BBD Assistant Editor: Ryan Talbot
I’ll never be out when it comes to the Buffalo Bills, but things were looking bleak for the 2013 season going into Week 7. The Bills sat at 2-4 and had three teams with winning records — the Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs — on the horizon. Buffalo needed to find a way to beat the Dolphins, who came into the game with a 3-2 record.
It wasn’t pretty, but as Dan Hope pointed out, the defense led the Bills to a 23-21 victory. Due to the team’s defensive performance, this week’s Making the Grade focuses on Buffalo’s defense, as there were few bright spots on the Bills offense.
All grades are courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required). In case you need a refresher, a PFF grade of 0.0 is an average grade.
Buffalo Bills Who Rumbled
Mario Williams (+4.5)
“Super Mario” was the Bills’ MVP on the field yesterday and Pro Football Focus agreed. PFF ranked Williams as the NFL’s second-best 3-4 outside linebacker in Week 7 with a +4.5 rating (the only OLB to perform better was Robert Mathis of the Indianapolis Colts with a +6.4 rating).
Williams played 63 defensive snaps against Miami and received a +4.1 grade as a pass-rusher. He recorded two sacks on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the second of which was a late-game forced fumble recovered by the Bills to set up their game-winning field goal by Dan Carpenter. He was also credited with three additional quarterback hits and two additional quarterback hurries for a total of seven quarterback pressure.
Williams was credited with three defensive stops and received a +0.2 grade in run defense, and he did not incur any penalties in Sunday’s game.
A target for criticism in 2012, you’d be hard pressed to find many faults in Williams’ game this season.
Jerry Hughes (+4.1)
The Buffalo Bills fleeced the Indianapolis Colts when they traded Kelvin Sheppard for Jerry Hughes. Hughes has been one of the NFL’s best outside linebackers this season, and Pro Football Focus agrees.
Hughes has an +8.9 overall rating on the year from PFF, the 8th-best rating among all 3-4 outside linebackers. Sheppard, on the other hand, has a -9.5 overall rating, which ranks him 47th among inside linebackers.
This week was one of Hughes’ best performances, as he created havoc in the Dolphins’ backfield. He earned a +4.1 overall rating from PFF, good for third among all 3-4 outside linebackers in Week 7.
In just 28 pass-rush snaps, Hughes recorded six quarterback hurries, which ranked him among the top five in total quarterback pressures from a 3-4 outside linebacker in Week 7. He was decent in run defense, recording one tackle and earning a +0.9 rating for the game.
Hughes’ contributions don’t always show up on the stat sheet, but his consistent play has been noticed by the folks over at PFF.
Nickell Robey (+3.5)
Nickell Robey is a defensive version of Russell Wilson. He had a fantastic collegiate career at USC, but his draft stock fell due to his size (5’7″, 165 pounds). Though while Wilson was a third-round pick, Robey went undrafted altogether.
Buffalo, who has had its fair share of secondary injuries, has benefited from Robey’s strong play at slot cornerback this season. On the first defensive series of the game, Robey caught Ryan Tannehill staring Brandon Gibson down on a passing attempt and when Tannehill went to throw, Robey jumped the route, intercepted the ball and scored a defensive touchdown for the Bills.
Robey only played 38 snaps as he suffered a shoulder injury in the middle of Sunday’s game, but he still recorded three total pass defenses and received a +2.9 grade in pass coverage for the game. The Bills will hope Robey’s injury is nothing serious, as he has been an outstanding slot cornerback this year.
Marcell Dareus (+3.2)
Dareus is having a career year and is finally looking like the player the Bills envisioned when they drafted him third overall in the 2011 NFL draft. Pro Football Focus ranks Dareus, who has 34 total tackles and four sacks this season, sixteenth among all defensive and nose tackles in the NFL on the year with a +7.8 overall rating.
His +3.2 rating against Miami came mostly in run defense where he scored a +3.1 grade, second best in the NFL among all DT/NT in Week 7. Dareus also had a +0.2 in penalties and -0.1 in pass rush on 53 snaps. He was credited with hitting Tannehill once on Sunday while registering four stops, the highest defensive stop total on the team.
Buffalo Bills Who Stumbled
Jim Leonhard (-4.4)
Safety Jim Leonhard isn’t too bad out on the field in small doses, but on Sunday, when Leonhard was on the field for 63 snaps, his flaws were exposed in a game where he received a -4.4 overall grade, tied for the second lowest grade in the league among all safeties in Week 7.
Leonhard scored a -4.3 in run defense, the worst rating given out to any safety in Week 7, for missing four tackles against the Dolphins. Leonhard was decent in 36 coverage snaps, scoring a +0.1 overall grade in that category, but if Buffalo limits Leonhard’s snaps against the run, both Leonhard and the team could benefit.
Da’Norris Searcy (-2.0)
Searcy, another safety, had a rough go of it against Miami. He received a -1.1 grade coming in pass coverage, though this grade seems a bit misleading as PFF reported that Searcy was only targeted once, a four-yard pass that was caught for a touchdown. He struggled in other capacities as well, and received game ratings of -0.8 in run defense, -0.2 in pass rush and +0.1 in penalties.
Overall, Searcy has had an up-and-down season with an overall rating of -2.5. Sunday’s contest against Miami was a down game.
Stephon Gilmore (-1.8)
New week, same excuse: In his second week back on the field while still recovering from a fractured wrist, Gilmore couldn’t play to his strengths with a massive cast on his wrist.
If you’ve watched Gilmore, you know that he likes to play an aggressive style. The cast presents Gilmore from being aggressive as he would be, and that has shown in his play against the Dolphins on Sunday and against the Bengals one week earlier.
Gilmore received a -2.0 grade in pass coverage from PFF for his game against the Dolphins. A +0.2 rating in penalties during his 36 defensive snaps helped his overall rating slightly, but he gave up three receptions for 72 yards in four targets.
Gilmore is struggling, but once he is healthy enough to remove his cast, you should see him return to his aggressive style.
Manny Lawson (-1.7)
Lawson suffered a hamstring injury two games ago against the Bengals on Oct. 13, and he had to leave the game early once again after re-aggravating it against the Dolphins.
Lawson was only on the field for 29 snaps and he received a -1.7 grade in run defense, having two missed tackles in his limited time on the field according to PFF.
Lawson’s play was clearly affected by his hamstring, however, so it’s difficult to be too judgmental of his play.
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Tags: Da'Norris Searcy, Game Reviews, Jerry Hughes, Jim Leonhard, Making the Grade, Manny Lawson, Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams, Miami Dolphins, Nickell Robey, Postgame Takeaways, Stephon Gilmore, Week 7