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Handing out first-quarter grades for the Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills have completed the first quarter of their regular season slate this season, and have done so with a 1-3 record.  After a promising start to the season with a surprisingly close loss in New England and a semi-convincing home victory over Tampa Bay, Buffalo has dropped two straight abysmal performances to New Orleans and Miami.  The Bills are 0-2 in the division, and are the only AFC East team to not yet pick up a win against a divisional foe.  They've scored more points than just two other AFC teams - Oakland (1-3) and Cleveland (0-4).  Meanwhile, only Kansas City (0-4), Cleveland and Detroit (1-3) have surrendered more points than the Bills.

In short? It's been pretty brutal.

It's not all bad news, though - Buffalo has four more games on its schedule against teams that have yet to win a single game in the first quarter of the season (Week 5 vs Cleveland, Week 7 at Carolina, Week 10 at Tennessee and Week 14 at Kansas City).  So unless the Bills continue to play as they have over the past two weeks (or they can't stay healthy once they get healthy again), there's a chance they could climb back into the race.  But only a chance.

We've got grades for you for each positional unit through four games.  We also highlight two players that have really stood out, and two more that... haven't.  It's all after the jump.

Quarterbacks: C- You can't completely discount Trent Edwards' strong start to the season - through two games, he'd thrown four touchdown passes and sported a QB rating of 104.9.  But with his O-Line in a constant state of flux and with his own play slipping to a new level of mediocrity (for him), the position has only barely been passable this season - and it's been ridiculously awful in the past two weeks.  Good news, though - Ryan Fitzpatrick has shown a great aptitude in relaying play calls from Alex Van Pelt to Edwards.  (Yes, that means I'm saying that the calls to bench Edwards are ridiculous.)

Running Backs: A- There is nothing to not like about Fred Jackson's game.  He's still the sixth-leading rusher in the league (333 yards at 4.8 yards per carry) despite the fact that Buffalo has abandoned the running game almost completely in the last two weeks.  He continues to lead the Bills in receptions and receiving yardage, too.  Fred Jackson is our best player right now, and it's not really close.  Marshawn Lynch is back and continues to knock off the rust; we'll see if his presence has any long-term effects on the effectiveness of Jackson.  Heck, Xavier Omon looked pretty solid taking spot carries for Jackson in Weeks 1-3, too.

Wide Receivers: D Part of their alarming lack of production has to do with the lack of cohesiveness up front as well as the lack of rhythm in the passing game.  Terrell Owens, Lee Evans and Josh Reed have combined for 29 catches, 415 yards and 3 TD through four games.  That's about equal to the output of Steve Smith - New York's Steve Smith, not Carolina's Steve Smith - who has 34 catches, 411 yards and 4 TD as a make-shift No. 1 receiver for Eli Manning.  If that doesn't speak volumes about how putrid the receivers and the passing attack in general have been, I don't know what does.  They only get a D because they can't be completely blamed for their issues.

Tight Ends: D+ Derek Schouman proved himself a valuable, underrated underneath option before landing on IR with a knee injury.  Derek Fine has been just as prone to drops as the receivers have been, and while Shawn Nelson has flashed ability (he had a TD reception in Week 1, his first NFL appearance), he hasn't yet asserted himself as a threat in Schouman's stead.  Jonathan Stupar? He's human, folks - very, very human.

Offensive Tackles: D Unfortunately for Brad Butler, he gets dragged down by his teammates.  Butler was performing well, but he, too, is on IR - his season is over.  Demetrius Bell flashed loads of potential and dominance, but he also made tons of mistakes - and then he missed Week 4 with a groin injury.  His worth, however, was thrown into perspective when Jonathan Scott and Kirk Chambers resorted to the pirouette pass-blocking technique down in Miami.  It didn't work for them.  Buffalo has given up 16 sacks already this season, and the vast majority of them are the fault of the tackles.

Offensive Guards/Centers: B- Geoff Hangartner has struggled with a nagging back injury and really awful shotgun snaps, but he's still representative of a massive improvement at center from last year's group.  Andy Levitre and Eric Wood, the subjects of much pre-season skepticism, have both made their share of mistakes (many more in the case of Wood), but they've also been dominant at times, particularly in the run game.  These guys have proven why they were high-round picks, and there is some hope that they'll turn into dominant offensive linemen sooner rather than later.  It's not perfect, but here, at least, there is lots of potential.

Defensive Ends: B It's hard to find reasons to be upset with this group right now; much-maligned for the past two seasons, this group is performing well.  With very little statistical input from first-round pick Aaron Maybin, the trio of Aaron Schobel, Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney have amassed 7 sacks already - well beyond the pace they've set in recent seasons.  Yes, they're still susceptible to misdirection plays and lapses against the run, but on a long list of problem areas, this unit is unranked.  They're playing well.

Defensive Tackles: C+ This group had a strong start to the season, but they've faded in the last two games as the Bills have given up well over 200 yards rushing per game to opponents.  Marcus Stroud has two sacks, while Kyle Williams and Spencer Johnson have both flashed the ability to make plays in the backfield.  Williams in particular has been unblockable at times.  But they're getting gashed right now - which isn't completely their fault, I realize, but does bring their grade down a touch.

Linebackers: F How's your arm, Paul Posluszny? "Poz" has played roughly two quarters' worth of football this season after breaking his arm in the first half against New England, and Buffalo's defense clearly misses him.  Kawika Mitchell and Keith Ellison are both serviceable players, but in this defensive scheme, they can't carry the burden they're carrying now - they've been abysmal against the run, and the plays they've made are... well, never mind, they haven't made any plays yet.  Marcus Buggs has been overwhelmed trying to fill in for Posluszny, and none of the team's young, talented reserves have proven capable of stepping up.  This is the clear weak area of the defense right now.

Cornerbacks: B Terrence McGee continues his unappreciated play; as far as reliable tacklers go, McGee might sit atop a list of two or three names - all of them defensive backs.  (Posluszny might have sneaked onto that list were he healthy.)  Leodis McKelvin is gone for the season, but before he was lost, he'd been picked on almost mercilessly by the likes of Tom Brady, Byron Leftwich and Drew BreesDrayton Florence has played well in his place, but we'll see how long that lasts - he was brutal as a starter last season in Jacksonville.  Reggie Corner and Ashton Youboty have performed well in sub-package duty, but it's best if they stay in that role - we really can't afford any more injuries here.

Safeties: B+ Take away some big plays they've given up to opposing tight ends, and they might have snuck into A range.  I said it earlier this morning, and I'll say it again: Donte Whitner is playing at a Pro Bowl level.  I'm curious to see if that continues when he eventually returns from his thumb injury.  Bryan Scott continues to be highly competent defending the run, and is as sure a tackler as there is.  Jairus Byrd has seen a lot of playing time, and has acquitted himself quite well - he hasn't made any big plays yet, but he hasn't given any up, either.  He's shown physicality defending the run, too - but he needs to start taking better angles.

Specialists: B- I knock the grade a bit because of the poor overall performance of Bobby April's coverage units and kick return unit, but overall, the individual specialists - Rian Lindell, Brian Moorman and particularly rookie long-snapper Garrison Sanborn - have been quite good.

Coaching: C- I'll never be the type of guy that lays blame at any one person or group's feet.  Football is a team game, and losses are team losses just as wins are team wins.  But the coaching has not been good this season.  Strong game plans - such as the one employed by Perry Fewell to almost completely shut down Brees and the Saints - have been overshadowed by terrible on-field play, which no matter which way you cut it is partially at the feet of the coaching staff.  Hot seat? Yep - every last Bills coach is sitting on one as we speak.