Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: A
LeSean McCoy was back to being his usual, fantastic self, piling up 153 yards on just 19 carries and scoring twice. McCoy’s rushing total was a career high with the Bills, and pushed him past 1,000 yards for the season, which is the fifth time he’s done that in his career. The Bills had three rushing touchdowns, which pushes their season total to 27, breaking the franchise record of 26 that had stood since 1975. The Wildcat reverse to receiver Brandon Tate for a career-long 30-yard gain was fun.
PASSING GAME: C+
Tyrod Taylor played fine, completing 17 of 24 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown. There were at least a couple occasions where he missed open receivers, but he took care of the ball and was only sacked once. He had a quarterback rating of 105.2. Charles Clay alert – the tight end caught all seven of his targets for 72 yards and a touchdown. In unison, now: “Where has that been all year?” Sammy Watkins had just one catch for 10 yards on four targets, while Robert Woods had one catch for 5 yards on two targets.
RUN DEFENSE: B
The three leading tacklers were linebackers Lorenzo Alexander (seven), Zach Brown (seven) and Preston Brown (six). That’s a good sign. The Bills had nine tackles for loss, with Preston Brown, Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes each making two. Considering the effort the team put forth last week against Pittsburgh, Sunday represented a monumental improvement. A lot of that can be traced to Williams’ return to the lineup.
PASS DEFENSE: B
Hughes credited the team’s secondary for allowing the pass rushers to get home as often as they did. Buffalo finished with five sacks, with Lorenzo Alexander and Williams registering 1.5 each. That’s a big turnaround from last week, when Buffalo had just one quarterback hit. Kevon Seymour and Corey White both looked to be in position to break up what ended up being a 33-yard gain.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Your weekly Dan Carpenter update: He missed another extra point. Punter Colton Schmidt averaged just 33.5 net yards on two attempts, as the coverage unit gave up 23 yards on two returns. Brandon Tate had a solid 29-yard punt return, part of 46 yards on four returns. He did have a tough time fielding a punt in the second quarter, letting it bounce before dangerously picking it up right before the Browns’ coverage men arrived. Tate’s not flashy, but he gets the job done. The kickoff coverage was solid.
It must not be easy to answer 10 questions about getting fired just a few minutes after a 20-point win, so give coach Rex Ryan some credit for how he handled himself. The Bills played a mostly clean game, taking just five penalties and generally appearing to be on the same page. They said the right things about needing a win to keep their minimal playoff hopes alive, a sign that Ryan has done a decent job keeping the speculation about his future from becoming a distraction to the team. McCoy marched the Bills down to the Cleveland 5-yard line on Buffalo’s first series, then offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn refuses to give him the ball again. That was baffling.
Grading the Browns
RUNNING GAME: C
Quarterback Robert Griffin III offered a fleeting glimpse at his past greatness on an 18-yard touchdown run. He led the Browns with 48 yards on eight carries, showing good wheels on a few plays when the protection broke down. Isaiah Crowell had 28 yards on eight carries, but 25 of those yards came on one run. Duke Johnson went for 31 yards on five carries, part of a team total of 107 yards on 21 carries, a respectable average of 5.1 yards per rush.
PASSING GAME: C-
Griffin completed 17 of 28 passes, but was terribly inaccurate on a few simple checkdown throws. No. 1 receiver Terrelle Pryor was held to 19 yards on four catches. Johnson piled up some numbers in garbage time, with 62 yards on five catches to lead the team. Rookie Corey Coleman should have a bigger role in the offense going forward. Tight end Gary Barnidge had a nice 28-yard catch down the sideline, but otherwise was a forgotten man.
RUN DEFENSE: F
Inside linebacker Demario Davis led the team with 10 tackles, but don’t let that number fool you. Davis struggled to make many big plays. Outside linebacker Christian Kirksey was made to look silly by McCoy in the open field. The middle of the Cleveland defense generally was manhandled by the Buffalo offensive line. The Browns had just three tackles for loss.
PASS DEFENSE: D
Outside linebacker Jamie Collins appeared to be at fault for Charles Clay’s touchdown grab, even though Browns coach Hue Jackson attributed it to “miscommunication.” Cornerback Joe Haden was briefly shaken up, but able to return to the game. It must be miserable for him going through a season like this. Haden and Jamar Taylor did a quality job against Watkins and Woods.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Briean Boddy-Calhoun plowed into Brandon Tate on Cleveland’s first punt, drawing a flag for the most egregious punt-catch interference you’ll ever see. That served as a microcosm of things to come. Kicker Cody Parkey made a pair of field goals in windy conditions, but punter Britton Colquitt didn’t fare quite as well, averaging just 35.2 net yards on five attempts. Receiver Mario Alford averaged 11.5 yards on a pair of punt returns.
Hue Jackson not being able to find the challenge flag, which he wanted to use on a play he wasn’t allowed to challenge anyway – and would have reversed a sack to an incompletion – perfectly summarizes the Browns at the moment. Why take a timeout with 3 seconds left in the first half after lollygagging through the previous three plays? Jackson maintains that his team hasn’t quit on him, but there is absolutely no talent to work with. Vince Lombardi couldn’t do much with this roster.