(WGR 550) -- Going up against perhaps the toughest team they'll face all season long, the Buffalo Bills put up a fight in the early going against the New Orleans Saints. In the end, though, the talent discrepancy at the quarterback position is inevitably what gave the Saints a victory and the Bills a loss.
The Bills will start the second half of their season on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. Before we shift to the next week, first is a look back at how each offensive and defensive player that took a snap for the Bills against the Saints.
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: Peter Russo (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 (71 total plays)
The introduction was not a mirage. The reason this game was an 18-point loss and not closer is because the incredibly poor play of their quarterback in comparison to the elite level passing helping their opposition.
For the second straight week Thad Lewis (71, -8, 1.3) failed to move the ball consistently. The stark difference between his first two starts and his most recent game is how many times the Bills were at the risk of turning the ball over because of Lewis.
The quarterback fumbled the ball three separate times, stumbled and gave a poor handoff to Fred Jackson resulting in a fourth fumble and was intercepted on a very poorly thrown ball. Lewis was very nearly intercepted on two other plays in the second half as well.
Against the Dolphins, the Bills defense could overcome the play of the quarterback because even though he wasn't helping them score a lot of points, he didn't help create chances for the opposition to score points with a shortened field. Against New Orleans, Lewis proved to be a liability in that respect.
On the first play of the game he fumbled the ball upon contact after a read-option keeper attempt and the Saints jumped on it. Later in the first quarter, Lewis was once again stripped of the football and it was recovered by New Orleans once more. Despite the defense playing well for Buffalo, they were put in a poor position twice early on that helped the Saints get started offensively.
When Lewis has a clean pocket and his first read is open, he has proved that he can hit his receiver in stride with a crisp pass. His most efficient throws come outside the numbers in the intermediate areas of the field. He hit both Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler with impressive throws on an out route, and did it again to Robert Woods but the rookie dropped it.
However, if the pocket isn't clean and his first read isn't open, his production dips dramatically. As the game went on, New Orleans employed the strategy of bringing more and more pressure at Lewis to make him prove that he could still operate efficiently. With turnovers and high throws as the yield the majority of the time, Lewis and the Bills' offense failed to capitalize on some of the opportunities their defense presented them.
When under pressure, Lewis took some unnecessary chances into double and triple coverage and failed to rotate his head to the other side of the field despite secondary and tertiary options coming open. Because of that, it also puts more strain on the run game because the opposing defense is more prone to load the box and send rushers regardless of a run or pass.
Lewis did have some bright spots including the aforementioned out throws, some slants over the middle to Johnson and a 55-yard touchdown strike to T.J. Graham that was negated due to a penalty.
Moving forward, it's imperative that Lewis take better care of the football to give the Bills a chance at a victory. That would allow the defense to make opposing offenses work with the entire field and put less pressure on Lewis to have to go and operate under heavy pressure.
If the Bills can work with Lewis to go through his progressions more often and not be prone to hang on to the football too long, he could improve quite dramatically from his performance against the Saints. He has good tools to work with, but that outing shows he needs a lot of refining.
The afternoon started off quite well for Fred Jackson (51, 1, 2.7) and the rushing attack. Without C.J. Spiller for the first time this season, Jackson came out on fire rushing for 15 and 14 yards on two separate first quarter plays. As the game wore on and the defense changed it's philosophy though, the running game dried up. His last notable contribution outside of the first quarter runs was plunging in from one yard out for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Tashard Choice (19, -1, 2.3) ripped off a 20-yard run in the second quarter, but also struggled to find running room the rest of the way. Frank Summers (13, -1, 2.0) helped spring Jackson on his 14-yard gain in the first quarter, but also whiffed on some of his pass protecting attempts along with a missed block in the second quarter that resulted in a three-yard loss on a Jackson run.
Battling through injuries, Stevie Johnson (47, 5, 3.3) had the eye of Thad Lewis for the majority of the game. Often times, Johnson was Lewis' first read and received plenty of targets despite missing parts of the game with an injured hip flexor. The injury occurred when Lewis hung Johnson out to dry a bit on a pass over the middle that the receiver caught, and then took a shot from Malcolm Jenkins right to the hip in question. Despite hobbling around in between plays, Johnson was still able to rope in seven receptions and the Bills' lone receiving touchdown. Robert Woods (67, 0, 2.0) had another quiet afternoon and hasn't built quite the rapport with Lewis as Johnson has. He was open throughout the game, but rarely being his first read, Woods wasn't looked at all that often. He finished the game with just three targets. T.J. Graham (50, 2, 2.7) finally got free on a long pass and turned it into a 55-yard touchdown… only for it to be called back because of a holding penalty at the line of scrimmage. He did contribute a 14-yard reception in the first quarter where he found a soft spot in zone coverage and just sat there for a solid gain. Getting a lot more reps this week, Marquise Goodwin (33, 3, 3.0) showed his ability with two very difficult catches that he had to jump and extend his body to come down with the ball. He finished the day with three catches for 56 yards. Chris Hogan (4, 0, 2.3) and Marcus Easley (2, 0, 2.3) each got snaps on offense due to injuries to Johnson and Goodwin, but neither were targeted by Lewis throughout their six collective snaps.
The performance of Scott Chandler (53, 1, 2.3) can best be described as someone who was trying to atone for an earlier mistake that could have cost his team. In the second quarter, Chandler was beat clean by Junior Galette in pass protection and the rusher finished with a strip sack of Thad Lewis. Buffalo jumped on the ball and on the very next play, Chandler was the recipient of a 22-yard gain to get a first down. Later in the third quarter, his holding penalty negated T.J. Graham's 55-yard touchdown catch. Once again on the very next play, Chandler gains 11 yards of it back to help the drive continue along. Lee Smith (11, 0, 2.3) saw a solid amount of time early on, and then as you might guess with the Bills trailing by more than one possession, the blocking tight end's responsibilities dwindled. He helped key a couple of bigger runs early in the first quarter. Chris Gragg (5, -1, 2.0) got into the game for the second straight week, but struggled on a run blocking attempt against Kenny Vaccaro in which the fellow rookie was able to disengage and bring down Tashard Choice for a two-yard loss in the second quarter.
Sometimes as the quarterback goes, so does the offensive line. With the signal caller not being able to prove that he can beat a bunch of pressure just yet, the offensive line struggled as a result. Left tackle Cordy Glenn (71, 0, 2.7) started off the game at quite a high level in pass protection. In fact, except for one play in the third quarter, Glenn was fairly solid in pass protection. In the run game, he was directly responsible for two runs that went for a loss. Right tackle Erik Pears (71, -2, 2.0) didn't fare as well in pass protection as Glenn. The biggest problem for Pears was the play of the speedier Junior Galette, who beat him three separate times throughout the contest. Although he was beaten quite easily by Cameron Jordan once in the second quarter that resulted in a sack, fumble and recovery for New Orleans, Pears did a solid job on the defensive end in the second half. It was an uncommon day for center Eric Wood (71, -2, 2.3), who struggled to get out in front of screen attempts and whiffed on some blocks along the way. He did provide a fantastic block that helped spring Tashard Choice on his 20-yard run in the second quarter though. Left guard Doug Legursky (71, -2, 2.0) played below average as well, but it was the play of Kraig Urbik (71, -5, 1.7) that was most concerning. The normally stout Urbik struggled in run blocking throughout the game. It could be a case of debating the chicken versus the egg when it comes to the performance of the quarterback and offensive line, but whatever the case may be, both struggled against New Orleans.
DEFENSE (70 total plays)
With his play against the Saints, Kyle Williams (54, 7, 3.7) overtook Kiko Alonso as the team's best player through the first eight games based on their overall GPA's. No matter what you did, it was hard to not have your eyes go directly to the play of Williams throughout the game. He was constantly in the backfield and shedding blockers to make a play on the ball carriers, even contributing 1.5 sacks in the contest. Right guard Ben Grubbs had an especially tough time dealing with Williams in a one-on-one setting. The most impressive part of his game, despite his age and injury history, is how much faster he reacts to the snap than everyone else on the line. Marcell Dareus (58, 6, 3.3) wasn't a slouch either. Although not having the statistics to show for it like Williams, Dareus did quite well in disengaging from block attempts to either make a tackle or plug the holes enough for his teammates to make a play. Alan Branch (37, 1, 2.7) had a mostly quiet afternoon, but helped contain a play that has burned the Bills in a big way in recent weeks. The Saints attempted to run a reverse to Kenny Stills in the third quarter, and Branch along with a couple of other teammates helped contain the runner inside and brought him down for just a four-yard gain. Corbin Bryant (13, 0, 2.3) was mostly invisible, while the now released Jay Ross (3, -2, 0.3) struggled in his short time on the field. Getting pancaked by Grubbs in the first quarter and then being completely controlled by Jahri Evans as Pierre Thomas gained 13 yards over his gap certainly helped make the team's decision to move on.
Pass Rushers Mario Williams (65, 4, 3.3) followed up his dominating performance against the Dolphins with a solid day that got better as the game aged. Barely noticeable until late in the second quarter, Williams started winning his matchups with Charles Brown and Zach Strief as the game progressed. He claimed a sack, but his best pass rushes came on plays that resulted in a second quarter interception and a fourth quarter incompletion. Although the interception was nullified by his facemask penalty, it was Williams' pass rush that flushed Drew Brees from the pocket and forced the left tackle to hold him to avoid a sack. Jerry Hughes (67, 4, 3.0) continues to be quietly effective for the Bills in 2013. Most will remember him for being the man in coverage on Kenny Stills' 69-yard touchdown reception. Outside of that though, Hughes was consistently getting pressure on Brees in the first half and also filled in quite nicely for Manny Lawson in setting the edge in run defense. With all the Saints' speedy weapons, that was a major concern heading into the game and Hughes did quite well to quell that part of the their game. Jamaal Westerman (7, 1, 3.0) had his most effective game of the season thus far, helping force an errant Brees throw in the first quarter by blowing by left tackle Charles Brown. On that play Westerman was flagged for a late hit on the quarterback, but the penalty was questionable at best.
It wasn't the dominating type of performance some have come to expect from Kiko Alonso (70, 2, 2.7), but the rookie linebacker was still solid in his recognition and skills to get to the ball carriers. The Saints were only able to take advantage of his aggressive characteristics once, during a second quarter screen play to Pierre Thomas that went for 17 yards. Alonso proved later on that he's learning to not be caught in overpursuit, being one of three defenders that forced Kenny Stills back inside on a wide receiver reverse attempt that went only four yards. Arthur Moats (20, -1, 2.3) once again struggled in recognition and reaction time that allowed for some bigger gains. However, Moats had one of his most impressive coverage plays of his career against the Saints. He jammed Marques Colston inside the five-yard line, which actually made the receiver collide with Stills and resulted in both players falling on the ground. Then Moats didn't miss a beat, spotted Sproles coming on a wheel route down the left sideline and ran with him stride for stride. It was quite an individual effort to nullify three players in pass coverage.
The lone outside linebacker to get snaps in the game, Nigel Bradham (20, 0, 2.3) really didn't make any standout plays throughout the contest. He was there in run support and to help bring down ball carriers at the piles, but didn't have any outstanding individual efforts that keyed a play. He continues to be merely a situational player that had his role heightened due to the absence of Manny Lawson.
For the first time in 2013, the cornerback position saw a return to normalcy of what the coaching staff expected it to look like before the season began. Stephon Gilmore (57, 2, 3.0) shed the protective club on his left hand for a much more manageable brace to help his wrist in the case of contact. Gilmore didn't have too many attempts to make a play on the ball because the Saints never really threw at him. Good coverage throughout the game made his teammate Leodis McKelvin (56, -4, 1.7) the target. Out of the three top cornerbacks on the roster, McKelvin was being picked on the most by Drew Brees. In the first half he was beaten for a 15-yard catch by Robert Meachem due to sloppy technique, a 17-yard reception by Ben Watson where he was slow to react and then on a comeback route by Lance Moore in the second quarter. McKelvin had been playing well as of late, so the Bills will hope the Saints game was just a product of their opponent more than anything. Nickell Robey (43, 3, 3.3) gave up two touchdown passes, but any other quarterback outside of Brees, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers couldn't have made the throws that beat him. Robey was consistently around the ball and making plays for the defense, even being charged to shadow Darren Sproles at times. Sometimes you just have tip your cap at the opposing quarterback, because Robey had a fantastic game otherwise. Ron Brooks (13, 0, 2.3) wasn't thrown at in his small amount of time on the field.
The flashes of the old Jairus Byrd (63, 1, 2.7) are starting to grow in their frequency. Part of what makes him such a special player is his instincts on the field, and that couldn't have been more evident on a touchdown saving play in the second quarter. It was a 3rd-and-11 play that was intended for Marques Colston over the middle of the field. The wideout went up to make the catch, and Byrd spotted the look from the other side of the hashmarks and closed on the ball to force the incompletion. He did get caught being just half a step late in coverage of Jimmy Graham, but also showed his skills in shadowing Darren Sproles quite effectively. Byrd is trending up, that's for sure. Not coincidentally, the first game Aaron Williams (70, 0, 2.7) played at safety just so happened to be his strongest showing in the past few weeks. When asked to be in man-to-man coverage it's still a bit of a weakness for Williams, but when playing safety you can also see the instincts starting to come along. In the second quarter, Brees thought he had Colston over the middle of the field and as soon as he cocked his arm, Williams darted over to the receiver. Brees saw that it would probably result in an interception and instead hung on to the football and took a sack. Da'Norris Searcy (43, -4, 1.7) got the majority of his time in the 'big nickel' look as the third safety in and didn't show the same instincts in the run game as he normally does. In fact, he didn't fire at the line of scrimmage upon recognition of the run and instead let the blocks and the play come to him. Jim Leonhard (11, -1, 2.0) played just sparingly, but allowed a 14-yard reception late in the fourth quarter that led to the Saints being able to run out the clock with three straight kneel-downs .
Year to date grades, ranked by aggregate GPA (Last week's overall rank)
1) DL Kyle Williams - 3.19 (2)
2) ILB Kiko Alonso - 3.16 (1)
3) DL Marcell Dareus - 3.11 (3)
4) SLB Manny Lawson - 3.04 (4)
5) DE Mario Williams - 2.93 (7)
6) HB Fred Jackson - 2.93 (5)
7) RLB Jerry Hughes - 2.93 (6)
8) WR Stevie Johnson - 2.86 (8)
9) CB Nickell Robey - 2.86 (9)
10) LT Cordy Glenn - 2.74 (13)
11) C Eric Wood - 2.73 (10)
12) HB C.J. Spiller - 2.69 (16)
13) S Jairus Byrd - 2.69 (NR)
14) WR Robert Woods - 2.68 (11)
15) DL Alan Branch - 2.67 (17)
16) TE Scott Chandler - 2.66 (15)
17) CB Leodis McKelvin - 2.61 (12)
18) RG Kraig Urbik - 2.59 (14)
19) WLB Nigel Bradham - 2.53 (NR)
20) RT Erik Pears - 2.51 (18)
21) TE Lee Smith - 2.50 (20)
22) QB EJ Manuel - 2.48 (21)
23) ILB Arthur Moats - 2.44 (23)
24) S Aaron Williams - 2.42 (24)
25) WR T.J. Graham - 2.42 (25)
26) CB Stephon Gilmore - 2.41 (NR)
27) S Da'Norris Searcy - 2.39 (22)
28) S Jim Leonhard - 2.33 (26)
29) DL Corbin Bryant - 2.24 (27)
30) FB Frank Summers - 2.18 (NR)
31) LG Doug Legursky - 2.10 (29)
32) QB Thad Lewis - 1.90 (28)
33) CB Justin Rogers - 1.74 (30) *Minimum 100 plays
**Those with (NR) beside their names just eclipsed the minimum plays on the season