The Buffalo Bills were in desperate need of a win on Sunday after two straight losses and a tough weather week that saw a snowstorm prevent them from a normal week of practice. Through the first quarter and a half, they barely looked like a playoff team, but they responded when they needed to, pulling out a 31-23 win despite an inconsistent effort.
On this short Thanksgiving week, we’re a day early in going back over the game and giving each position group a game for their Sunday performance alone. While not an exact science, it does help us begin to see where the strengths and weaknesses of the team lay.
So what were the grades for Week 11?
As I mentioned in my game recap, Josh Allen didn’t look like himself on Sunday. He was hesitant to take deep shots and barely ever left the pocket to use his legs. While some of that has to do with the Browns’ defensive scheme, Allen also double-pumped a few times and seemed unsure of his blocking.
Buffalo gained just nine total yards on its first three drives, and Allen went 4-of-11 for 27 yards in the first 25 minutes of the game.
The two-minute drill to end the first half seemed to wake Allen up, and he finished the day with a respectable line, going 18-of-27 for 197 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers of any kind.
However, he also was inconsistent in the red zone again and still doesn’t seem to be playing with the level of confidence that he had earlier in the season.
Running backs: A-
There’s not much to criticize with this effort. Devin Singletary rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, and James Cook chipped in 86 yards of his own on 11 carries. The offensive line was able to open up big gaps in an admittedly weak Browns run defense, but this was the first time this Bills running game looked consistently competent.
James Cook deserves a mention of his own for the explosion and wiggle he showed on a few big runs. It was likely exactly what the Bills envisioned when it took him in the second round, which makes it even more confusing that they gave up a draft pick to acquire Nyheim Hines, who played just 10 snaps on offense in his third game on the team.
Buffalo also gets dinged a little bit here because their red zone running, while better this week, still could use some work. There were too many runs for negative yards or just one yard in the red zone on Sunday.
Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends: B
It was an OK day for the receiving corps, which makes sense since it was only an OK day for their quarterback. Stefon Diggs didn’t have a target until the last play of the first half and finished with four catches for 48 yards. Dawson Knox paced the team with seven catches for 70 yards, while Gabe Davis finished with five catches for 68 yards but had another bad drop in the red zone.
They were the only Bills to catch passes, which just continues our concern about the lack of depth in this group.
Offensive Line: B+
We mentioned the effectiveness in the running game, so we have to give credit to the offensive line for that. However, Allen was also under pressure too often on the day, getting sacked twice and hit four times in addition to the time he was flushed from the pocket.
Dion Dawkins got beaten really badly on one sack, Mitch Morse got his timing wrong on a first-half snap which led to a botched play, and Rodger Saffold took a costly penalty that killed the momentum of a drive. So there are still a few areas that need to be cleaned up.
Defensive Line: A
Buffalo only had one sack on the day, but Cleveland used a lot of quick-hitting passes to neutralize the defensive line. They were still able to get some pressure on Brissett and collect five quarterback hits, but the grade really comes down to how dominant this defensive line was against the run.
Nick Chubb came into the game as the NFL’s 3rd-leading rusher, and he was held to 19 yards on 14 carries. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver had three tackles for loss among five total tackles, and Chubb was stopped for a loss on six attempts on the day.
The Bills did allow a 22-yard scramble to Jacoby Brissett on a 3rd-and-11 on the first drive, but that was the only real blemish.
Bills Linebackers: B
As always, Matt Milano was tremendous and teammate Jordan Phillips made a case for Milano to be defensive player of the year. “He makes the big play. He doesn’t miss tackles… You can’t tell me anybody that’s playing better defensive football than Matt Milano. He’s consistent. He’s a leader.”
The problem is that, with Tremaine Edmunds out with a groin injury, the team’s lack of linebacker depth showed up yet again. Tyrel Dodson led the team with 13 tackles, but the pass defense cover the middle of the field was clearly lacking without Edmunds out there. The Bills signed A.J. Klein back to, presumably, add a veteran presence if Edmunds were to miss more time, but the fall off is a bit concerning.
This is the second straight really poor grade for the Bills’ secondary, but how can you not dock them for giving up 324 yards and three touchdowns to Jacoby Brissett?
The depth of this unit has been tested throughout the year with injuries to Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Tre’Davious White, and first-round pick Kaiir Elam. It was great early in the season to have guys like Christian Benford, Damar Hamlin, and Cam Lewis get a chance to see real game action, but the mistakes have been piling up lately.
Benford and Dane Jackson seem to be consistently late in turning their head around to make a play on the ball in coverage, and even nickel corner Taron Johnson struggled mightily on Sunday with Amari Cooper hauling in eight catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns mainly against Johnson.
Considering the turf at Ford Field is similar to the turf in the Superdome where Tre’Davious White tore his ACL last season, I think it’s a safe bet that White sits out one more week and returns in Week 13 against New England.
Special Teams: A
Not much to criticize here. Tyler Bass hit all six of his field goal attempts (there’s that Bills red zone offense again), and Sam Martin averaged 49.5 yards on his two punts. Nyheim Hines also looked great as a punt returner, which is apparently all he was acquired to do.
Week 10 Team Grade: B
Part of me wants to give the Bills more credit because of the elements they had to endure just to get to the game and play. However, the product on the field was just average. Buffalo was a disaster at the beginning of the game, and even when they rallied in the second half, they still failed to convert on multiple red zone chances and are now 23rd in the NFL in red zone success rate at 51.3% after leading the NFL last year.