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Buffalo Bills first quarter report card: offense

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The Bills earn some decent marks, but there is much room for improvement

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

After one month of the NFL regular season, the Buffalo Bills stand alone at the top of the AFC East division with a 3-1 record. With the first quarter of the season in the books, it allows us a chance to step back and evaluate what the team has done thus far, and what they can still improve upon in the future. For offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s group, there have been some good signs and bad.

Quarterback: B+

I can’t bring myself to give Buffalo’s signal-caller an “A,” even if Tyrod Taylor has been solid in the offense that many say (including myself) was not built to suit his strengths. As always with Taylor, evaluating him via statistics is difficult, as his lack of volume (he has 99 attempts in 4 games, good for 29th in the NFL) leads to a lack of counting statistics. Overall, Taylor is completing 65.7% of passes, he has 5 touchdowns against only one interception (and that was on a ball Charles Clay dropped on the season’s first drive), and has a 100.7 quarterback rating. Taylor may not be perfect, but he is performing about as well as one could reasonably expect him to perform given his career norms.

Running backs: B-

I’m cutting this group a little bit of a break due to the offensive line play. Expectations for LeSean McCoy, but he has not met them early on in the year. Despite being 8th in the NFL in rushing attempts, he is 16th in yards (68 carries for 216 yards), which gives him a career-worst yards per attempt average of 3.2. To be fair, the Bills have faced off against two absolutely phenomenal defenses in the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos, and McCoy carried the ball 26 times for 30 yards in those games. Against the New York Jets and the Atlanta Falcons, Shady has combined for 186 yards on 38 carries, good for an average of 4.89 yards per attempt. While McCoy has struggled as a runner, he has flourished as a receiver. He leads the team with 21 receptions on the year, and he’s second on the team with 163 receiving yards.

Mike Tolbert has been a capable backup, rushing 34 times for 119 yards and the team’s lone rushing touchdown; however, he has not been spectacular. He’s essentially been what we thought he could be: someone who serves as a decent change-of-pace option for the dynamic McCoy.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B-

I’m combining the groups for simplicity’s sake, but it is a difficult crew to grade overall. Charles Clay has earned a clear “A,” as he leads the team in targets (25), and receiving yards (227), is tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns (2), and is second in receptions (18). If he continues on this pace, he will set career-highs in every statistical category.

The only wide receiver other than Clay to grade positively overall is newcomer Jordan Matthews. His overall numbers aren’t overwhelming (10 catches, 162 yards, 1 touchdown), but in the context of the entire receiver group, he is the clear standout. His absence over the next month as a he recuperates from a thumb injury will be difficult to overcome. Rookie Zay Jones has been disappointing over the season’s first month, displaying shaky hands and a lack of rapport with Tyrod Taylor. Jones has managed to haul in only 4 of his 17 targets, an abysmal percentage under any circumstances. Andre Holmes is out-producing Jones on half the targets. Holmes has 6 catches on 8 targets for 35 yards and 2 touchdowns. One of those touchdowns should have been caught by Jones, but a lucky bounce after Jones dropped the ball allowed Holmes the chance to make the catch.

If there is any offensive grouping that could stand to be improved, it’s the wide receiver group. Oh, and the...

Offensive Line: C

Color me unimpressed with this group. Sure, Cordy Glenn has missed time, and his replacement, rookie Dion Dawkins, has been okay for the most part. The right side of the line has been a sieve, looking equal part slow and weak at varying points. Jordan Mills has been particularly brutal, but John Miller hasn’t been overly effective, either. Miller and Richie Incognito have each already been whistled for 3 penalties in 4 games (only 7 offensive linemen have more). Last year, LeSean McCoy averaged almost 3 yards per rush before contact; this year, he’s averaging a little over 1 yard per rush before contact. That’s a significant backslide for a group that looked like one of the league’s best last season. Factor in the 12 sacks allowed and there is nowhere else to go but up for this group.

Overall Grade: B

Overall, the offense has been exactly what it needs to be in three of the four games. It has sustained drives, given the defense time to breathe, and put up enough points to succeed. Also, the lack of turnovers has been excellent, as the team is currently in the midst of its lowest-turnover rate ever. While there are areas that could improve, this is a grouping that has been a little better than expected overall.