CLEVELAND – Grading the Buffalo Bills in their 19-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday.
Running game: D
The Bills finished with a season-low 84 yards on 20 carries. A week after logging 20 carries, rookie Devin Singletary took just eight. Those eight carries went for 42 yards – a solid average of 5.3 per rush. Singletary produces when he gets the ball. Veteran Frank Gore struggled again, gaining just 12 yards on five carries. He was stopped again in a goal-line situation at the Browns’ 1-yard line. Aren’t those runs supposed to be where Gore excels? Also, why was he running so wide on the play? It should not be so hard for the offense to get 1 yard. Quarterback Josh Allen did score a pair of rushing touchdowns, the first of which came on a nicely executed quarterback draw and the second of which converted the second-and-goal from the 1-yard line to give the team the lead in the fourth quarter after Gore was stopped. Allen fumbled again as a runner, but was bailed out when Jon Feliciano was able to make the recovery in the fourth quarter. At this point, the Bills seemingly will just have to live with their quarterback fumbling, on average, more than once a game.
Passing game: D
One thought kept coming up during Sunday’s game: Josh Allen ain’t it. That might be a rush to judgement, but this offense is painful to watch, and it starts with the quarterback (we’ll get to offensive coordinator Brian Daboll later). The throws Allen is praised for making are ones that all NFL quarterbacks should be able to execute. His lack of even being in the same area code with his receivers on deep balls is embarrassing. How many points have the Bills left on the field by Allen wildly missing on should-be touchdowns? He’s too often late on throws. His pocket awareness needs work. Maybe all those things will improve, but they’re not happening fast enough. Allen’s started 20 games. I get that’s not a lot to totally write him off, but what has he done in those 20 games to make you feel confident he’s the right guy for the job? Allen ranks in the 20s in every major passing category. His accuracy was woeful Sunday, completing just 22 of 41 passes. Yes, it would have been nice if tight end Dawson Knox and wide receiver Andre Roberts could have held onto the ball, but every quarterback deals with drops. Allen has to overcome that. On Sunday, he couldn’t, and it’s hard not to wonder whether he’ll ever become the guy who can.
Run defense: C-
It still ain’t fixed, but there were bright spots. Browns running back Nick Chubb piled up 116 yards on 20 carries – an average of 5.8 per rush that’s even more impressive given how many times Chubb was stuffed near the goal line, which drove that average down. The Browns finished with 147 yards on 26 carries, an average of 5.7 per rush. Star Lotulelei, much-maligned coming into the game, got bowled over on Chubb’s 21-yard gain on the second play from scrimmage. Chubb later rumbled 24 yards in the second quarter, setting the Browns up at the Bills’ 1-yard line. The heroes were many for the Buffalo defense during the ensuing goal-line stand, with Matt Milano, Lorenzo Alexander, Jordan Poyer, Tremaine Edmunds and Corey Liuget all figuring into tackles. For the second consecutive week, the run defense got much better after halftime, limiting the Browns to 37 yards. Defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Trent Murphy each registered a tackle for loss.
Pass defense: D
Levi Wallace might want to call in sick Monday. The Bills’ cornerback was abused all game, giving up both of Cleveland’s passing touchdowns. The Bills had gone 12 consecutive games of allowing one or fewer passing touchdowns to equal a franchise record, but the streak ended Sunday. Wallace finished as the team’s leading tackler with eight, but that’s not a good thing. He can expect teams to continue to pick on him until he convinces them they shouldn’t. The pass rush sacked Baker Mayfield twice, with Milano and Edmunds taking him down.
Special teams: F
Stephen Hauschka’s two missed field goals in what was a 3-point loss makes this grade inevitable. Hauschka is paid to make clutch kicks, and he failed twice. Roberts, an All-Pro last season, couldn’t make anything happen early despite several opportunities. He had five kick returns, but gained just 115 yards. His first punt return went for 12 yards, but that came on a free kick. He redeemed himself somewhat in the fourth quarter with a 22-yard punt return that set the offense up at the Browns’ 48-yard line. Punter Corey Bojorquez played an excellent game. His four punts went for 199 yards and no return yardage, a net average of 49.8. Three of those punts were downed inside the Browns’ 20-yard line. The kick coverage was good, too, giving up an average of 20 yards on two returns.
Let’s call it like it is: The Bills look like frauds. All the talk about the team being paper tigers based on who they’ve beat is deserved. Sean McDermott can talk all he wants about how tough it is to win in the NFL, but a 6-2 team shouldn’t be an underdog to a 2-6 team. Vegas sees through the Bills, and fans are starting to, as well. McDermott had to burn a timeout coming out of the two-minute warning. That proved to be important with the Bills needing to mount a final drive. I did like the aggressiveness from McDermott in going for it on fourth-and-4 in the first quarter, so there’s that. Enforcing a taunting penalty on the Browns’ extra point in the first quarter also proved to be a good call. Where do we begin with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll? Why does Devin Singletary get only eight carries? Why is Roberts playing so many snaps at wide receiver? Why is tight end Lee Smith, who just can’t stop taking penalties, playing so much? Why did the offense take 33 seconds to run a third-and-4 play from the Browns’ 35-yard line in the final minute? Why, if 53 yards was right at the edge of Hauschka’s range, did the offense not run something different on that third-and-4 with the idea of going for it on fourth down? Daboll's offense makes scoring 16 points look like the most difficult thing in the world.
Story topics: Andre Roberts/ Brian Daboll/ Corey Bojorquez/ Corey Liuget/ Dawson Knox/ Devin Singletary/ Frank Gore/ Jordan Poyer/ Josh Allen/ Levi Wallace/ Lorenzo Alexander/ Matt Milano/ Sean McDermott/ Shaq Lawson/ Stephen Hauschka/ Tremaine Edmunds/ Trent Murphy