minute fashion.
Next, the Bills go on the road to take on one of the best teams in the entire league. Before we move on to the New Orleans Saints, first let's take a look at how each offensive and defensive player that took a snap for the Bills fared against the Dolphins.
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: Fred Fenster (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 (69 total plays)
After a solid debut in relief for the injured EJ Manuel, Thad Lewis (67, -6, 1.7) had a game that didn't ultimately cost them the victory. However, he didn't help put them in a position to win, either.
There were a few plays that stood out for very good reasons, and they will likely be the ones to stick in the minds of Bills fans as they go forward. At the top of the list is likely the 17-yard strike on third down in the third quarter, when Lewis essentially stared down the barrel of a loaded gun and delivered a pass to Stevie Johnson while getting his helmet knocked off by Jelani Jenkins. That play, and the third down conversion in the second quarter to T.J. Graham for 30 yards were his two big flash plays.
There were also a few other impressive throws, including his 18-yard completion to Lee Smith in the first quarter, a slant throw to Johnson in the second quarter that was squeezed in between the cornerback and linebacker and again on an out route to Robert Woods with their backs to the end zone in the first quarter.
Outside of those and a few others, Lewis played a flawed game. His biggest issue throughout much of the game -- and it isn't clear if this is how the Bills had asked him to operate or if it's his own tendency -- but Lewis does not often go through his progressions. In fact, he would only look at his first read for many of the passing plays and either try to force it in or look for a dump-down option.
Even when there were other receivers coming open, Lewis instead elected to either dump it down or panic in the pocket because he doesn't want to take a sack. Besides that, his accuracy in the intermediate areas didn't exactly inspire confidence. That tendency, unlike the first one mentioned, has shown through in all three of his NFL starts now.
To his credit, Lewis did not put the Bills in a position to lose the game. He protected the ball for the most part, outside of an interception that was a result of Jared Odrick hitting his arm mid-throw. It's only his second turnover in as many games, and if the Bills continue to bring in as many interceptions as they have been this year, they can learn to live with that from their third-string quarterback.
The fear moving forward now that there is two games of film on Lewis as a member of the Bills will be aggressive cornerbacks attempting to read his eyes and peeking into the backfield to get a jump. The Bills could also use this to their advantage, and perhaps try and get Lewis to open up the field a bit more by baiting the defender with a pump fake and a double move.
Whatever the case ends up being, Lewis and the Bills have some work to do to help the passing game become more of an effective unit.
While the running game wasn't exactly humming, the play of Fred Jackson (39, 1, 3.0) was vital to the Bills winning the game. His stat-line of 36 yards on 11 carries means so much more considering the timely runs he had throughout the contest. His work to fight through defenders on 3rd-and-4 and gain the first down at the end of the fourth quarter will go down as one of the most important plays of the game. With that run, the Bills vanquished all of Miami's timeouts and got it past the two-minute warning to leave a little over 30 seconds left for Miami to score. Jackson also battled a knee injury throughout the game, which made his performance that much more impressive. C.J. Spiller (14, 0, 2.3) was once again limited throughout the game, rushing for only 11 yards on six carries. He bounced a run out to the left side for an 11-yard pickup, but also had some negative runs mixed in as well. The ankle still seems to be bothering him, and while he shows flashes of his usual self, it's not enough for him to potentially take a game over. Tashard Choice (12, -2, 1.7) was able to convert on a third-down play in the first quarter, but had one of the biggest missed opportunities. In the first quarter, Choice had a big lane in between Cordy Glenn and Eric Wood, but chose to cut it back into the arms of linebacker shooting another gap. He missed out on a potential six-to-eight yard gain because of it, and maybe even a longer one if he could break the tackle of the approaching safety. Frank Summers (11, 1, 2.7) got his first carry of the season and turned it into a 16-yard run. It's safe to say that it caught everyone by surprise, including the Dolphins.
The return of Stevie Johnson (60, 4, 3.0) to the wide receiver group was a welcomed site for Buffalo. Missing last week's contest with a back injury, Johnson turned in a six reception, 60 yard performance with clutch catches strewn about. Outside of an early drop on a slant pattern in the first quarter, Johnson was a consistent source of production whenever Lewis chose to go to him. He had many big third-down catches throughout the game to extend drives. His best was on a 3rd-and-7 opportunity in the third quarter, when Lewis threw the ball short of the first down and Johnson was able to turn it up field and gain the yardage necessary. Robert Woods (63, 1, 2.3) was mostly a no-show for the second straight game. Outside of a nine-yard pickup in the first quarter and an 11-yard catch in the third quarter, Lewis didn't look his way much. T.J. Graham (34, 1, 2.7) had only a pair of targets, to which he converted both for receptions. Lewis scrambled and found Graham for a 30-yard reception on a 3rd-and-long where the wideout had to run back and battle for the ball. It was Graham's most impressive catch of the season. Marquise Goodwin (5, 0, 2.3) wasn't noticeable even when he was on the field, which is a bit of an upset considering his role in the Cincinnati game.
On the whole, the tight end group really wasn't an impact position. Scott Chandler (59, 1, 2.3) had the biggest flash play for the group, reaching back for a high and behind throw from Lewis to convert on a 3rd-and-9 in the fourth quarter. Other than that, Chandler only chipped in another six-yard reception. Lee Smith (32, 0, 2.3) had an early 18-yard reception, but also contributed to Lewis getting sacked in the fourth quarter. Chris Gragg (6, 0, 2.3) got his first action of the season on offense. There was a designed pass play for him in the fourth quarter, but it was blown up for a sack.
After a few mediocre performances in a row, right tackle Erik Pears (67, 4, 3.3) stepped up his game to be the strongest offensive lineman of the day. With Cameron Wake still limited by a knee injury, Pears was up against Derrick Shelby for much of the contest and dominated the matchup. He was only beaten once in pass protection during one of Wake's snaps on the field. Center Eric Wood (67, 1, 3.0) continues to be essential to the Bills' efforts, playing the part as their most athletic lineman. Whenever they call a screen play, Wood is able to get out in front of the play and put a block on his man. He had the key block to spring Fred Jackson's early 3rd-and-15 conversion on a screen in the first quarter. He lost some blocks in the run game, but was stout at the point of attack for much of the afternoon. Wood's colleague on screen plays is primarily right guard Kraig Urbik (67, 1, 3.0). He's able to get out in space as well, but it's his work in helping the run game that made him effective throughout the day. He does quite well in situations where he starts on a combination block with one of his teammates, and then gets into the second level to help the run progress. Left tackle Cordy Glenn (67, -2, 2.3) had an incredibly slow first half that resulted in a lot of bad beats by Olivier Vernon, Dion Jordan and Jared Odrick. However, Glenn stuck with it and turned it around in the second half with his pass protection where he didn't surrender much ground. It wasn't quite Colin Brown-esque, but left guard Doug Legursky (67, -5, 1.7) didn't fare very well against Miami. The natural power and size of Paul Soliai and Randy Starks were able to push Legursky into the backfield to try and disrupt plays in both running and passing attempts. He was also saddled with a blatant holding call in the second quarter.
DEFENSE (86 total plays)
Along the front line of the defense, Kyle Williams (53, 3, 3.0) showed his quickness off the snap and his overall power to get a good rush upfield. He did it multiple times in the first half, including a takedown of Ryan Tannehill on a quarterback draw with the Dolphins threatening to score in the second quarter. As it has been evidenced all season long, he works quite well with Marcell Dareus (52, 3, 3.0) to make stops along the way. On a fourth quarter play, Williams quick jump at the snap helped set the table for Dareus to bring down Lamar Miller for only a one-yard gain. Dareus' most impressive play was on a third quarter quarterback draw, where Tannehill thought he had a lane. Dareus extended his arms and slingshotted Richie Incognito out of the way and stopped the quarterback for no gain and added a big hit. Corbin Bryant (25, 2, 3.0) had his most impressive day as a member of the Bills. He did well in containing the edge for the majority of the game which led to advantageous situations for his teammates to make plays by forcing runs wider outside. He had only one lapse in that department in the third quarter, but was bailed out by Kiko Alonso. Alan Branch (25, -1, 2.3) had a dominant performance against Cincinnati, but wasn't nearly as effective versus Miami. Jay Ross (12, 0, 2.3) got pushed around a little bit, but also had a play where he fought through a double-team in the third quarter to help bring Daniel Thomas down on just a three-yard gain.
Pass Rushers Mario Williams (62, 9, 4.0) and his performance against the Dolphins registered just the second 4.0 in the two-year history of 'Upon Further Review.' Only running back C.J. Spiller in 2012 was able to garner that grade during an individual game. Williams wasn't able to be blocked for the entirety of the contest. Whether he was lined up on the left side or the right side, both Jonathan Martin and Tyson Clabo were no match for Williams and his bull-rushing prowess. If he made Carolina's Byron Bell look silly, he made both Martin and Clabo look completely inept. Everyone will talk about his forced fumble at the end of the game, but his pass rushes to force incompletions throughout the day really helped key the Bills to a win. He was only caught napping one time when he failed to contain the edge. Other than that, it was a perfect day for Williams. Jerry Hughes (38, 5, 3.3) was no slouch either. On the forced fumble play, Hughes actually drove Martin into the Tannehill at the same time Williams reached over and knocked the ball loose. Besides that, Hughes performed well in containing the edge for the second straight week. Jamaal Westerman (1, 0, 2.3) had just the one play on the field, and wasn't noticed for either good or bad reasons.
It was a slow start for rookie Kiko Alonso (66, 2, 3.0), but he was able to turn it on in the second half to help keep the Dolphins offense from really taking over after their long, third quarter drive. In the final thirty minutes, Alonso constantly fired into the correct gaps and either made the tackle himself or took on the blocker to allow his teammates to make the play. Twice in the fourth quarter, Alonso's screen recognition and athleticism helped stopped both plays for minimal gains. He was deterred a little in the first half by biting on a play-action pass, and then again on an over-pursuit during a wide receiver reverse. He was also flagged with a personal foul penalty in the first quarter. Alonso's second half was so dominant though that he helped key the Bills to a victory. Arthur Moats (19, -2, 2.0) missed a couple tackles early on in the contest and really struggled to make a positive impact.
For the second straight game, the day of Manny Lawson (28, 1, 2.7) was ended prematurely due to a hamstring injury. On the play he got hurt, Lawson actually did a great job of forcing Lamar Miller out wide on a 3rd-and-1 chance inside the red zone. Miller was able to get upfield and avoid the early tackles to gain the first down, but Lawson certainly wasn't to blame for the failed play.
In very limited snaps, Nigel Bradham (4, 2, 3.3) had a fantastic game. He had a fourth quarter sack that was negated due to a holding call on Stephon Gilmore. On that play however, Bradham got past a cut block attempt by a running back and fired into the pocket to bring down Tannehill in impressive fashion. Bradham also read the run, avoided a block and brought Lamar Miller down for just a one-yard gain later in the game.
Throughout the game, the Bills were using a three-man rotation for their boundary cornerbacks. While Stephon Gilmore (36, -3, 2.0) is trying to get back into the every play responsibilities, both Leodis McKelvin (53, 2, 3.0) and Aaron Williams (45, -1, 2.7) were rotated in. Gilmore would play both sides, dependent on who was on the field along with him. If it was McKelvin, Gilmore would play the right side of the field. With Williams, he would play the left side of the field. Then when Gilmore wasn't in the game, McKelvin would play left, and Williams right. The day for Gilmore was a bit better than his performance against Cincinnati. He was able to tackle a lot better, but still found himself getting beat by his man a few times without being able to get a proper jam and grab on his assignments. McKelvin played a very strong game despite two early gaffes early on in the contest. He played tight coverage the rest of the way through and blew up a pair of wide receiver screens. Williams added another interception to his season, but also was beaten a few times on comeback routes. During the Dolphins' final possession, Williams was beat deep by Brian Hartline that would have went for a touchdown had Tannehill been able to hit the throw. Nickell Robey (38, 1, 3.0) finally got into the 'pick-six' column early on in the game, and almost did it again in the fourth quarter. Both times, Brandon Gibson ran a sloppy inside-out route. Robey recognized it and jumped the route, resulting in an interception for a touchdown and a pass breakup. Ron Brooks (7, 0, 2.3) was back on the field for the first time since he injured his foot, but played only sparingly when Robey had to leave the field with a shoulder injury. Robey returned to the game in the second half.
After showing flashes in the game against Cincinnati, Jairus Byrd (51, 3, 3.0) was a strength for the Bills in Miami. He was solid in run support and in recognizing screen plays. He also had the biggest Bills' hit of the day when he made contact with Brandon Gibson over the middle of the field in the first quarter. The hit was so ferocious, that it jarred the ball loose and forced a third down. Da'Norris Searcy (49, -2, 2.7) was beat for Gibson's touchdown in the third quarter because he couldn't hang with the wideout's change of direction while Ryan Tannehill was scrambling. The two words that will be synonymous with the performance of Jim Leonhard (62, -6, 1.3) against Miami will be 'missed tackles.' On four separate plays -- a first quarter six-yard run by Daniel Thomas, a second quarter 30-yard run by Lamar Miller, a third quarter six-yard run by Thomas and a third quarter 16-yard run by Thomas -- Leonhard missed valuable opportunities to bring the ball carrier down for a lesser gain by failing to wrap them up.
Year to date grades, ranked by aggregate GPA (minimum 100 plays)
1) ILB Kiko Alonso - 3.21
2) DL Kyle Williams - 3.13
3) DL Marcell Dareus - 3.08
4) SLB Manny Lawson - 3.04
5) HB Fred Jackson - 2.97
6) RLB Jerry Hughes - 2.92
7) DE Mario Williams - 2.88
8) WR Stevie Johnson - 2.81
9) CB Nickell Robey - 2.80
10) C Eric Wood - 2.79
11) WR Robert Woods - 2.77
12) CB Leodis McKelvin - 2.75
13) LT Cordy Glenn - 2.74
14) RG Kraig Urbik - 2.72
15) TE Scott Chandler - 2.71
16) HB C.J. Spiller - 2.69
17) DL Alan Branch - 2.67
18) RT Erik Pears - 2.58
19) DL Alex Carrington - 2.56
20) TE Lee Smith - 2.52
21) QB EJ Manuel - 2.48
22) S Da'Norris Searcy - 2.46
23) ILB Arthur Moats - 2.45
24) S Aaron Williams - 2.38
25) WR T.J. Graham - 2.38
26) S Jim Leonhard - 2.34
27) DL Corbin Bryant - 2.23
28) QB Thad Lewis - 2.21
29) LG Doug Legursky - 2.16
30) CB Justin Rogers - 1.74
My favorite Bills read. Look forward to it each week.
Not into analytics. It's stupid
Wins and losses are all that matter. The Bills are 3-4. Should be 6-1.
Solid analysis Joe
Really well done and thorough. I was a bit surprised McKelvin's grade wasn't higher and Byrd's grade wasn't lower. Maybe just a few standout plays at key times are serving to bias my evaluation. Happy to see Bradham getting some action. He seems very athletic and I've been surprised that the all-time leading tackler at FSU isn't having more of an impact at the NFL level.
A bit Harsh
I thought if you can grade Freddie for what he did instead of what the stats say, you should do the same for the QB. The OL gave him nearly no time to throw. Fred was useless in picking up blitzes. He had no running game. Yet, he hung in there and played a pretty good second half.
Maybe the Bruins can drub the Sabres enough to force change. This would have to be the one that does it.
Jay in PA
Joe great job, these are very informative and enjoyable to read for the most part (depending on the performance of the team)Even then, you deliver straight forward facts. Love it! Thanks
You're the best sports journalist this area has to offer!
Look out BN Sports
This article, along with Jeremy White’s article is money! The guys at the news should take note. My fellow colleagues and I look forward to both each week. Thanks for the in-depth analysis!