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Changes Bills should make for final seven games of 2016 regular season

Five logical tweaks Buffalo should make coming out of the bye.

More playing time for Jerel Worthy

I’ve been campaigning for Worthy to receive more playing time for more than a week now, having first mentioned his high-efficiency play before the Bills - Seahawks tilt in Week 9.

Against Seattle, Worthy tied Zach Brown for the second-highest graded Buffalo defender (behind only Kyle Williams), with a score of +1.6, and the former Michigan State defensive lineman played just 22 snaps. Kyle played 42. Brown played 47.

If that grade means nothing to you, I can explain like this: Let’s say a defensive lineman makes a clearly positive but not spectacular play. That receives a +0.2 or maybe +0.4 in my grading system. Say he’s blocked out of the play and allows a decent-sized running lane. That’s a -0.2 or -0.4. The 0.2 intervals can go all the way down to -1.0 — for a downright awful play -- or up to +1.0 —for an almost unfathomably amazing play.

With that context, it’s easy to realize a +1.6 grade on 22 snaps indicates quite the efficient performance.

I understand those who think Worthy’s overall season grade of +3.0 is somewhat skewed because of the small sample size (just 96 snaps). But, when on the field, he’s done plenty to deserve more playing time.

(Worthy’s 3.15 Efficiency Score, is the best among Bills defenders who’ve played at least 50 snaps this season.)

Through the first month and a half of the season, Worthy had been more productive as a run-defender than a pass-rusher. Given the NFL’s obsession with the passing game, Worthy’s lack of playing time wasn’t that head-scratching.

However, he did post the highest pass-rushing grade of any Bills defender against Seattle (+0.8).

Here’s the thing with Worthy — he (routinely) wins with a super-quick burst off the snap and has proven to be capable of getting into the backfield with relative ease — it doesn’t matter if it’s a run or pass.

Worthy’s been consistently disruptive -- he should be on the field for 30-50 snaps per game down the stretch, not 10-20.

Jordan Mills replaced by Cyrus Kouandjio

All offseason, the Bills weren’t shy to boast confidence regarding the fact that they were to have their entire offensive line back for the first time since the 1990s.

The impact of continuity up front is nearly impossible to quantify, but I fall into the vast majority of those who believe it’s critical.

Through nine games, Buffalo’s offensive line has been pretty darn good.

The Bills average the most yards per carry in the league, and they’re still almost a half-yard clear of the No. 2 Titans. Yes, LeSean McCoy is a special running back, and Tyrod Taylor is an immensely athletic quarterback, but those two haven’t done it by themselves.

As a pass-protecting unit, Buffalo’s offensive line has been good but at times... troubling.

Cordy Glenn has been a brick wall protecting Taylor, and Richie Incognito has been far from a liability in pass pro. I’ve highlighted the emergence of second-year right guard John Miller all season, as he’s made an enormous jump from his rookie campaign. His +21.0 — yes, +21.0 — is the highest grade on Buffalo’s offense, and his Efficiency Score of 3.52 trails only Glenn (3.69) among Bills offensive linemen.

Eric Wood’s a master run-game technician, someone you’ll rarely notice out of position or off balance when Buffalo’s pounding the rock. As a pass-protector, he’s left a lot to be desired, especially as the longest-tenured member of Buffalo’s offensive front.

His grade reflects those contrasting elements of his game. Wood’s run-blocking grade is +6.8, the second-best on the team. His pass-blocking grade is -3.4, the second-lowest among Bills offensive linemen.

Either Ryan Groy or Patrick Lewis will replace Wood for the final seven games of the season. Whoever wins the job will have a hard time replicating Wood’s impact in the run game, but it’s not crazy to think either Lewis or Groy could be a match Wood or actually represent an upgrade in the pass-protecting department.

As far as protecting the passer, Jordan Mills has had the most struggles this season. He began the year respectably but has turned in pass-blocking grades of -3.2, +0.4, and -2.8 in his last three contests. He was a matador against Cameron Wake in Week 7, just OK in Week 8 against the Patriots and surrendered an assortment of pressure against Cliff Avril and Co in Week 9.

It seems like ages ago, but Cyrus Kouandjio stood in admirably for Glenn earlier in the season, and he excelled in pass protection, receiving a +3.8 grade in that area on just 145 snaps. Yes, Kouandjio played on the left side, and there’s a chance the coaching staff will want to keep the status quo up front for continuity purposes. However, Buffalo simply can’t afford to send Mills out there at right tackle anymore.

Carlos Dunlap is one of the NFL’s most underrated edge-rushers, and he predominantly aligns at left defensive end for the Bengals. Dates with Khalil Mack, Wake and the Jets front remain on the schedule too.

Kouandjio has been healthy for the past few weeks yet hasn’t played, even in jumbo formations.

It’s time he starts at right tackle.

Much more time for Robert Woods in the slot

Check this paragraph from Erik Turner’s outstanding recap of Bills vs. Seahawks:

“Woods was in the slot 71.4% of his snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). Compared to his percentages this season, though, it was a tremendous uptick in percentage. On the season, Woods has been used in the slot only 46.9% of the time, and in 2015 it was 31.7% of the time”

Boom. Roasted.

That’s it.

Ok. So it was just one game with Woods utilized in the slot most of the time. But it’s tough to argue against his effectiveness against the Seahawks.

In fact, here’s this, also from Turner:

“From the slot position, Woods ran 30 routes (4th most in week nine from the slot), was targeted 11 times (#1), hauled in eight receptions (#1), and had 131 yards (#1). He had the second-most yards per route run in the NFL for week nine, and he was just an absolute nightmare for the Seattle defense.”

Given Woods’ size — 6’0”, 200 pounds -- especially relative to today’s NFL wideouts, it makes sense that he’d be much better suited for a slot role than one on the outside.

You know the “middle of the field passing” many are infatuated with regarding Taylor?

In Week 9, the Bills QB completed went 3 of 4 for 59 yards to Woods on passes between the numbers, and all of those connections came on plays in which the fourth-year wideout was lined up in the slot.

Charles Clay more involved in passing offense

It’s fair to say that among Bills offensive players, Charles Clay draws the most ire from fans.

To most, the versatile tight end hasn’t produced nearly as much as he should, especially factoring in the sizable deal he signed with Buffalo during the 2015 offseason.

Last year, Clay averaged just under six targets, four receptions and an even 40 yards per game. He scored three touchdowns in the 13 games he played.

This season, the 27-year-old tight end has averaged five targets, three catches and 31 receiving yards per game. He has yet to score a touchdown.

Those numbers need to increase for Buffalo’s passing game to become more diverse over the last month and a half.

Clay’s played a whopping 85.2% of the Bills snaps and has more than held his own as a blocker. His +6.6 run-blocking grade is basically even with Eric Wood’s score.

And for as much as I don’t want to overlook Clay’s unheralded value as a blocker, at 6’3” and 245 pounds with impressive quick-twitch movement skills, he’s a mismatch as a receiver who shouldn’t be a third or fourth option.

The blame for Clay’s decreased involvement in the passing game is to be shared between himself, Taylor, and how Anthony Lynn has chosen to utilize the tight end.

But with Nick O’Leary’s continued improvement as a blocker (+3.0 run-block grade on 182 total snaps), it’s time for Clay to be featured more prominently as a receiver and for Taylor to not only look his way but throw his way more often.

Better back-seven communication on defense

While the other changes were specific and somewhat quantifiable, this tweak isn’t.

The Bills defenders have been better communicating this season than they were in 2015, but recently, missed assignments and blown coverages have led to Buffalo allowing big plays.

Was there supposed to be a safety over the top on the long touchdown Stephon Gilmore gave up to Chris Hogan?

Against the Seahawks, Buffalo had multiples instances in which more than one defender seemed confused with new assignments after an offensive player simply motioned, which led to a variety chunk plays. The Patriots did a lot of that too.

Occasionally in Seattle, motion wasn’t even needed to get Buffalo’s defenders out of position. A few of them just flat out handled incorrect assignments. At least I think so. Here’s an example:

Talking among linebackers, corners, and safeties must continue for the Bills. Frankly, they probably need to talk more before the snap.

Before Week 9’s game against the Seahawks, assistant coach Ed Reed challenged Buffalo’s secondary to communicate more.

While the Bills did a significantly better job of that in the second half, which was part of the reason why Russell Wilson threw for just 53 yards and Seattle scored three points after halftime, Buffalo’s secondary was shredded for 229 yards through the air in the first half.

Yes, some of that was due to impeccable quarterbacking from Wilson, but the Bills can’t have frequent missed assignments on the back end.

Oh yeah, also... Buffalo’s defensive backs should prioritize playing the ball in the air more aggressively too.