The second quarter of the 2017 NFL season really epitomized being a fan of the Buffalo Bills. There was frustration (a 20-16 loss on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals). There was doubt that gave way to hope (a comeback victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). There was euphoria (a blowout victory against the Oakland Raiders). There was disgust (a blowout loss on the road against the New York Jets). A 2-2 record over the last 4 games leaves the Bills at 5-3, which is good for sixth in the AFC at the season’s halfway point. In this installment of second quarter grades, we’ll look at the offense, a unit which made some strides, but ultimately still has a long way to go if the Bills are going to shed their “pretender” status to become true contenders.
Tyrod Taylor has quietly put together a very good season, and he showed a great deal of improvement over the last four games, especially after the bye week. Taylor completed 20 passes in each of the last 3 games, and he completed 89-of-137 (64.9%) passes overall throughout the four-game stretch. He totaled 884 yards passing at 6.5 yards per attempt, throwing 5 touchdowns to one interception. He also added 92 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdown while losing a fumble. That gave Taylor 7 touchdowns and 2 turnovers over the season’s second quarter. Taylor is 8th in the league in completion percentage among quarterbacks who have at least as many attempts (236) as he does, and he is 11th in the league in quarterback rating (95.8). Although he averages 203.5 yards per game on the season, he upped that average in the last four games, averaging 221 yards per game in that stretch. It will never be about volume with Taylor, as his yardage ranking (22nd) would indicate, but he has been very good for what he’s been asked to be.
This “group” is tough to evaluate, because it’s clearly lacking a viable change-of-pace option for starter LeSean McCoy. He carried the ball 81 times over the last four games, rushing for 330 yards and 3 touchdowns in that span. His 4.1 yards per carry average helped increase his season total from 3.4 yards per tote in the season’s first four games to 3.7 yards per carry overall on the year. He has continued to act as Buffalo’s de facto number one receiver, as well, grabbing a team-high 17 catches over the last four games. He had 79 receiving yards total. The problem is that McCoy very rarely comes out, and when he does, veteran Mike Tolbert just isn’t dynamic enough to make much happen consistently. Tolbert carried the ball 14 times for 62 yards, good for 4.4 yards per carry; however, 18 of those yards came on just one carry, meaning that Tolbert’s other 13 touches went for 44 yards. He also had 8 catches for 30 yards. McCoy’s home-road splits this season are incredible, as it’s indicative of how well the team has played at home overall and how poorly they’ve played away from Orchard Park, as well. He has 86 carries for 373 yards at home, good for a 4.3 yards per carry average, while he has 63 carries for 175 yards on the road, only 2.75 yards per carry. Much of that has to do with the offensive line being much better at home, but we’ll talk about them in a bit.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C+
This is a “B” for the tight end group, and a “C-” for the wide receiver group. Check out the numbers:
Buffalo Bills WR/TE, Games 5-8
It hasn’t been pretty for the much-maligned receiver group, but things are starting to turn the corner. The team added some speed with Deonte Thompson, and he’s shown an instant rapport with Taylor. His only “dud,” a 1-catch outing for 5 yards against the Oakland Raiders, can be explained away by a finger dislocation suffered in the early going. Otherwise, he has led the Bills in receiving in two of his three games with the team. Zay Jones has certainly come on of late, and he had his best game as a professional against the Jets (6 catches, 53 yards, 1 touchdown) before injuring his knee when he beat Buster Skrine so badly that all the Jets’ corner could do was stick his leg out and trip Jones.
Nick O’Leary was excellent in Charles Clay’s place, and he should continue to see looks even upon Clay’s return, which should hopefully be next week against the New Orleans Saints. Adding Clay and newcomer Kelvin Benjamin to this group could mark a tremendous turning point in the season.
Offensive Line: D+
There aren’t many bright spots to discuss in the trenches for the Bills. The right side of the line has been flaming dumpster full of old tires for the season’s entirety, with John Miller’s awful giving way to Vlad Ducasse’s slightly less awful, and Jordan Mills managing to maintain his starting position even in the face of repeated signals that he cannot consistently play it at even an average level. With Cordy Glenn ranging from great (the Oakland game) to injured (Cincinnati and Tampa Bay) to downright atrocious (the Jets), the line’s best player has not been its highest paid. Richie Incognito is among the most penalized linemen in the league with four holding penalties on the season (it doesn’t seem like much, but only 15 offensive linemen have more). Really, Eric Wood has been the line’s lone consistent bright spot, and even he played poorly on Thursday night against the Jets.
It is absolutely baffling that the coaching staff has not given Ryan Groy an opportunity to start at right guard, or even right tackle, for that matter. If Glenn is at full health, Dion Dawkins should at least have a chance to unseat Mills on the right side, but while the latter has been atrocious overall, the former has not been great in limited duty, either. Dawkins has been adequate for a rookie, but below-average overall. If they don’t think Dawkins is the answer, Seantrel Henderson is at least someone new over there, and if we know that Mills is bad, we can at least see a different option.
Offense Overall: B-
I think this group still has plenty of work to do if this team is going to play meaningful games in December, let alone January. With tough matchups looming against the Saints, on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, and a home date against the New England Patriots, the third quarter slate will really test Buffalo’s mettle.