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A Great Debate Over Grading the Bills

This seems to be the week that I wage debates with a couple of Buffalo News sportswriters who I greatly admire.

On Sunday, I had a Twitter debate with Mike Harrington over whether the Buffalo Bills should have gone for two points after they took a 12-7 lead over the St. Louis Rams late in the third quarter of an eventual 15-12 loss.

On Tuesday, I had a Facebook debate with Tim Graham over his Monday grades for the passing games of the Bills and the Rams. I disagreed with them.

Ryan Fitzpatrick

The debate started when Graham sent me a clarification of how he arrived at the grade of C minus for the Bills’ passing game and a B minus for the Rams’ passing game while conceding Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick out-played Rams quarterback Sam Bradford for much of the game.

If you missed the two paragraphs I inserted late Tuesday in that day’s blog here they are: This Just In. Here is Graham’s explanation of the grades in a Facebook message: “The grade is for the passing game, not the quarterback. The receivers are part of the passing game. So are the offensive linemen. The Bills couldn’t throw downfield because of them.”

I replied to Graham that I hadn’t read that anywhere. I added that it should be explained every Monday or else only he might know how he arrived at his grades.

That led to an exchange of Facebook messages late Tuesday night in which Graham explained that no one has asked for such an explanation all season and added “I guess I’m writing for a more sophisticated kind of fan.”

He then put the question to his Facebook followers, who overwhelmingly said they knew the passing game included the play of the receivers and offensive linemen. I would contend the poll didn’t mean that much since the first guy who responded nailed it and everyone after him pretty much copied his answer.

A fairer way to do the poll would be to ask readers independently. So You Make the Call. Did you get the grades were based on all three phases of the passing game rather than the quarterback?

I guess I needed to be reminded of that because the only comments that Graham made about the Bills passing game concerned the play of Fitzpatrick and the assessment of the Rams passing game primarily concerned the play of Bradford. I also believe the grades are for every reader, not just “sophisticated” fans.

Graham accurately noted that he had addressed line play and the receivers more often in past Report Cards of games and thought my criticism was based on only Sunday’s game. I plead guilty on that one, which is why I think The News should have a weekly reminder of what elements are involved in the grading of the passing game and the running game for that matter.

Even after Graham’s clarification I disagree with his grades. Despite being under constant pressure, Fitzpatrick completed 23 of his first 27 passes and finished 25 of 33 for 247 yards with a passing rating of 93.9 that would have been higher if not for an interception on a desperation pass on the Bills last offensive play. Bradford, who I concede was under less pressure, completed 19 of 39 passes for 209 yards and had a passing rating of 62.9. Sure the Rams’ O-Line played better than the Bills O-line and the Ram receivers made some incredible catches. But only four of Fitzpatrick’s passes hit the ground until the final 48 seconds so it wasn’t like the Bills receivers were too shabby, either.

I would have graded the Bills passing game a C plus at minimum and the Rams passing game a C plus at maximum. But, hey, who doesn’t love an amicable debate over grading.

Speaking of grades, I gave Fox analyst Mike Martz a higher grade for the game than many Bills fans did. I should have added that he had a few head-scratching moments as far as Bills fans are concerned. He repeatedly referred to Fitzpatrick’s accuracy and strong arm strength, both of which have been open to debate by many sportswriters this season. Of course, Martz was the St. Louis coach who drafted Fitzpatrick in the seventh round of the 2005 draft so he might not be without prejudice in this case.

Local interest in the Bills is graded almost weekly by TV ratings. The Bills-Rams game had a 29.0 rating on WUTV, which is down near the lowest rating of the season. However, it still was the highest-rated TV program of the week by far.

Finally, you might not be reading me debate many issues over the next few days as I have a lot of work to do grading about 60 college papers and handing in final grades to students. Then I’ll be ready for the inevitable debates with a few students who might think I am as rough on them as News sportswriters have been accurately grading Bills Coach Chan Gailey.


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8 responses to "A Great Debate Over Grading the Bills"

  1. Steve says:

    Go easy on the students…its the holidays!

  2. Son says:

    I also wasn’t sure that the line and receivers were included in the passing game based on his description. Good to know now.

    Like father, like son.

  3. Doug says:

    Put the papers online and crowd source the grading.

  4. Doug says:

    In reference to the passing game rating, it might also help to consider ESPNS’s QBR rating. They give more “points” for achievements based on the situation.

    So, Fitzs performance early on when the game was not in contention would not be weighted highly.

    When the QB’s needed to be at their best with the game on he line, their performances were much different.

  5. Joe says:

    “He repeatedly referred to Fitzpatrick’s accuracy and strong arm strength, both of which have been open to debate by many sportswriters this season.”

    I don’t think it is debateable any more. He is inaccurate at longer than 15 yards and while he can get passes down the field he has to wind up like a baseball pitcher to make those throws. They are generally late and overthrown. After 3 years of Fitz he is whar he is and everybody, including opposing coaches, know what that is.

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