Most teams don’t have two running backs the caliber of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
That’s good news for the Buffalo Bills’ defense, because those two Browns backs were a problem on Sunday in Cleveland.
With Chubb and Hunt on the field at the same time, the Browns ran 11 times for 123 yards, an average of 11.2 yards a carry. All but two of those plays were against the nickel defense. Because of Hunt’s receiving ability, a defense has to respect the pass with both of them on the field and can’t afford to play its base defensive front.
Furthermore, the Bills couldn’t sell out to stop the run with Chubb and Hunt on the field, because Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are such a dangerous receiving combination.
While the Bills were soft against the run, they did not let the Browns’ passing game beat them with many big plays. Cleveland hit just one pass of 20-plus yards.
The Browns ran 19 plays with two backs, three receivers and no tight ends. That’s the grouping Philadelphia used on its 65-yard TD run against the Bills. It will be interesting to see if upcoming opponents try to copy the two-back, three-receiver set.
Here’s a position-by-position grading of the Bills from the loss in Cleveland, based on video review and on a scale of 0 to 5:
Quarterback (2.0): Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks blitzed at his normal heavy rate, on 14 of 43 dropbacks (32.5%). The Bills didn’t handle it well enough. Josh Allen was 8 of 14 for 99 yards against the blitz. Wilks blitzed on the Bills’ last six offensive snaps. On the final incompletion, Allen had a tough read with seven men rushing. He and John Brown weren’t on the same page on the back-shoulder incompletion. Allen had Cole Beasley wide open on a hook route on the other side of the field. Allen made some sharp throws. The 26-yard laser to Beasley to set up the second TD was a beauty. But Allen didn’t make enough plays on key third downs. He probably had Dawson Knox open over the middle on a third-and-4 sack. He probably left the pocket too soon on the third-and-6 incompletion for Andre Roberts that ended a promising drive early in the fourth quarter. Allen was 0 for 5 on passes 20-plus yards downfield.
Offensive line (2.0): Dion Dawkins had a tough task against Myles Garrett and did OK. Dawkins allowed three hits on the QB. His pass protection was good enough down the stretch. The Bills trusted Ty Nsekhe (42 snaps) a little more than Cody Ford (28 snaps) in pass protection, putting Nsekhe on the field for the final drive. Good call. Nsekhe gave up a hurry to Garrett and had a hold. But the right tackle spot mostly held up. Ex-Jet Sheldon Richardson was a problem in the middle of the defensive line. He had three pressures and clogged the middle. Mitch Morse and Quinton Spain had a mix-up on the Allen scramble-fumble play near the goal line. Then Spain didn’t adjust to a linebacker dog on the first play of the last drive. The line wasn’t the offense’s biggest problem.
Receiver (1.5): John Brown and Cole Beasley had almost as many yards (151) as Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry (154). Why is the grade so low? Because the Bills’ lack of a reliable third receiving option is a big issue. Man coverage and blitzing causes Buffalo problems. Knox shows promise but had a drop. Andre Roberts had a drop. Lee Smith had two more penalties.
Running back (2.5): This probably is a minority opinion, but we don’t have a big problem with the fact the Bills passed 43 times and ran 19. Put the game on Allen’s shoulders and see how he performs. The Bills passed on 18 of 27 first downs but only gained 4 yards or more on 11 of the 27 plays, not quite good enough. Yes, it might be time for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to lower the bar for the pass game and run more.
Defensive backs (3.0): Beckham was targeted 12 times and managed five catches for 57 yards. Tre’Davious White covered Beckham on 10 of those targets and gave up just four catches for 41 yards with one penalty. It was a great showing for the Bills’ cornerback. Wallace, meanwhile, showed his athletic limitations, giving up three passes for 47 yards early, including a TD pass to Landry on a superb throw and catch. It’s hard to blame Wallace much on the late, 24-yarder to Landry. Wallace did well to chase him across the field. Wallace gave up the winning TD. The coaches deserve part of the blame for the all-out blitz that didn’t get home.
Defensive line (2.5): Star Lotulelei was sensational on the goal-line stand, crashing the line on three of the plays. Corey Liuget and Trent Murphy were stout at the point of attack on the fourth-down stop. Jerry Hughes had a hit and two hurries. Murphy and Shaq Lawson combined for two hurries. The Bills needed more pressure. Against good running backs, the Bills trusted Ed Oliver for only 23 snaps.
Linebackers (3.0): Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano were good. Edmunds had an overrun and a missed tackle on two big runs. But otherwise, he was plugging gaps and making plays. The Browns are a good screen team. They ran six. One, from jet motion, got 19 yards. The other four managed only 12 yards. Lorenzo Alexander had good coverage against Hunt on a wheel route.
Special teams (1.0): Stephen Hauschka was so great in 2017 that he built up a lot of good will. It’s evaporating. Given the team’s lack of scoring punch, the Bills need superior place-kicking. Hauschka is mentally tough. He needs to shape up. Meanwhile, Corey Bojorquez had a great game. His first punt was 59 yards with a 4.75-second hang time. His third was 47 yards with a 4.99 hang time. His other two went for nets of 43 and 45 yards. Andre Roberts’ 22-yard punt return helped set up the Bills’ final TD drive. Siran Neal had a superb kickoff coverage.