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Midseason Report Card: Buffalo Bills Have Some Work to do

They have a first-class defense, but will need their offense to catch up to be a legitimate title contender.

We saw as early as Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers that the Buffalo Bills might not be able to move the ball down the field as easily or as quickly as they did the year before.

That suspicion has become a reality now that we're just about halfway through the NFL's expanded 17-game season.

The midseason report card for the Bills reflects their uneven offense and their 5-3 record, which is good for first place in the AFC East, which they won last year for the first time since 1995.

Because the schedule now is 17 games, a true midseason report card couldn't be posted until halftime of this coming Sunday's game against the New York Jets. But we'll be too busy then. So here goes:

Quarterback: B

Josh Allen has had moments where he looks like the player who was MVP runner-up a year ago.

He also has moments where he looks like the Josh Allen of 2018 and 2019, with questionable mechanics and even more questionable decisions with the football.

The good: His sack percentage (3.6) and interception percentage (1.6) are career lows.

The bad: He's not as accurate (65.5 completion percentage) as last year (69.2) and he's averaging nearly 1 full yard less per pass attempt than last year (7.0 compared to 7.9), which is significant and alarming.

What Allen needs to do in the second half of the season is play a little more conservatively, knowing there's no harm in dropping back to punt, especially with this year's Buffalo defense.

And it also would help if he could spot open receivers more often when under pressure. Because there's almost always an option. But too often a hurried throw is made to a covered receiver instead.

The mechanics? Meh.

He has such a strong arm that he can fling a perfect spiral 60 yards off his back foot. The Bills could live with him not stepping into every throw. What they can't afford to have is Allen taking too long to get the ball out because he doesn't see the whole field at times.

Running back: C

The way Devin Singletary (73 carries, 355 yards) and Zack Moss (65 carries, 233 yards, 18 catches for 166 yards) have handled splitting the duties is admirable. They have made the best of the limited openings and opportunities they've had.

But because none of them are considered NFL elite players, they're often incorrectly labeled as "weak links" in an offense that can't play up to potential unless the position is upgraded.

To this, we say: "poppycock."

Better run-blocking and less mistakes to keep getting behind the chains are the keys to getting more from their ground game.

Tight end: B+

After two uneven seasons, Dawson Knox (21 catches on 27 targets for 286 yards) is experiencing a breakthrough year in which a broken hand has temporarily derailed him.

But even after missing the last two games, he still leads the team with five touchdown receptions. His average of 13.6 yards per reception is exceeded only by Emmanuel Sanders (17.1).

Tommy Sweeney is proving to be a competent backup, but the team hasn't been the same with him as their No. 1 TE.

Wide receiver: B

Their top three of Stefon Diggs, newcomer Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley have been productive leaders.

Look out for explosive second-year player Gabriel Davis down the stretch. As a rookie last year, he averaged 17.1 yards per reception and caught seven TDs.

The arrival of Sanders has sort of pushed him to the side, but that won't last.

The real question is whether return man Isaiah McKenzie has what it takes to deliver in the slot after Beasley, 32, moves on.

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Offensive line: C-

This grade needs some context.

When the group is fully healthy, the grade is a C+. But when it's not, it's not something the Bills seem equipped to deal with, particularly after the breakdowns up front enabled the Jacksonville Jaguars to steal a 9-6 win last Sunday.

Here's what we know: Left tackle Dion Dawkins, right tackle Spencer Brown and center Mitch Morse are solid, former right tackle Daryl Williams can only be trusted when playing inside anymore, guards Jon Feliciano and Ike Boettger are so-so and the future of Cody Ford is in doubt.

Here's what we don't know: If Ryan Bates and rookie Tommy Doyle can play.

Defensive line: B

The pass rush hasn't been as consistent as they'd like, but this group has an enviable blend of youth and experience and is getting better.

Ed Oliver, A.J. Epenesa and rookie first-round draft pick Greg Rousseau are stars in the making. Veterans Star Lotulelei, Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison know what they're doing and set great examples.

Free-agent addition Efe Obada, inactive for all but three games, has been a disappointment to date. This year's second-round pick, Boogie Basham, has played in just two games, so hard to project his future right now.

Linebackers: B

Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds have been staples and probably will continue to be for years to come, though Edmunds is still playing on his rookie contract.

Edmunds leads the team with 54 tackles to go with two pass breakups and an interception.

Few linebackers in the league play the pass as well as Milano, for whom health has been an issue. But he's missed just one of the first eight games this year.

A.J. Klein is more than competent when pressed into action as a rare third linebacker.

The Bills like to stay in their nickel base even on some obvious running downs. This is because their corners and safeties are just so good in run support.

Secondary: A

Is there a better tandem in the NFL than cornerbacks Tre'Davious White, Levi Wallace and Taron Johnson and safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer?

We think not.

Poyer last week was named to the Pro Football Focus Midseason All-Pro team.

"Poyer propelled himself into an All-Pro spot with his play over the past two weeks for Buffalo," the report stated. "He recorded an 85.2 overall PFF grade against the Titans in Week 6 and then went one better at 92.2 this past week against Miami, notching a critical interception that allowed the Bills to finally pull away. Poyer now has three picks and three pass breakups on the season and has rarely been out of position in coverage."

Hyde (31 tackles, six pass breakups, three interceptions) has probably been better.

Because opponents don't usually like to throw White's way, they often challenge other outside starter Wallace, and he's responded.

All play the run exceptionally well too.

Special teams: C

The Bills have an excellent returner in Isaiah McKenzie and an excellent kicker in Tyler Bass (19-for-19 on field goals, perfect on extra points). They get a mediocre grade, though, because of too many penalties that wipe out good or great McKenzie returns.

Coaching: B

Head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier have crafted an elite defense once again.

The worry here is with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and whether he can get his group synchronized again after Jacksonville provided the latest blueprint to slowing the Bills to a crawl: Deep, soft zone coverage and pressure on Allen, who keeps trying to look for deep opportunities that just aren't there.

Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at www.si.com/nfl/bills and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro. Email to Nicky300@aol.com.