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7 observations in Bills’ win over Browns: A get-right game for the rushing offense?


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What stood out from the game, and how did the Bills get back on track? Here are seven observations from the Bills’ win:

1. A get-right game for the rushing offense?

For the first time this season, the Bills’ running game exploded in a way coach Sean McDermott likely has been waiting to see all season. In the weeks leading up to this one, we’ve heard McDermott mention not wanting to be too one-dimensional, and because they have been so pass-centric the entire season, those comments always lead back to the ground game. They have struggled to maintain a consistent push with their offensive line all season. And over the last couple of weeks, the Bills started with positive rushing results but inexplicably went away from the ground game in the second half. On Sunday against the Browns, the Bills finally put it all together for their most complete rushing performance of the 2022 season. And unlike any of their other 2022 games, there wasn’t an over-dependence on Allen to jumpstart the ground game. It was all about the running backs.

Wheels activated. 😤

📺: @NFLonCBS pic.twitter.com/1MIEhlBegt

— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) November 20, 2022

 

Devin Singletary provided consistency throughout the day and maximized his runs even when the blocking could have been better. His vision and tackle-breaking skills were on display, along with his elusiveness in making a cut that a defender wasn’t expecting. Singletary looked quite similar to how he did down the stretch of the 2021 season, which was a promising sign. But it was the rookie James Cook that was the true eye catcher of the day. Cook matched Singletary’s 86 yards for the game, but did so in a completely different fashion and in seven fewer carries. Cook provided the flash of game-breaking rushing ability that the Bills haven’t had since Josh Allen arrived in 2018. And while Cook isn’t quite the tackle breaker or pile mover compared to Singletary, his effortless speed and smooth, gliding running style gives the team something wildly different from Singletary. Cook gained 71 of his 86 rushing yards on just four attempts, and when he got some speed behind him, his subtle moves out of the way of contact aren’t a usual characteristic for most running backs.

 
 

It was certainly a get-right game for the rushing game, but with the way the Browns have struggled to stop the run this season, it wasn’t necessarily a surprising result. It was a surprise that the Bills were as complete of a rushing team as we’ve seen this season, but the Browns have been a bit of a nightmare in run defending. On film in the games leading up to the Bills, the Browns’ four defensive tackles were consistently moved out of the way by opponents, making for a pretty clear attacking area for the Bills. And especially with McDermott so hellbent on having a good running game support their passing offense, the potential of this game was shouting for the Bills to run the ball a ton. They did, and they executed well. But above all else, is it sustainable moving forward against opponents that don’t struggle the way the Browns do? That remains to be seen, but sometimes an excellent performance against a down opponent can springboard a team into better results against better competition. McDermott, offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey and Allen certainly hope this was a sign of things to come.

2. Dorsey bucked their personnel trends and found success

Perhaps to establish their ground game, the Bills had a noticeable shift in their personnel packages throughout the game. They upended their tendency from a team primarily operating out of 11 personnel into one that featured at least one extra tight end or fullback on 45 percent of their offensive plays. It featured a smattering of tight end Quintin Morris (43 percent of snaps), fullback Reggie Gilliam (25 percent) and sixth offensive lineman Bobby Hart (12 percent). And it was on those plays when the Bills were their most potent against the Browns.

On 28 plays with an extra tight end, fullback or offensive lineman, the Bills averaged 6.7 yards per play. On the final snap of that, Allen willingly took a five-yard sack to keep the clock running, so if he throws that pass away in normal situations, the Bills averaged 6.9 yards per play on those plays. On all their other plays in 11 personnel, or with two running backs and two receivers, the Bills averaged more than a yard and a half less per play. It paid off for the Bills to go big in this game, which was a staple of the occasional Brian Daboll game plan. It will be quite intriguing to see if Dorsey sticks with this game plan or if he went with this attack based purely on the opponent. Either way, there is some momentum, even in a game where the passing attack wasn’t at its best.

3. Is there anything to make of Allen’s early struggles?

The game couldn’t have begun much worse for the Bills on offense. They looked disjointed, turned in three straight three-and-outs to begin the game, and over their first 11 plays averaged only 1.1 yards per play. At the heart of those struggles was Allen, who was off even on his completions. Even through the Bills’ fourth drive, in which they scored their second field goal to make it 10-6, Allen was scattershot at best. His 4-for-10 start for only 27 yards had some harkening back to his early short-yardage struggles in his first two seasons.

There was perhaps some worry that his elbow injury was impacting these throws, and that was causing the ball to go well off the target. But as soon as Allen delivered his first big pass of the game, a 28-yard zone beater to Gabe Davis on the left sideline, those accuracy concerns went out the window. Allen then looked like himself even more when he reared back and zipped a five-yard touchdown pass into Stefon Diggs. Allen completed 14 of 17 passes for 170 yards throughout the rest of the game.

Stefon Diggs has entered the chat.

📺: @NFLonCBS pic.twitter.com/lVy8VinPeo

— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) November 20, 2022

 

Despite the anxieties over the elbow, until the accuracy becomes a factor for a full game or becomes a trend over a pair of games, I wouldn’t go too overboard with that concern. Allen settled in after a shaky beginning and averaged 10 yards per attempt the rest of the way, which is an elite level that when paired with an excellent rushing game is a nightmare to defend for opponents.

4. Milano and Poyer were difference-makers in a sea of inexperience around them

Over the last few weeks, every time the Bills get one of their marquee defenders back into the lineup, it’s seemed like another gets injured. It has especially taken its toll in the back seven and we’ve seen some struggles defensively as a result. Most of the troubles come when the Bills are missing two of the Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano and Jordan Poyer trio. Since Week 3, the Bills have only had that entire trio for a full game only twice in eight games. The Bills ran into trouble against the Jets without Milano and Poyer, and then last week without Poyer against the Vikings once Edmunds had to leave the game at halftime. Even though the Bills were without Edmunds on Sunday, Milano and Poyer helped save the backend of the defense on multiple occasions, and they had to do it with so many inexperienced starters around them.

 
 

Milano was the leader of the intermediate part of the defense, starting next to Tyrel Dodson who struggled mightily in place of Edmunds last week. Milano turned in a game full of both flash and substance, easily being one of the most indispensable players on the roster for that game. If the Bills didn’t have Milano there to impact the game with his speed, reaction time, playmaking skills and tackling ability, the Browns are likely able to sustain far more drives than they did Sunday. Often, a player who racks up tackles can be deceiving because it doesn’t tell the story of where those tackles are happening. But in Milano’s case, he was simply superb. A sack, multiple tackles for loss and consistently sniffing out the run took Milano’s day through the roof. It’s been a two-player race between him and Von Miller for who has been the team’s best defender in 2022.

And then, with Poyer on the backend, it gave the Bills the sense of calm they’ve been missing the last two games. His pass breakup early in the game was a play that their starting safeties without him were half a step slow in their arrival. Like Milano, Poyer had to overcompensate for most of the inexperience around him between safety Damar Hamlin and cornerbacks Dane Jackson and Christian Benford. But Poyer was once again a source of strength for the team. Even without Edmunds, the defense played quite well. It makes you wonder what this group can do once he returns, and whenever star cornerback Tre’Davious White can make his season debut.

5. Run defense delivered on last week’s flashes of dominant play

Although the Bills allowed an 81-yard rushing touchdown to Dalvin Cook and the Vikings last week, it wasn’t anywhere close to the consistent struggle that the Bills’ run defense had in the two weeks prior. There were a lot of good moments to take from that, and they were just that one big play allowed from having a really nice game. Of course, they allowed that big play, and it served as another painful lesson in their journey to reclaim their run-stuffing prowess. But the potential was there to have some dominance in that area. Against a Browns team that predicates their entire offense through their rushing game, the Bills turned that potential into a one-week reality.

Between their defensive line holding the point of attack up the middle, their defensive ends containing the edges and the linebackers and safeties getting downhill in support, the Bills were magnificent on Sunday. The Browns’ offensive line, even without center Ethan Pocic for most of the game, is still one of the better run-blocking units in the NFL. And when paired with Nick Chubb, one of the best pure runners in the NFL, it’s usually a nightmare for opponents. But even without Edmunds and without their best run-defending defensive end in Greg Rousseau, the Bills still held Chubb to an absurd 1.4 yards per carry average and just 19 yards on 14 attempts. If the Bills can keep this going as they reintegrate their currently injured starters, it’s another reason to think the defense can get back to the dominant levels of the early season.

6. Shakir draws closer to McKenzie, CB rotation returns without Elam

The Bills had some interesting usage with a pair of rookie players, especially considering how the team previously used them. On offense, rookie Khalil Shakir had taken a massive backseat to Isaiah McKenzie over the last two games. McKenzie had 93 snaps to Shakir’s 24 in those two weeks, indicating a stronghold by the veteran McKenzie on the third receiver role. But with a bit of a different game plan in mind, that usage evened out this week against the Browns. McKenzie only outsnapped Shakir 26 to 16 by my unofficial count after the game. Shakir took a handful of snaps in a specific formation (more on that shortly) that helped his overall snap count, though it’s a personnel grouping that will likely continue, given some of its success. Even without it, Shakir creeping closer to McKenzie is undoubtedly something to track moving forward because of how the latter has struggled to make an impact in games even with all those increased opportunities.

On defense, the Bills’ approach at cornerback was at least slightly surprising based on some of the potential rookie Christian Benford showed against the Vikings. The Bills made first-round rookie Kaiir Elam (questionable with an ankle injury) inactive, and when they did the same thing last week, Benford was the full-time starter. But against the Browns, the Bills returned to the same snap-splitting routine for Benford by incorporating veteran and practice squad call-up Xavier Rhodes into the game plan. The Bills followed the same approach they used with Elam and Benford, giving Benford two defensive series, Rhodes the next two and alternating every two series through the rest of the game. The cornerback room continues to be one giant puzzle, as no real starting answers have crystallized this season. Until they find a pairing they can settle on or White returns to the lineup, it’s fair to expect more changes as the season continues.

7. Hines’ role grows on more than just offense

Now three games into his Bills career, the team is taking the slow approach on offense with running back Nyheim Hines. Hines wound up with only 10 offensive snaps over his first two weeks, but against the Browns, his total snap count doubled. He was on the field for 10 different offensive plays by my count, but it wasn’t in a normal running back role. Hines was the sole running back on only one of his 10 snaps. The other nine had Hines split out wide with Cook in the backfield, where he’d be used as a decoy, route runner or blocker for the play. He received one touch on a reverse, but that was one of the team’s worst plays of the game as it lost eight yards. But the Hines and Cook duo also popped for two plays over 15 yards, meaning we’re likely to see more of it in the coming weeks. The Cook and Hines combination was usually joined by Davis and Shakir as the wideouts, making for an interesting combination of talent with differing skill sets.

Although the Bills are being purposely slow in their onboarding process of Hines to the offense, they have pushed their chips all in with Hines on special teams. He has taken over the punt return role from Shakir, and Sunday he added kickoff return duties from McKenzie. Hines is also on the kickoff coverage team, making him a vastly important three-phase player on special teams. So even though Hines isn’t getting the snaps some would hope on offense to this point, he is making his presence felt on the roster in other vital ways.

Bills MVP: LB Matt Milano – The linebacker was everywhere and was an essential component in limiting the Browns rushing attack to the degree the Bills did on Sunday.

Bills LVP: CB Dane Jackson – It was a rough go for Jackson, who allowed far too many contested catch situations to go against him. His early season surge has dissipated, making for another question mark with the Bills’ cornerback room.

 

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a)  I wouldn't get too jacked about the Bills running game.   The Browns are last in the league in some rushing defensive categories.  I am sure that played a factor in the Bills success running the ball.

b)  Don't know what is going on with Dane Jackson, Christian Benford, Damar Hamlin and even Tauron Johsnon.  All were giving up contested passes. 
Hope we can figure it out. 

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It certainly wasn’t an average week for the Bills.

A snowstorm aimed directly at the Bills’ headquarters in Orchard Park, and in only 24 hours, 77 inches of snow rocked Orchard Park and set a New York state record for most snow in a single day. And just a few hours later, the Bills trudged through the snow and escaped to Detroit, hoping to end their two-game losing streak against the struggling Browns.t

While there was undoubtedly a wake-up period for the slow-starting Bills, they jumpstarted their day in the second quarter and never looked back. The Bills collected a 31-23 victory over the Browns, improving to 7-3.

What stood out from the game, and how did the Bills get back on track? Here are seven observations from the Bills’ win:

1. A get-right game for the rushing offense?

For the first time this season, the Bills’ running game exploded in a way coach Sean McDermott likely has been waiting to see all season. In the weeks leading up to this one, we’ve heard McDermott mention not wanting to be too one-dimensional, and because they have been so pass-centric the entire season, those comments always lead back to the ground game. They have struggled to maintain a consistent push with their offensive line all season. And over the last couple of weeks, the Bills started with positive rushing results but inexplicably went away from the ground game in the second half. On Sunday against the Browns, the Bills finally put it all together for their most complete rushing performance of the 2022 season. And unlike any of their other 2022 games, there wasn’t an over-dependence on Allen to jumpstart the ground game. It was all about the running backs.

Devin Singletary provided consistency throughout the day and maximized his runs even when the blocking could have been better. His vision and tackle-breaking skills were on display, along with his elusiveness in making a cut that a defender wasn’t expecting. Singletary looked quite similar to how he did down the stretch of the 2021 season, which was a promising sign. But it was the rookie James Cook that was the true eye catcher of the day. Cook matched Singletary’s 86 yards for the game, but did so in a completely different fashion and in seven fewer carries. Cook provided the flash of game-breaking rushing ability that the Bills haven’t had since Josh Allen arrived in 2018. And while Cook isn’t quite the tackle breaker or pile mover compared to Singletary, his effortless speed and smooth, gliding running style gives the team something wildly different from Singletary. Cook gained 71 of his 86 rushing yards on just four attempts, and when he got some speed behind him, his subtle moves out of the way of contact aren’t a usual characteristic for most running backs.

It was certainly a get-right game for the rushing game, but with the way the Browns have struggled to stop the run this season, it wasn’t necessarily a surprising result. It was a surprise that the Bills were as complete of a rushing team as we’ve seen this season, but the Browns have been a bit of a nightmare in run defending. On film in the games leading up to the Bills, the Browns’ four defensive tackles were consistently moved out of the way by opponents, making for a pretty clear attacking area for the Bills. And especially with McDermott so hellbent on having a good running game support their passing offense, the potential of this game was shouting for the Bills to run the ball a ton. They did, and they executed well. But above all else, is it sustainable moving forward against opponents that don’t struggle the way the Browns do? That remains to be seen, but sometimes an excellent performance against a down opponent can springboard a team into better results against better competition. McDermott, offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey and Allen certainly hope this was a sign of things to come.

2. Dorsey bucked their personnel trends and found success

Perhaps to establish their ground game, the Bills had a noticeable shift in their personnel packages throughout the game. They upended their tendency from a team primarily operating out of 11 personnel into one that featured at least one extra tight end or fullback on 45 percent of their offensive plays. It featured a smattering of tight end Quintin Morris (43 percent of snaps), fullback Reggie Gilliam (25 percent) and sixth offensive lineman Bobby Hart (12 percent). And it was on those plays when the Bills were their most potent against the Browns.

On 28 plays with an extra tight end, fullback or offensive lineman, the Bills averaged 6.7 yards per play. On the final snap of that, Allen willingly took a five-yard sack to keep the clock running, so if he throws that pass away in normal situations, the Bills averaged 6.9 yards per play on those plays. On all their other plays in 11 personnel, or with two running backs and two receivers, the Bills averaged more than a yard and a half less per play. It paid off for the Bills to go big in this game, which was a staple of the occasional Brian Daboll game plan. It will be quite intriguing to see if Dorsey sticks with this game plan or if he went with this attack based purely on the opponent. Either way, there is some momentum, even in a game where the passing attack wasn’t at its best.

3. Is there anything to make of Allen’s early struggles?

The game couldn’t have begun much worse for the Bills on offense. They looked disjointed, turned in three straight three-and-outs to begin the game, and over their first 11 plays averaged only 1.1 yards per play. At the heart of those struggles was Allen, who was off even on his completions. Even through the Bills’ fourth drive, in which they scored their second field goal to make it 10-6, Allen was scattershot at best. His 4-for-10 start for only 27 yards had some harkening back to his early short-yardage struggles in his first two seasons.

There was perhaps some worry that his elbow injury was impacting these throws, and that was causing the ball to go well off the target. But as soon as Allen delivered his first big pass of the game, a 28-yard zone beater to Gabe Davis on the left sideline, those accuracy concerns went out the window. Allen then looked like himself even more when he reared back and zipped a five-yard touchdown pass into Stefon Diggs. Allen completed 14 of 17 passes for 170 yards throughout the rest of the game.

Despite the anxieties over the elbow, until the accuracy becomes a factor for a full game or becomes a trend over a pair of games, I wouldn’t go too overboard with that concern. Allen settled in after a shaky beginning and averaged 10 yards per attempt the rest of the way, which is an elite level that when paired with an excellent rushing game is a nightmare to defend for opponents.

4. Milano and Poyer were difference-makers in a sea of inexperience around them

Over the last few weeks, every time the Bills get one of their marquee defenders back into the lineup, it’s seemed like another gets injured. It has especially taken its toll in the back seven and we’ve seen some struggles defensively as a result. Most of the troubles come when the Bills are missing two of the Tremaine EdmundsMatt Milano and Jordan Poyer trio. Since Week 3, the Bills have only had that entire trio for a full game only twice in eight games. The Bills ran into trouble against the Jets without Milano and Poyer, and then last week without Poyer against the Vikings once Edmunds had to leave the game at halftime. Even though the Bills were without Edmunds on Sunday, Milano and Poyer helped save the backend of the defense on multiple occasions, and they had to do it with so many inexperienced starters around them.

Milano was the leader of the intermediate part of the defense, starting next to Tyrel Dodson who struggled mightily in place of Edmunds last week. Milano turned in a game full of both flash and substance, easily being one of the most indispensable players on the roster for that game. If the Bills didn’t have Milano there to impact the game with his speed, reaction time, playmaking skills and tackling ability, the Browns are likely able to sustain far more drives than they did Sunday. Often, a player who racks up tackles can be deceiving because it doesn’t tell the story of where those tackles are happening. But in Milano’s case, he was simply superb. A sack, multiple tackles for loss and consistently sniffing out the run took Milano’s day through the roof. It’s been a two-player race between him and Von Miller for who has been the team’s best defender in 2022.

And then, with Poyer on the backend, it gave the Bills the sense of calm they’ve been missing the last two games. His pass breakup early in the game was a play that their starting safeties without him were half a step slow in their arrival. Like Milano, Poyer had to overcompensate for most of the inexperience around him between safety Damar Hamlin and cornerbacks Dane Jackson and Christian Benford. But Poyer was once again a source of strength for the team. Even without Edmunds, the defense played quite well. It makes you wonder what this group can do once he returns, and whenever star cornerback Tre’Davious White can make his season debut.

5. Run defense delivered on last week’s flashes of dominant play

Although the Bills allowed an 81-yard rushing touchdown to Dalvin Cook and the Vikings last week, it wasn’t anywhere close to the consistent struggle that the Bills’ run defense had in the two weeks prior. There were a lot of good moments to take from that, and they were just that one big play allowed from having a really nice game. Of course, they allowed that big play, and it served as another painful lesson in their journey to reclaim their run-stuffing prowess. But the potential was there to have some dominance in that area. Against a Browns team that predicates their entire offense through their rushing game, the Bills turned that potential into a one-week reality.

Between their defensive line holding the point of attack up the middle, their defensive ends containing the edges and the linebackers and safeties getting downhill in support, the Bills were magnificent on Sunday. The Browns’ offensive line, even without center Ethan Pocic for most of the game, is still one of the better run-blocking units in the NFL. And when paired with Nick Chubb, one of the best pure runners in the NFL, it’s usually a nightmare for opponents. But even without Edmunds and without their best run-defending defensive end in Greg Rousseau, the Bills still held Chubb to an absurd 1.4 yards per carry average and just 19 yards on 14 attempts. If the Bills can keep this going as they reintegrate their currently injured starters, it’s another reason to think the defense can get back to the dominant levels of the early season.

6. Shakir draws closer to McKenzie, CB rotation returns without Elam

The Bills had some interesting usage with a pair of rookie players, especially considering how the team previously used them. On offense, rookie Khalil Shakir had taken a massive backseat to Isaiah McKenzie over the last two games. McKenzie had 93 snaps to Shakir’s 24 in those two weeks, indicating a stronghold by the veteran McKenzie on the third receiver role. But with a bit of a different game plan in mind, that usage evened out this week against the Browns. McKenzie only outsnapped Shakir 26 to 16 by my unofficial count after the game. Shakir took a handful of snaps in a specific formation (more on that shortly) that helped his overall snap count, though it’s a personnel grouping that will likely continue, given some of its success. Even without it, Shakir creeping closer to McKenzie is undoubtedly something to track moving forward because of how the latter has struggled to make an impact in games even with all those increased opportunities.

On defense, the Bills’ approach at cornerback was at least slightly surprising based on some of the potential rookie Christian Benford showed against the Vikings. The Bills made first-round rookie Kaiir Elam (questionable with an ankle injury) inactive, and when they did the same thing last week, Benford was the full-time starter. But against the Browns, the Bills returned to the same snap-splitting routine for Benford by incorporating veteran and practice squad call-up Xavier Rhodes into the game plan. The Bills followed the same approach they used with Elam and Benford, giving Benford two defensive series, Rhodes the next two and alternating every two series through the rest of the game. The cornerback room continues to be one giant puzzle, as no real starting answers have crystallized this season. Until they find a pairing they can settle on or White returns to the lineup, it’s fair to expect more changes as the season continues.

7. Hines’ role grows on more than just offense

Now three games into his Bills career, the team is taking the slow approach on offense with running back Nyheim Hines. Hines wound up with only 10 offensive snaps over his first two weeks, but against the Browns, his total snap count doubled. He was on the field for 10 different offensive plays by my count, but it wasn’t in a normal running back role. Hines was the sole running back on only one of his 10 snaps. The other nine had Hines split out wide with Cook in the backfield, where he’d be used as a decoy, route runner or blocker for the play. He received one touch on a reverse, but that was one of the team’s worst plays of the game as it lost eight yards. But the Hines and Cook duo also popped for two plays over 15 yards, meaning we’re likely to see more of it in the coming weeks. The Cook and Hines combination was usually joined by Davis and Shakir as the wideouts, making for an interesting combination of talent with differing skill sets.

Although the Bills are being purposely slow in their onboarding process of Hines to the offense, they have pushed their chips all in with Hines on special teams. He has taken over the punt return role from Shakir, and Sunday he added kickoff return duties from McKenzie. Hines is also on the kickoff coverage team, making him a vastly important three-phase player on special teams. So even though Hines isn’t getting the snaps some would hope on offense to this point, he is making his presence felt on the roster in other vital ways.

Bills MVP: LB Matt Milano – The linebacker was everywhere and was an essential component in limiting the Browns rushing attack to the degree the Bills did on Sunday.

Bills LVP: CB Dane Jackson – It was a rough go for Jackson, who allowed far too many contested catch situations to go against him. His early season surge has dissipated, making for another question mark with the Bills’ cornerback room.

Up Next: The 7-3 Bills return to Buffalo for a cup of coffee before heading back to Detroit to take on the Lions on Thursday afternoon on Thanksgiving.

Final Thoughts

After a topsy-turvy 48 hours due to the snowstorm, the Bills eventually shook off a slow start and settled in for an overwhelming victory. They didn’t finish as many drives as they would have liked to, but they continued to put points on the board and put the game mostly out of reach throughout the fourth quarter. But regardless of how they got there, the Bills shook off a slightly concerning two-game losing streak to collect a sound victory. It’s not one of those wins that give uncanny insight into the rest of the season because it’s a game against a backup quarterback they should have won.

However, it’s a course-correcting win that gets them back in the right direction. They put their run-defending woes to rest even without three of their top players. They found their best success of the year running the ball. Finally, and most importantly, their offense was as unpredictable as it’s been over the last month. The Bills have a tremendous opportunity to build on this get-right game against another team they should beat next week before the schedule gets real with three straight AFC East opponents. Regardless, Sunday was the necessary step in the right direction and a solid win the Bills can build on heading into Week 12.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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18 hours ago, Crazy Legs said:

 

What stood out from the game, and how did the Bills get back on track? Here are seven observations from the Bills’ win:

1. A get-right game for the rushing offense?

For the first time this season, the Bills’ running game exploded in a way coach Sean McDermott likely has been waiting to see all season. In the weeks leading up to this one, we’ve heard McDermott mention not wanting to be too one-dimensional, and because they have been so pass-centric the entire season, those comments always lead back to the ground game. They have struggled to maintain a consistent push with their offensive line all season. And over the last couple of weeks, the Bills started with positive rushing results but inexplicably went away from the ground game in the second half. On Sunday against the Browns, the Bills finally put it all together for their most complete rushing performance of the 2022 season. And unlike any of their other 2022 games, there wasn’t an over-dependence on Allen to jumpstart the ground game. It was all about the running backs.

Wheels activated. 😤

📺: @NFLonCBS pic.twitter.com/1MIEhlBegt

— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) November 20, 2022

 

Devin Singletary provided consistency throughout the day and maximized his runs even when the blocking could have been better. His vision and tackle-breaking skills were on display, along with his elusiveness in making a cut that a defender wasn’t expecting. Singletary looked quite similar to how he did down the stretch of the 2021 season, which was a promising sign. But it was the rookie James Cook that was the true eye catcher of the day. Cook matched Singletary’s 86 yards for the game, but did so in a completely different fashion and in seven fewer carries. Cook provided the flash of game-breaking rushing ability that the Bills haven’t had since Josh Allen arrived in 2018. And while Cook isn’t quite the tackle breaker or pile mover compared to Singletary, his effortless speed and smooth, gliding running style gives the team something wildly different from Singletary. Cook gained 71 of his 86 rushing yards on just four attempts, and when he got some speed behind him, his subtle moves out of the way of contact aren’t a usual characteristic for most running backs.

 
 

It was certainly a get-right game for the rushing game, but with the way the Browns have struggled to stop the run this season, it wasn’t necessarily a surprising result. It was a surprise that the Bills were as complete of a rushing team as we’ve seen this season, but the Browns have been a bit of a nightmare in run defending. On film in the games leading up to the Bills, the Browns’ four defensive tackles were consistently moved out of the way by opponents, making for a pretty clear attacking area for the Bills. And especially with McDermott so hellbent on having a good running game support their passing offense, the potential of this game was shouting for the Bills to run the ball a ton. They did, and they executed well. But above all else, is it sustainable moving forward against opponents that don’t struggle the way the Browns do? That remains to be seen, but sometimes an excellent performance against a down opponent can springboard a team into better results against better competition. McDermott, offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey and Allen certainly hope this was a sign of things to come.

2. Dorsey bucked their personnel trends and found success

Perhaps to establish their ground game, the Bills had a noticeable shift in their personnel packages throughout the game. They upended their tendency from a team primarily operating out of 11 personnel into one that featured at least one extra tight end or fullback on 45 percent of their offensive plays. It featured a smattering of tight end Quintin Morris (43 percent of snaps), fullback Reggie Gilliam (25 percent) and sixth offensive lineman Bobby Hart (12 percent). And it was on those plays when the Bills were their most potent against the Browns.

On 28 plays with an extra tight end, fullback or offensive lineman, the Bills averaged 6.7 yards per play. On the final snap of that, Allen willingly took a five-yard sack to keep the clock running, so if he throws that pass away in normal situations, the Bills averaged 6.9 yards per play on those plays. On all their other plays in 11 personnel, or with two running backs and two receivers, the Bills averaged more than a yard and a half less per play. It paid off for the Bills to go big in this game, which was a staple of the occasional Brian Daboll game plan. It will be quite intriguing to see if Dorsey sticks with this game plan or if he went with this attack based purely on the opponent. Either way, there is some momentum, even in a game where the passing attack wasn’t at its best.

3. Is there anything to make of Allen’s early struggles?

The game couldn’t have begun much worse for the Bills on offense. They looked disjointed, turned in three straight three-and-outs to begin the game, and over their first 11 plays averaged only 1.1 yards per play. At the heart of those struggles was Allen, who was off even on his completions. Even through the Bills’ fourth drive, in which they scored their second field goal to make it 10-6, Allen was scattershot at best. His 4-for-10 start for only 27 yards had some harkening back to his early short-yardage struggles in his first two seasons.

There was perhaps some worry that his elbow injury was impacting these throws, and that was causing the ball to go well off the target. But as soon as Allen delivered his first big pass of the game, a 28-yard zone beater to Gabe Davis on the left sideline, those accuracy concerns went out the window. Allen then looked like himself even more when he reared back and zipped a five-yard touchdown pass into Stefon Diggs. Allen completed 14 of 17 passes for 170 yards throughout the rest of the game.

Stefon Diggs has entered the chat.

📺: @NFLonCBS pic.twitter.com/lVy8VinPeo

— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) November 20, 2022

 

Despite the anxieties over the elbow, until the accuracy becomes a factor for a full game or becomes a trend over a pair of games, I wouldn’t go too overboard with that concern. Allen settled in after a shaky beginning and averaged 10 yards per attempt the rest of the way, which is an elite level that when paired with an excellent rushing game is a nightmare to defend for opponents.

4. Milano and Poyer were difference-makers in a sea of inexperience around them

Over the last few weeks, every time the Bills get one of their marquee defenders back into the lineup, it’s seemed like another gets injured. It has especially taken its toll in the back seven and we’ve seen some struggles defensively as a result. Most of the troubles come when the Bills are missing two of the Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano and Jordan Poyer trio. Since Week 3, the Bills have only had that entire trio for a full game only twice in eight games. The Bills ran into trouble against the Jets without Milano and Poyer, and then last week without Poyer against the Vikings once Edmunds had to leave the game at halftime. Even though the Bills were without Edmunds on Sunday, Milano and Poyer helped save the backend of the defense on multiple occasions, and they had to do it with so many inexperienced starters around them.

 
 

Milano was the leader of the intermediate part of the defense, starting next to Tyrel Dodson who struggled mightily in place of Edmunds last week. Milano turned in a game full of both flash and substance, easily being one of the most indispensable players on the roster for that game. If the Bills didn’t have Milano there to impact the game with his speed, reaction time, playmaking skills and tackling ability, the Browns are likely able to sustain far more drives than they did Sunday. Often, a player who racks up tackles can be deceiving because it doesn’t tell the story of where those tackles are happening. But in Milano’s case, he was simply superb. A sack, multiple tackles for loss and consistently sniffing out the run took Milano’s day through the roof. It’s been a two-player race between him and Von Miller for who has been the team’s best defender in 2022.

And then, with Poyer on the backend, it gave the Bills the sense of calm they’ve been missing the last two games. His pass breakup early in the game was a play that their starting safeties without him were half a step slow in their arrival. Like Milano, Poyer had to overcompensate for most of the inexperience around him between safety Damar Hamlin and cornerbacks Dane Jackson and Christian Benford. But Poyer was once again a source of strength for the team. Even without Edmunds, the defense played quite well. It makes you wonder what this group can do once he returns, and whenever star cornerback Tre’Davious White can make his season debut.

5. Run defense delivered on last week’s flashes of dominant play

Although the Bills allowed an 81-yard rushing touchdown to Dalvin Cook and the Vikings last week, it wasn’t anywhere close to the consistent struggle that the Bills’ run defense had in the two weeks prior. There were a lot of good moments to take from that, and they were just that one big play allowed from having a really nice game. Of course, they allowed that big play, and it served as another painful lesson in their journey to reclaim their run-stuffing prowess. But the potential was there to have some dominance in that area. Against a Browns team that predicates their entire offense through their rushing game, the Bills turned that potential into a one-week reality.

Between their defensive line holding the point of attack up the middle, their defensive ends containing the edges and the linebackers and safeties getting downhill in support, the Bills were magnificent on Sunday. The Browns’ offensive line, even without center Ethan Pocic for most of the game, is still one of the better run-blocking units in the NFL. And when paired with Nick Chubb, one of the best pure runners in the NFL, it’s usually a nightmare for opponents. But even without Edmunds and without their best run-defending defensive end in Greg Rousseau, the Bills still held Chubb to an absurd 1.4 yards per carry average and just 19 yards on 14 attempts. If the Bills can keep this going as they reintegrate their currently injured starters, it’s another reason to think the defense can get back to the dominant levels of the early season.

6. Shakir draws closer to McKenzie, CB rotation returns without Elam

The Bills had some interesting usage with a pair of rookie players, especially considering how the team previously used them. On offense, rookie Khalil Shakir had taken a massive backseat to Isaiah McKenzie over the last two games. McKenzie had 93 snaps to Shakir’s 24 in those two weeks, indicating a stronghold by the veteran McKenzie on the third receiver role. But with a bit of a different game plan in mind, that usage evened out this week against the Browns. McKenzie only outsnapped Shakir 26 to 16 by my unofficial count after the game. Shakir took a handful of snaps in a specific formation (more on that shortly) that helped his overall snap count, though it’s a personnel grouping that will likely continue, given some of its success. Even without it, Shakir creeping closer to McKenzie is undoubtedly something to track moving forward because of how the latter has struggled to make an impact in games even with all those increased opportunities.

On defense, the Bills’ approach at cornerback was at least slightly surprising based on some of the potential rookie Christian Benford showed against the Vikings. The Bills made first-round rookie Kaiir Elam (questionable with an ankle injury) inactive, and when they did the same thing last week, Benford was the full-time starter. But against the Browns, the Bills returned to the same snap-splitting routine for Benford by incorporating veteran and practice squad call-up Xavier Rhodes into the game plan. The Bills followed the same approach they used with Elam and Benford, giving Benford two defensive series, Rhodes the next two and alternating every two series through the rest of the game. The cornerback room continues to be one giant puzzle, as no real starting answers have crystallized this season. Until they find a pairing they can settle on or White returns to the lineup, it’s fair to expect more changes as the season continues.

7. Hines’ role grows on more than just offense

Now three games into his Bills career, the team is taking the slow approach on offense with running back Nyheim Hines. Hines wound up with only 10 offensive snaps over his first two weeks, but against the Browns, his total snap count doubled. He was on the field for 10 different offensive plays by my count, but it wasn’t in a normal running back role. Hines was the sole running back on only one of his 10 snaps. The other nine had Hines split out wide with Cook in the backfield, where he’d be used as a decoy, route runner or blocker for the play. He received one touch on a reverse, but that was one of the team’s worst plays of the game as it lost eight yards. But the Hines and Cook duo also popped for two plays over 15 yards, meaning we’re likely to see more of it in the coming weeks. The Cook and Hines combination was usually joined by Davis and Shakir as the wideouts, making for an interesting combination of talent with differing skill sets.

Although the Bills are being purposely slow in their onboarding process of Hines to the offense, they have pushed their chips all in with Hines on special teams. He has taken over the punt return role from Shakir, and Sunday he added kickoff return duties from McKenzie. Hines is also on the kickoff coverage team, making him a vastly important three-phase player on special teams. So even though Hines isn’t getting the snaps some would hope on offense to this point, he is making his presence felt on the roster in other vital ways.

Bills MVP: LB Matt Milano – The linebacker was everywhere and was an essential component in limiting the Browns rushing attack to the degree the Bills did on Sunday.

Bills LVP: CB Dane Jackson – It was a rough go for Jackson, who allowed far too many contested catch situations to go against him. His early season surge has dissipated, making for another question mark with the Bills’ cornerback room.

 

Dane was close. Cooper looked as good as last weeks guy.

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