The Bills had perhaps their worst showing of the season in the 23-10 loss to the Steelers. Before they move on to another contest against the rival New York Jets, first we take a detailed look at the game that was and how each individual offensive and defensive player looked throughout the ordeal.
Every week, with the help of the All-22 film available through NFL.com's Game Rewind package, WGR will provide the standouts, the duds and everything in between from the game that was.
For each player that appeared in the game on offense or defense, you'll see their name in bold, with a set of numbers after it. Example: Ed Harken (54, -2, 2.7). The first number (54) represents the snap count of that game, the second (-2) represents the individual players plus-minus of positive plays to negative plays in that game. The third number (2.7) represents the weighted Grade Point Average assigned to that player by the author.
OFFENSE (67 total plays)
Faced with expectations for the first time, EJ Manuel (67, -12, 0.7) had the worst game of his young career. The peaks and valleys are to be expected when it comes to rookie quarterbacks, but not many were expecting so little production from him, even though he was sidelined for a month with a knee injury.
Manuel certainly had his chances early on in the game. The Bills started their first three drives with only 29, 44 and 56 yards to go to the end zone respectively. On those three opportunities, the Bills scored only 3 points, gained only 33 yards and most importantly allowed the Steelers to stay in the game.
Manuel's biggest problem throughout the day was his overall accuracy. It didn't matter if it was on out routes, slants, throws over the middle, fades or deep shots, the young quarterback struggled to get a handle on any of it. Whether it was a footwork or rust issue, Manuel was missing consistently.
His receivers would be open and he quite literally threw them into coverage. On his interception in the fourth quarter, not only did he lead the safety over to the play with his eyes, but he also threw it to Goodwin too far inside and it made the play that much easier for Ryan Clark.
His best throw of the day was over the middle of the field to a wide open Stevie Johnson. He was able to step into the attempt and hit Johnson in stride. When it came to tight window throws though, Manuel wasn't able to find the touch necessary outside of a pair of garbage-time completions.
Continuing a trend from his earlier performances, Manuel didn't allow his receivers to go through their routes when he had ample time in the pocket. If a receiver wasn't open within 2.5 seconds, the quarterback would dump it down to a running back or tight end for a minimal gain.
On many different plays throughout the Steelers game, Manuel had time in the pocket and a receiver on the cusp of getting open when he elected to dump it down. Eventually the young quarterback is going to have to prove that he can hit tight window throws down the field consistently. He's been quite hesitant to try it and shows the tendency to rather play the risk aversion game to instead attempt to nickel and dime the defense.
It was rare on Sunday, but running the ball was Manuel's strongest part to his game. On the team's first possession, he didn't see anyone open and decided to run for the first down. He got past the marker and then smartly slid to the grass to avoid contact. In the second half, he took a rollout towards the sideline and gained the necessary amount for a first down and got out of bounds to avoid contact.
If the Bills are going to be successful, they need a much, much better performance out of Manuel than what they got on Sunday. They'll likely try and get him back in the swing of things and to the level he was playing before suffering the knee injury. He'll have his hands full against a Jets team that made him play poorly earlier in the season.
Fully healthy and off the injury report, the Bills were excited to have C.J. Spiller (22, -3, 1.7) back in a big way. He started off the game in the backfield, but wasn't able to stay there throughout the afternoon mostly because of poor decision making. Spiller had four first quarter carries and likely drew the ire of head coach Doug Marrone for trying to do too much. On his second, third and fourth run of the game, Spiller didn't take what the offensive line had blocked for him and bounced it to the left for a total of one yard. He didn't receive another carry until the third quarter, when he was running it a bit better. He even bounced a run out successfully in the third quarter for seven yards. It wasn't an ideal day for Spiller though, and clearly he needs to regain the trust of the coaching staff before they increase his role to the level most thought it would be coming into the season. Fred Jackson (44, 1, 2.7) was consistent throughout the game. He had a fantastic run on the team's first drive of the game, a six-yard gain that should have been stopped for two but he spun off contact and gained the additional yardage. With Spiller still struggling to see the field the way the coaches want him to, Jackson should continue to see a good amount of work each week. Frank Summers (10, 0, 2.3) and Tashard Choice (1, 0, 2.3) both got into the game, but neither really stood out.
In what surely had to be a frustrating day for the offense, perhaps no group more than the wide receivers could understand that. Stevie Johnson (43, 3, 2,7) found openings all game long, but Manuel could only complete a pass to him three times despite Johnson's 10 targets. To make matters worse, Johnson left the game with a groin injury and now his status for Sunday is in doubt. When he did get his hands on the ball, the veteran wideout made some nice plays. He broke a tackle on a second quarter reception to gain 23 yards on one short route and also had a solid 20-yard reception over the middle of the field. T.J. Graham (62, 2, 2.7) was definitely open a few separate times against Pittsburgh, but Manuel had a hard time identifying it or in allowing the route to develop. He certainly hasn't been the Bills' top receiver, but Graham was open a few times for bigger plays in the game. Marquise Goodwin (46, 3, 2.7) made most of his contributions in the blocking game, but was also open on his fair share of plays as well. Marcus Easley (11, 1, 2.7) made his first catch of the season and then followed it up with a tough catch over the middle, both of which coming during Buffalo's garbage-time drive. Chris Hogan (8, 1, 2.7) made the best reception of the afternoon when he reached back with one-hand to snare an errant pass from Manuel. He then left the game with concussion-like symptoms after that play.
Scott Chandler (45, 1, 2.7) put the drops from the Kansas City game behind him and made a couple of nice plays when the ball was within his catching radius. He made a nice adjustment on a third quarter catch that was behind the momentum of his body. Chandler also made a solid play to break two tackles on a short reception and gained a first down. Chris Gragg (16, 1, 2.7) caught his first pass of the season and also was the recipient of the Bills' lone touchdown. He was the prevailing player throughout the team's garbage-time drive. He missed a big opportunity in the second quarter, though, with the Steelers defense all going one way Gragg ran out to the right in the flat and had green grass ahead of him. The ball was delivered properly but he dropped the pass. Lee Smith (27, 0, 2.3) was once again the de facto sixth offensive lineman. Manuel even tried throwing him a pass on one play but the tight end was blanketed by tight coverage.
In their game against Pittsburgh, the right side of the offensive line struggled throughout. Right guard Kraig Urbik (67, -3, 2.0) and right tackle Erik Pears (67, -3, 2.0) each failed to get a consistent handle on their assignments. Urbik lost a pair of first half blocks that blew up separate Fred Jackson rushing attempts. He was later beaten by Cameron Heyward for a sack in the fourth quarter as well. Pears wasn't technically beaten for a sack, but him getting beat twice in the second half led to two quarterback takedowns for the Steelers. Eric Wood (67, 1, 2.7) had the best game along the line, helping spring a pair of long Fred Jackson runs in the second half. On the left side, left tackle Cordy Glenn (67, 0, 2.7) and left guard Doug Legursky (67, -1, 2.3) didn't struggle nearly as much as the other side of the line, but both players each lost some key blocks in pass protection that made Manuel panic in the pocket.
DEFENSE (68 total plays)
Although the Bills gave up some chunk plays on defense, the play of their rotation along the line didn't feed much into that. Kyle Williams (62, 6, 3.7) was on fire throughout the game, chipping in a sack in the second quarter and three separate tackles for loss in the second half. Williams fought through solo blocks and double-teams to bring down the ball carriers. Outside of a costly encroachment penalty on a fourth down, Marcell Dareus (61, 3, 3.3) was once again one of the best players on the field for Buffalo. After a mostly quiet first half, Dareus took the second half by storm with a strip sack of Ben Roethlisberger, another almost sack and a tackle for loss in the fourth quarter where he completely dominated David DeCastro. The penalty is notable though, considering it cost the Bills defense to surrender four additional points. In his normal limited action, Alan Branch (33, 2, 3.0) was able to help on run defense quite capably. Twice in the first half Branch got by his block and forced Le'Veon Bell out wide into the arms of a defender for merely a two-yard gain both times. Corbin Bryant (23, 1, 2.7) bounced back quite well with a solid pass rush on Roethlisberger in the second quarter. However, Bryant was bowled over by a Pittsburgh blocker on Bell's touchdown run in the third quarter. Stefan Charles (6, 0, 2.3) didn't have nearly the same impact as he did in his first game with the team, but was good at the point of attack.
Despite having five less sacks than his own teammate on the season, Jerry Hughes (28, 5, 3.3) has been churning out one solid performance after another in his limited action this season. Against Pittsburgh, Hughes had two sacks of his own and very nearly could have been in line for a third had Kyle Williams not gotten to Roethlisberger first on a second quarter play. Hughes got into the backfield against Kelvin Beachum four separate times in his 28 snaps. Mario Williams (59, -2, 2.0) didn't get on the stat sheet for a sack for the second straight week, but where he excelled in edge contain against the Chiefs he lacked against the Steelers. On three separate plays in the second quarter, Pittsburgh gained 42 yards because Williams didn't fulfill his defensive responsibilities in that respect. Jamaal Westerman (6, 0, 2.3) also got some time on the field mostly as a down lineman in obvious passing situations.
Kiko Alonso (68, 1, 2.7) and his instincts are definitely one of the most fun things to watch when breaking down the Bills defense. He blew up a first quarter swing pass attempt to Le'Veon Bell for a three-yard loss, then caused a second quarter screen play to fail by blowing up that attempt as well. He got a little too aggressive a couple of times which is par for the Kiko course at times this season. With Roethlisberger under duress, he left his man to try and bring the quarterback down for the sack. Instead, Roethlisberger shoveled it off to Alonso's assignment and Bell scampered for a 34-yard gain. Arthur Moats (23, -4, 1.7) struggled for the second straight week against the run. Whether it was him being too hesitant or not being able to find his way through traffic, Moats just couldn't get a handle on the Steelers' rushing attack for the most part.
Strongside linebacker Manny Lawson (44, 3, 3.0) once again showed his strengths in edge contain. He doesn't stand out too often for other reasons, but Lawson has that part of his game down pat. Against Pittsburgh, he did a fine job of keeping rushing attempts inside so Buffalo's defensive linemen and inside linebackers could get their hands on the ball carriers. Weakside linebacker Nigel Bradham (23, 0, 2.3) has seen his playing time go up in recent weeks, and finished a pair of run stuffing attempts that were set up by the defensive line. He did not look good on Bell's touchdown however, as he was pancaked into the end zone by Mike Adams on the play.
The Buffalo Bills are patiently waiting for the return of the Stephon Gilmore (68, -3, 1.7) they saw at training camp and in the preseason. Since returning from wrist surgery, Gilmore hasn't been able to regain the level of play that he had leading up to his injury and has been picked on the past two weeks. The Steelers went after Gilmore with both Jerricho Cotchery and Antonio Brown and had success with both. Gilmore was often caught trailing his assignment over the middle of the field and allowing the reception. Brown even was able to switch fields on Gilmore and extended the play for a 40-yard gain on one attempt. The Cotchery touchdown was all based on Gilmore getting lulled to sleep. The wideout sold the run block, Gilmore let his guard down and then Cotchery released and caught the perfect throw from Roethlisberger. There were signs of improvement for Gilmore, sticking with Brown on one play over the middle and also blowing up a wide receiver screen play in the first half. But Gilmore needs to find his legs again and start trusting his wrist in press coverage, or else teams will continue to go after him. Leodis McKelvin (57, 1, 2.7) was successfully thrown on for big gains only twice, surrendering a 24-yard and 20-yard reception to Antonio Brown. Other than that, McKelvin showed good recognition of a wide receiver screen, stayed step-for-step with Emmanuel Sanders down the sideline and even chipped in on run support. Nickell Robey (25, 1, 2.7) wasn't tested much, but helped make a big third-down stop when Roethlisberger went to Sanders in hopes to extend the drive. The wideout made the catch, but Robey and Jairus Byrd both stopped him short. For the second straight week, Ron Brooks (1, 0, 2.3) didn't have much of a role on defense.
It was only a matter of time before Jairus Byrd (68, 3, 3.3) popped for a big play during a game. Byrd read Roethlisberger's eyes beautifully and broke on a pass intended for Markus Wheaton to intercept it. Later in the game, he helped Robey with the third-down stop on a throw to Sanders. It wasn't his most dominating game as a member of the Bills, but he's getting closer and closer to his normal playing level. Aaron Williams (61, 3, 3.0) had a very successful game in both run support and in coverage. He was only asked to cover tight end Heath Miller, which Williams handled easily. Da'Norris Searcy (18, 2, 3.0) crashed the line of scrimmage twice early in the game to force a minimal gain on a run and an early throw by Roethlisberger. He had to leave the game with a hamstring injury. Jim Leonhard (14, 1, 2.7) made a nice play to fire through a running lane and forced Bell out wide into another Bills defender. The Steelers gained no yards on the play.
Year to date grades, ranked by aggregate GPA (Last week's overall rank)
- DL Kyle Williams - 3.23 (1)
- ILB Kiko Alonso - 3.12 (2)
- DL Marcell Dareus - 3.09 (3)
- SLB Manny Lawson - 3.00 (4)
- RLB Jerry Hughes - 2.94 (8)
- HB Fred Jackson - 2.91 (7)
- WR Marquise Goodwin - 2.88 (5)
- DE Mario Williams - 2.85 (6)
- CB Nickell Robey - 2.85 (9)
- WR Stevie Johnson - 2.83 (10)
- S Jairus Byrd - 2.77 (17)
- LT Cordy Glenn - 2.76 (11)
- WR Robert Woods - 2.70 (13)
- C Eric Wood - 2.68 (14)
- DL Alan Branch - 2.67 (15)
- HB C.J. Spiller - 2.65 (12)
- CB Leodis McKelvin - 2.63 (16)
- DL Alex Carrington - 2.56 (18)
- TE Scott Chandler - 2.55 (20)
- RG Kraig Urbik - 2.51 (19)
- S Aaron Williams - 2.50 (26)
- RT Erik Pears - 2.49 (21)
- TE Lee Smith - 2.49 (22)
- WLB Nigel Bradham - 2.46 (24)
- S Da'Norris Searcy - 2.41 (27)
- DL Corbin Bryant - 2.38 (31)
- WR T.J. Graham - 2.35 (30)
- S Jim Leonhard - 2.34 (29)
- ILB Arthur Moats - 2.30 (28)
- CB Stephon Gilmore - 2.28 (23)
- QB EJ Manuel - 2.20 (25)
- FB Frank Summers - 2.20 (32)
- LG Doug Legursky - 2.12 (33)
- QB Thad Lewis - 1.90 (34)
- CB Justin Rogers - 1.74 (35)
- QB Jeff Tuel - 1.64 (36)
- LG Colin Brown - 1.30 (37)
**Those with (NR) beside their names just eclipsed the minimum plays on the season
Week 1 - New England 23, Buffalo 21
Week 2 - Buffalo 24, Carolina 23
Week 3 - New York Jets 27, Buffalo 20
Week 4 - Buffalo 23, Baltimore 20
Week 5 - Cleveland 37, Buffalo 24
Week 6 - Cincinnati 27, Buffalo 24
Week 7 - Buffalo 23 Miami 21
Week 8 - New Orleans 35, Buffalo 17
Week 9 - Kansas City 23, Buffalo 13