by Pat Freeman
The Buffalo Bills are right in the middle of the playoff hunt which is exactly where they felt they would be coming into this season. The only difference that I think they were hoping that EJ Manuel would have been their starting quarterback, and not the veteran Kyle Orton. The following are a list of grades for the Buffalo Bills at the mid-season point.
Running game– This was supposed to be an area of strength of this team but has become disgraceful. The running plays for the Bills have been shut down by opposing defensive coordinators, and our offensive staff has failed to find an answer so far this season. This problem became worse in the Minnesota game with the injury of Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller in the same game. Grade D-
Passing game– The passing game of this team has become our strength led by rookie sensation Sammy Watkins but with Kyle Orton has the quarterback look for more mass protection packages the second half of the season to cut back on 16 sacks in four games as the starter as compared to only six sacks for EJ Manuel. The Orton advantage can be found in his completion percentage which is around 67% as compared to EJ Manuel at 58%. Grade B
Offensive line– This is the most disappointing group on the offensive side of the ball this year. The play of our interior linemen has been terrible. Both Guards and center Eric Wood has struggled all year in run blocking. Pass blocking will become more of an issue because of Kyle Orton who is an immobile quarterback. Grade D-
Offensive Coordinator– Nathaniel Hackett in my eyesight is in way over his head and has been bailed out by a very good defense and a veteran quarterback. The Bills need to upgrade their offensive coaching staff in the off season because this group lacks the experience to mentor young players. Grade D
Defensive line– This is the strength of the Bills with an effective 7-8 man rotation. Marcel Dareus and Jerry Hughes are playing their best football of their careers, and are leading the team in sacks. There were two areas of concern for this unit from the off season this year. Those areas were stopping the run and limiting big plays, especially on third down. Well mission accomplished so far. Grade A
Linebackers– This group has performed extremely well despite the absence of Kiko Alonso for the year with a knee injury. The addition of Brandon Spikes and the emergence of Nigel Bradham as tackling machines have made this group one of the best in the AFC. B+
Defensive Backs– This group has just gotten better each week being led by Leodis McKelvin who is leading the team in interceptions, and the addition of veteran Buffalo native Corey Graham. This group has played solidly the entire helping the Bills to a winning mid point record.
Special Teams– Kicker Dan Carpenter and punter Colton Schmidt make this one of the most effective units in the NFL. The kick off specialist Jordan Gay to me is a waste of a valuable roster spot. Grade B+
Offensive Coordinator- Nathaniel Hackett has struggled since being named offensive coordinator and the decline of Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel and EJ Manuel in my eyesight rests with his inexperience to develop the most critical position on the team. This season Nathaniel Hackett owes his job to the experience of Kyle Orton, and the futility of our current schedule. The Bills offense has struggled in all the major categories despite having incredible talent.
Defensive Coordinator– This is the strength of the team and Jim Schwartz has done an outstanding job this year. Grade A
Head Coach Doug Marrone– First we have to give him credit for the team being 5-3 at this point but I think the problem with Coach Marrone is who he’s hired on the offensive side of the ball including himself. The offensive staff of this team is the Achilles heel of this team, and if they do not make the playoffs I believe that will be the reason. Grade C-
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