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Posted: Tuesday, 03 December 2013 11:09PM

Upon Further Review: Bills vs Falcons



(WGR 550) -- Having an opportunity to put the negative performances in Toronto in the rearview mirror, the Buffalo Bills journeyed back to western New York with perhaps their most soul-crushing loss in the six year history of the game at the Rogers Centre.

The Bills had plenty of opportunities to win the game, but some key plays and poor performances helped lead the Atlanta Falcons to the come-from-behind victory. Before we turn the page to the team's next game on the road in Tampa Bay, first is a look at the individual performances of every single Buffalo player that took a snap on offense or defense.

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: Stuart Minkus (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 (64 total plays)

Quarterback
Trying to go back-to-back with solid performances for the first time in his career, rookie EJ Manuel (63, -5, 2.0) couldn't shake the cobwebs of the bye week. The Bills saw a one-week hiatus from the risk aversion style of quarterbacking when Manuel played the Jets, but that started to seep its way back into his decision making process versus Atlanta.

The rookie started off the game on a very high note. He didn't have to do much on the team's first drive, but he closed it out with a fantastic individual effort. He made the defensive end miss as he rolled out to the right, then scrambled and dove, touching the ball to the pylon while staying inbounds for a touchdown.

He followed that drive up with a couple of strong throws on third downs to Stevie Johnson that hit the receiver in stride to keep it going. That possession ended in a touchdown as well. Later in the first quarter, however, it appeared as though Manuel's positive play was paused until the second half.

He lost concentration on a shotgun snap that resulted in a fumble that he had to dive on, which put the offense in a hole. Later on he was errant on a throw to Johnson over the middle of the field, and also failed to recognize wide open receivers down the field despite having time in the pocket.

In the third quarter, Manuel hit Johnson in stride for a 15-yard gain over the middle of the field, but that was the only example of a good down-the-field throw during that 15-minute section of the game. He chose the dump-off throws that went for minimal yardage when bigger plays were open down the field on two plays, and then couldn't find the touch on his deep throws to Marquise Goodwin like he had against the Jets.

In the fourth quarter, the negative trend continued with underthrows, overthrows and overall inaccurate passes that almost resulted in a pair of interceptions. Manuel did turn it around with the game on the line, however.

Tied at 31, he converted on two terrific passes in stride to his targets on third downs. Scott Chandler released from his defender and caught a pass for a conversion on a 3rd-and-10, then Manuel hit Johnson on a 3rd-and-1 in stride to get the team in field goal position. The only problem with the second play, however, is the wideout had the ball popped out of his arm and the Falcons recovered to force overtime.

In the overtime session, the Bills' possession was short. Manuel's first throw was to Chandler over the middle of the field, to which he hit the tight end in stride and got the ball in Atlanta territory. The feeling that a victory was close by was fleeting, though, because for the second time in three offensive plays the ball was stripped from the receiver and the Falcons recovered.

Both the start and finish were very strong for Manuel, but it was about the middle 50 minutes that need to be loads better. The lingering problem of not giving plays enough time to develop and settling for the underneath throw prematurely needs to be fixed. If you've read these consistently, you'll know that's a commonality in most of the Manuel analysis.

It is a necessary step, however, in him becoming the franchise quarterback the organization believes he's destined to be.

Running Back
Facing the Falcons, the running game had an overwhelmingly advantageous matchup to potentially exploit and they did just that. C.J. Spiller (24, 2, 3.7) had the second-highest rushing total of his career, using 77 and 36-yard runs as exclamation points to a dominant day. Spiller was running well between the tackles, following his blockers and cutting the ball back when necessary. He got caught trying to escape interior pressure to the outside only a couple of times, which is a bonafide improvement from his last few outings. Fred Jackson (37, 2, 3.3) didn't have as big of an impact from a yardage standpoint, but had two of the team's touchdowns. His move to get past Desmond Trufant on the screen play touchdown in the third quarter left the cornerback flailing. Frank Summers (12, 2, 3.0) did well blocking in his short time on the field, and even had a solid first-down pickup on a throw to the flat. Tashard Choice (4, 0, 2.3) resumed his role of being just a bit player, and didn't do anything discernible.

Wide Receiver
The day of the receivers will be remembered by the costly fumble that got popped out of the arm of Stevie Johnson (55, 2, 2.0), and rightfully so. Johnson had the ball deep in Atlanta territory and the Bills had an outstanding chance of kicking the game-winning field goal had he held on. Leading up to that play, however, Johnson had as good of a game as he could have with Manuel being hesitant to pull the trigger. When lined up in the slot, Johnson was a thorn in the side of the Falcons and converted on a few separate third downs. His day will be marred by the fumble, though. As for the trio of youngsters, Robert Woods (51, 0, 2.3), T.J. Graham (42, 0, 2.3) and Marquise Goodwin (23, -1, 2.3) all blend together. Woods was open, but he and Manuel weren't on the same page during the game. Graham made a good adjustment on one play to find an opening in the end zone but was overthrown by his quarterback. Goodwin won a couple of go routes down the sideline, but a poor throw from Manuel deterred his chance to make a play.

Tight End
Much like the receivers, the tight ends will be viewed with the fumble by Scott Chandler (51, -1, 2.0) at the front of everyone's mind. Chandler received the ball from Manuel in stride and got into Atlanta territory, only to have the ball popped out from his grasp just like it happened to Johnson. That was the final time the Bills possessed the ball, and was one of many factors that led to the team's demise. Chandler struggled in the early going in losing blocks on a pair of first quarter runs, but made up for it with a 10-yard completion in the second quarter and a big 23-yard pickup on 3rd-and-10 with the game tied at 31 in the fourth quarter. Lee Smith (20, 0, 2.3) was just there as blocking help like most weeks, and didn't stand out in any way.

Offensive Line
After a four-game stretch that produced a plus-minus of negative-14, concern had to be setting in over the recent play of right guard Kraig Urbik (64, 4, 3.3). Perhaps the bye week was just what the guard needed, because he had his strongest performance of the season. Urbik was a menace in run blocking, providing lanes and cutback opportunities for his runners throughout the day. He had one of the key blocks in springing Spiller on his 77-yard scamper. Left tackle Cordy Glenn (64, 2, 3.0) was once again quietly solid for the Bills. In both pass protection and run blocking, Glenn helped clear the way for potentially positive gains. Center Eric Wood (64, 0, 2.7) and right tackle Erik Pears (64, 0, 2.7) each had their share of very good sealing blocks in the run game and also missed opportunities that led to failed run plays. Pears whiffed on Jonathan Babineaux in the second quarter which led to a three-yard loss for C.J. Spiller. With the season winding down and the playoff opportunities looking slim, the Bills may be best served to use the final three or four weeks to try Mark Asper, J.J. Unga or Antoine McClain at left guard, because it's very clear that Doug Legursky (64, -4, 1.7) just does not cut it. In his seven total games, Legursky has failed to be a positive player once and has yielded a plus-minus of negative-23. He often gets overpowered at the point of attack, blowing potentially high-yielding plays up before they even get started. He isn't nearly as bad as Colin Brown was when he started, but Legursky just should not be a starting player in this league. The Bills should see if any of their current three backups have any potential. It might even be prudent to give all three of them time on the field just to see. They've already seen Brown play left guard, so it can't get any worse.

DEFENSE (88 total plays)

Defensive Line
Against one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, the defensive line predictably dominated at the point of attack. This time it wasn't the usual suspects that led the way, instead it was Alan Branch (50, 6, 3.7) that stole the show. It didn't matter if it was against left guard Justin Blalock or center Joe Hawley, Branch was able to rip past both offensive linemen and make plays in the run game and even forcing Matt Ryan to hurry a throw on two different occasions. Marcell Dareus (78, 4, 3.0) came up with an incredibly impressive tackle for loss in the first quarter after dominating Hawley off the snap. He also did well on a stunt with Jerry Hughes to get the pass-rusher a sack in the first quarter. Perhaps his back spasm from Friday morning lingered, because it wasn't a typical Kyle Williams (72, 2, 2.7) performance against Atlanta. He still showed signs of his usual self by making right guard Peter Konz look silly on a pair of pass rush attempts. He wasn't able to get that normal fire off the snap that we're used to seeing, though. Perhaps it will return with more time for his back to heal. Corbin Bryant (27, 2, 3.0) had a big day from a statistical standpoint, benefitting from a communication breakdown along the line and going up the middle untouched for a fourth quarter sack. He also set the table for Manny Lawson to bring down Jacquizz Rodgers for a tackle for loss in the first quarter by beating his man to contain the edge, allowing his teammate to come from the backside to make the play. Stefan Charles (11, 1, 2.7) jumped on the third quarter Matt Ryan fumble to help kickstart the Bills' efforts in the second half. 

Pass Rushers
Against the Falcons offensive line, it was like shooting fish in a barrel for both Mario Williams (71, 6, 3.3) and Jerry Hughes (29, 2, 3.0). Williams easily got by right tackle Jeremy Trueblood and right guard Peter Konz to come away with a sack and a pressure. He very nearly had an interception in the fourth quarter when he batted down a Matt Ryan pass to the flat with both hands. Hughes came away with two sacks on the day and an additional pressure. All his damage came in the first half. Jamaal Westerman (17, 0, 2.3) chipped in on a couple of tackles in the run game, but otherwise had a ho-hum evening on the field.

Inside Linebacker
It's been a rarity in 2013, but rookie Kiko Alonso (88, -4, 2.0) was a liability at times on the field against the Falcons. If you're wondering why Atlanta had so much success in running the ball when they weren't all that great at it coming into the game, the play of Alonso and Arthur Moats (31, -3, 1.7) should give a bit of an indication. The rookie was caught in over-pursuit, shooting the wrong gap and even missing tackles at times. The 38-yard touchdown run by Antone Smith is directly linked to Alonso overrunning the play, and Smith almost got him again in the fourth quarter on a pass attempt. The running back had a step on Alonso and dropped the ball in the end zone, missing out on a surefire touchdown. Even the defensive rookie of the year will have a bad outing or two in a season. It was just one of those days for Alonso.

Outside Linebacker
Strongside backer Manny Lawson (60, 1, 2.7) started the game off strong with a sack on a third down play and a tackle for loss both in the first quarter. His day cooled off considerably as the Falcons started getting more and more confidence in their running game. He wasn't as much of a presence in setting the edge because both Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers were looking to run in between the tackles. Weakside backer Nigel Bradham (21, 0, 2.3) failed to make an impact on the game in his limited time on the field.

Cornerback
Sometimes he reverts back to old form, but Leodis McKelvin (84, 1, 2.7) has turned himself into a solid starter for the Buffalo Bills. It's not perfect for McKelvin, who will give up a play down the field at times. No longer though is he the victim of several big plays, even making plays on the ball and providing a healthy amount of trash-talking to his opponents. He was the strongest cornerback on the Bills roster in both coverage and in run support on Sunday, using his physicality to gain an advantage against his foes. He was beaten on three different occasions: a 29-yard completion down the sideline to Roddy White, a 14-yard out to Harry Douglas in which he was picked, and a 20-yard screen to Douglas in overtime. That was the extent of it. Stephon Gilmore (85, -3, 2.0) wasn't as lucky, getting beat a few different times throughout the game and being the main target of Roddy White. Still, Gilmore showed signs of his training camp performance with an impressive series in the fourth quarter that yielded no receptions on three attempts thrown at him. Nickel corner Nickell Robey (41, -4, 1.7) did not show well in this game, missing tackles, falling down in coverage and picking up a crucial penalty (fair or not) with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. When Gilmore left the game briefly with a cramp, the Bills replaced him with Ron Brooks (4, -1, 1.7). For whatever reason, they left Brooks in a one-on-one matchup against future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez in the red zone. The result of the play went as expected: an Atlanta touchdown to Gonzalez.

Safety
Since moving back to safety full-time and having another talented player beside him, Aaron Williams (86, 3, 3.0) has been a very impressive defender for the Bills. In his past three games, Williams has a plus-minus of plus-9 and is consistently improving in both his run support and instincts in coverage. He was given the difficult task of marking Gonzalez for the majority of the game and struggled with it early on as one might expect. As the game went on though, Williams was getting more and more comfortable and started being quite physical and aggressive with the talented tight end. Finally in his natural position, the former second round pick has a bright future based on his performances. Jairus Byrd (85, 0, 2.3) wasn't as much of an impact player as he was against the Steelers and Jets, but still provided a presence in the run game. There weren't many plays that Matt Ryan challenged Byrd's side of the field with a longer pass, knowing the type of player that was standing back there. Da'Norris Searcy (24, -1, 2.3) wasn't all that noticeable until he fell down in zone coverage on a 3rd-and-9 attempt in the fourth quarter, allowing Gonzalez an easy pickup of the first down. In his short time on the field, Jim Leonhard (4, -1, 1.0) applied to be one of the key reasons for Atlanta getting back in the game. Leonhard was right in the running lane to try and bring down Steven Jackson, took the wrong angle and whiffed completely. Jackson went untouched for a 27-yard touchdown and got the Falcons back in a game that was trending toward a blowout from the way the first four possessions went.

Year to date grades, ranked by aggregate GPA (Last week's overall rank)
  1. DL Kyle Williams - 3.21 (1)
  2. DL Marcell Dareus - 3.13 (2)
  3. ILB Kiko Alonso - 3.02 (3)
  4. SLB Manny Lawson - 2.99 (4)
  5. RLB Jerry Hughes - 2.94 (6)
  6. HB Fred Jackson - 2.93 (8)
  7. WR Marquise Goodwin - 2.92 (5)
  8. DE Mario Williams - 2.90 (9)
  9. S Jairus Byrd - 2.80 (7)
  10. LT Cordy Glenn - 2.78 (12)
  11. DL Alan Branch - 2.76 (16)
  12. WR Stevie Johnson - 2.75 (11)
  13. CB Nickell Robey - 2.74 (10)
  14. C Eric Wood - 2.71 (13)
  15. CB Leodis McKelvin - 2.67 (15)
  16. WR Robert Woods - 2.67 (14)
  17. HB C.J. Spiller - 2.65 (19)
  18. S Aaron Williams - 2.61 (17)
  19. DL Corbin Bryant - 2.57 (21)
  20. DL Alex Carrington - 2.56 (18)
  21. RG Kraig Urbik - 2.50 (25)
  22. TE Scott Chandler - 2.50 (20)
  23. RT Erik Pears - 2.47 (24)
  24. WR Chris Hogan - 2.45 (23)
  25. WLB Nigel Bradham - 2.44 (22)
  26. S Da'Norris Searcy - 2.43 (26)
  27. WR T.J. Graham - 2.41 (28)
  28. TE Lee Smith - 2.40 (29)
  29. HB Tashard Choice - 2.34 (31)
  30. FB Frank Summers - 2.33 (34)
  31. S Jim Leonhard - 2.33 (32)
  32. CB Stephon Gilmore - 2.32 (27)
  33. QB EJ Manuel - 2.31 (30)
  34. ILB Arthur Moats - 2.26 (33)
  35. LG Doug Legursky - 1.95 (35)
  36. QB Thad Lewis - 1.90 (36)
  37. CB Justin Rogers - 1.74 (37)
  38. QB Jeff Tuel - 1.64 (38)
  39. LG Colin Brown - 1.30 (39)

*Minimum 100 plays
**Those with (NR) beside their names just eclipsed the minimum plays on the season

Previous Installments:
Week 1 - New England 23, Buffalo 21
Week 2 - Buffalo 24, Carolina 23
Week 3 - New York Jets 27, Buffalo 20
Week 4 - Buffalo 23, Baltimore 20
Week 5 - Cleveland 37, Buffalo 24
Week 6 - Cincinnati 27, Buffalo 24
Week 7 - Buffalo 23 Miami 21
Week 8 - New Orleans 35, Buffalo 17
Week 9 - Kansas City 23, Buffalo 13
Week 10 - Pittsburgh 23, Buffalo 10
Week 11 - Buffalo 37, New York Jets 14

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia
 

All photos courtesy of AP
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