The Browns beat the Bills Sunday, 19-16, in a game that proved what a lot of people thought: The Browns were better than their 2-6 record suggested, and the Bills were worse than their 6-2 record suggested. The odds makers were giving the Bills 3 points or, in other words, giving the Browns the home-field advantage in a game that looked even.
And even it was. The Browns made just enough plays to win, just a few more plays than the Bills made. The Browns won the statistical battle by a little here and a little there. The Browns were just a little better.
The game reinforced the recurring themes about the Bills in 2019. They don’t run the ball well enough, they don’t stop the run well enough, they don’t pass the ball well enough. And, on Sunday, they didn’t kick the ball well enough, either.
This was a game decided by the skill positions. The simple fact is that the Browns are better at all the big offensive skill positions – their two wideouts are better, their two running backs are better and at least on Sunday, their quarterback was better.
The wideouts were the most important difference. Beckham demanded Tre White’s attention all day long, and he was a handful for White. White gave him a big cushion most of the game, which allowed Beckham some first down catches that hurt, but in general, White contained OBJ.
That left Levi Wallace one on one with Jarvis Landry. Wallace survived, I suppose, but just missed defending the two biggest passes of the day. On Cleveland’s opening drive, Landry got behind Wallace and caught a perfectly thrown 17-yard TD pass. Wallace found the ball a split second too late, and his attempt to deflect the ball just missed.
Then late in the fourth quarter, with the Browns attempting to put together a drive to win the game, Wallace just missed deflecting the ball again, this time on a 24-yard completion off a long crossing route. Wallace was beat early as Landry sliced through the defensive backfield, but Wallace closed late and had a play on the ball. He just couldn’t make it.
A couple of plays later, Wallace was beaten for the winning touchdown. The Bills were in an all-out blitz and Wallace had to overplay the quick out route. When Higgins cut upfield and curled toward the center of the end zone, Wallace couldn’t recover. Mayfield did a nice job buying time for Higgins to make the cuts and then delivered the ball for an easy catch.
It would be easy to blame Wallace, but the fact is that Landry has been a superior receiver for a long time, and Wallace often had no help. He just lost a couple of battles against a really good player.
Brown and Beasley are nice receivers, but they can’t challenge defensive backs on every play like Beckham and Landry. Trade Beckham for Brown or Beasley for Landry and the outcome of the game is different. Brown ran some lovely routes, and Allen found him often enough, but Brown needs to be open to make his catches. He rarely comes up with the ball when he’s tightly covered. Beasley was solid again on Sunday, but he isn’t a receiver to really test a defense.
Same story in the running game. The Bills’ defensive front seven were out-blocked sometimes but did well enough to keep from being run over. The Bills’ offensive line didn’t block for the run as well as the Browns’, but they did well enough to give Singletary and Gore opportunities.
The difference was Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, two of the most talented running backs in the league. Chubb combines quickness and power in a way that lets him hit and get through holes and break tackles for additional yards. He’s one of those guys who just doesn’t go down. And Hunt constantly threatened to break away. The Bills checked him adequately, but he still collected a lot of yards running and receiving.
Josh Allen posted a typical losing QB stat line. He threw a lot – 41 times – and connected just enough – 22 times – to get decent yardage – 266. If the running game had been more productive, he would have thrown less often and completed a higher percentage. If he were a premier QB, he would have thrown 41 times and completed a higher percentage.
Either way, the Bills likely would have won the game. But Allen isn’t yet the guy who is so good, so knowledgeable, that he can put the team on his back and win when the rest of the offense is overmatched. He might become that guy, but he isn’t that guy yet.
Allen didn’t throw badly. He had some balls that weren’t as accurate as they should have been, but everyone has a few of those. His problem was that he didn’t have, or couldn’t find, open receivers.
A premier QB would have been changing plays at the line of scrimmage, coming off primary receivers to complete more passes and keep the chains moving, and making passes with pinpoint accuracy, like the throw he could have made to McKenzie in the end zone at the end of the first half.
Allen wasn’t quite good enough, and Baker was just a little better.
A couple of weeks ago, the Bills replaced Duke Williams in the active roster and began to play combinations of speed receivers – McKenzie, Foster and Roberts. That experiment seems to be failing. None of those guys is making an impact in the receiving game. Williams would give Allen something that none of the other receivers offers – a big target with demonstrated ability to make contested receptions. Williams would be a guy that Allen could go to when his principal options aren’t there.
A good example was Allen’s throw to Brown on 4th and 4 at the end of the third quarter. Brown made the in cut with the defender right on his back. Allen threw the ball well, although it could have been lower. The defender reached around Brown and broke up the play. Williams has a much higher probability of making that catch – Brown just isn’t the physical player Allen needs in that situation.
There always are a lot of reasons to be unhappy when the Bills lose, but this loss was particularly painful because the loss wasted essentially three classic goal-line stands. The Browns ran eleven plays from inside the three-yard line, most from the one yard-line, on two possessions and came away with a field goal.
In the end, the Browns were about to go for it on fourth and short, but a false start penalty pushed them back five yards and they settled for the field goal. A Browns fan sitting next to me said that the center intentionally took the false start to force Kitchens to take the field goal. The players knew the Bills simply weren’t going to let the Browns see the end zone.
The goal line stands were magnificent, old-school football. Beautiful.
And Edmunds sack of Mayfield for a safety highlighted again how the defense always seems to have a different look, a new wrinkle. Edmunds rarely blitzes, and he practically never blitzes when he lines up tight to the line of scrimmage. Mayfield ignored Edmunds at the left end of the line. No one expected he was coming.
But the safety, too, was wasted in a game where the Bills were close but not good enough. The Bills defense gave up big TD drives to open and close the game and was solid enough the rest of the time. The Bills offense didn’t produce enough running or enough passing. Sixteen points isn’t enough. Simple as that.
Oh, and then there’s Hauschka. I don’t like looking for scapegoats, because football teams win and lose together, but it’s a different game if Hauschka makes one of his kicks. He didn’t, and no one picked him up.
I got to watch the game from a suite on the fifty. A big thank you to my host Mike, who was more than happy to have this Bills fan and my buddy join him for the game. Pizza, burgers, dogs, wings inside, with TV and radio play-by-play, seats on the fifty outside with TV and radiant heat above. Tough duty.
First half I was inside and didn’t hear the crowd. Second half I was outside. The Browns fans weren’t as loud as I expected they’d be, until the Bills final drive, when they really rose up. And the Bills fans did a solid job making noise when it was their turn.
My wife, who was not at the game, happened to hear Mayfield’s post-game interview. In a comment that makes you wonder if the guy is smart enough to be permitted to drive, let alone quarterback an NFL team, Mayfield complained that Browns fans have to learn not to make so much noise when the Browns have the ball! Really, Baker? You thought those were Browns fans making all that noise?
The Bills are close. They need to get better, in every phase. They need a little more talent, and they need the talent they have to play a little better.
On to Miami, another road game they should win, and if they’re going to make any noise this season, a game they must win. Fitz will be waiting.
The Rockpile Review is written to share the passion we have for the Buffalo Bills. That passion was born in the Rockpile; its parents were everyday people of western New York who translated their dedication to a full day’s hard work and simple pleasures into love for a pro football team.
Editor’s babble: Thanks to Mark Korber for telling it like it is. We appreciate his contributions to our blog. You can’t find Mark on Twitter but you can find him posting on twobillsdrive.com’s Stadium Wall.