ReFo: Bills @ Browns, Week 5
Brandon Weeden was staring down the barrel of an NFL abyss coming in to this game, but a freak injury earned him another chance, and Ben Stockwell's game ball.
ReFo: Bills @ Browns, Week 5
Even after their starting quarterback went down early in the game with a freak injury, the Cleveland Browns kept on rolling. Notching their third straight victory, Cleveland is now 3-2 and sits, for two days at least, alone atop the AFC North. In a whole team effort, with big plays coming from all three units, the Browns were able to pull away from the Buffalo Bills late on to leave Buffalo at 2-3 and potentially three games back from the AFC East lead at this early stage of the season.
The Browns were committed to the ground game on offense, though they didn’t get much change from it with the Bills able to key in on what, in the end, became an extremely predictable power style of football. However, when they got to the goal line the Browns knocked just enough times to kick the door down, overcoming a valiant Bills’ goal-line stand. The Browns also got some big plays from the passing game when Brandon Weeden came in after Travis Benjamin had given them the lead with an electrifying punt return.
For the Bills this was a case of what could have been. After E.J. Manuel was forced from the game with the knee injury, the passing game faltered in the hands of Jeff Tuel and his pick-six thrown to T.J. Ward was the play that ultimately put the game out of reach after the two-minute warning. The Bills now have a nervous wait to see how severe Manuel’s knee injury is (initially reported as a sprain) to see what if any moves they need to make ahead of the visit of Cincinnati next Sunday.
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
Alonso Continues Strong Start
There was no fifth interception in as many games for Kiko Alonso, but this was another strong display in an increasingly impressive start to his career. He made a memorable play on the Bills’ ultimately unsuccessful goal-line stand by leaping over the pile to halt Willis McGahee for Arthur Moats to finish the play, but there was plenty in Alonso’s performance beyond the splash play.
With the Browns running so much power blocking he was coming up against pulling guards much more in this game than you’d expect and he acquitted himself extremely well, winning as many of those one-on-one blocks as he lost, if not slightly edging the battle, in particular against Shawn Lauvao. With only four tackles and three stops Alonso’s stat line may not tell the story of a big game, but when you look a little closer you see a different side to him as a linebacker. One not only able to make plays against ballcarriers but also able to do the dirty work standing up linemen to create opportunities for those around him and slow the opposition in different ways.
Tuel Time Draws Low Ratings
Seeing his first action since preseason Jeff Tuel failed to impress (-4.9). Entering the game midway through the third quarter for E.J. Manuel, he got off to a solid start putting up a pass for Scott Chandler that was denied a touchdown only by a pass interference penalty from T.J. Ward — Fred Jackson scored a walk-in touchdown on the next play.
However, from that point things got worse for Tuel with accuracy and arm strength proving to be severe issues. On short throws he had a habit of missing receivers low, on two deep shots he got lucky once (with a Robert Woods helping to rescue an underthrow that Joe Haden could have intercepted) and unlucky another time when T.J. Graham let a deep shot slip through his hands when the Bills were driving from two scores down. The play that Tuel will be remembered for though was the pick-six that put the game out of reach, failing to read T.J. Ward’s intentions, forcing in a pass to Woods that Ward comfortably jumped to take back for the game’s pivotal score.
Dareus Delivers Again
After getting off to a rough start in run defense this season (-5.0 after Week 2) Marcell Dareus has been on the road to redemption in the last five days with two quality displays against AFC North opponents. After collecting a strong performance against the Ravens which featured three stops on only eight run defense snaps, Dareus collected a scarcely believable seven stops on 27 snaps in run defense on Thursday night.
After he added another in pass coverage, tracking down Gary Barnidge on a release route, Dareus now has 19 stops to start the season, only seven short of the number he produced all last year. Doing most of his work against Shawn Lauvao and Alex Mack, Dareus did a good job working outside of the Browns’ attempted down blocks as they looked to set up the space for their pulling linemen to lead through. Dareus’ active work inside with Kiko Alonso helped limit the effectiveness of the Browns’ running game.
Cleveland – Three Performances of Note
More Than Just a Receiver
While he couldn’t replicate the impact receiving that he had produced in the first month of the season, Jordan Cameron did serve notice in this game that he is more than just a receiver for the Browns. Even accounting for a fumble on the first play of the second quarter to hurt his receiving grade further, Cameron was one of the Browns’ more effective run blockers in the game earning a +1.6 grade.
With the Browns working to the edge so often with their attempt at a power ground game, Cameron was important working both individually and with the likes of Joe Thomas on down blocks to clear linebackers and defensive ends inside. At times they did this too effectively, allowing interior linemen like Marcel Dareus to use these down blocks as picks to work off their own blocks and scrape over to the run. This might not have tested the versatility of Cameron’s run blocking but simply down blocking all day as an in-line blocker would have been beyond some of his fellow “receiving” tight ends. Cameron’s early season form suggests he is more than that.
Mingo Chips Away at Glenn
In my preview I postulated that the early-season form of Barkevious Mingo and Cordy Glenn dictated that the Browns’ rookie linebacker wouldn’t get the better the Bills’ second-year left tackle too often — but when he did he needed to make those plays count. Well, turns out the game went the other way with Mingo chipping away all game with plays as a pass rusher but never really making the big impact that he has tended to make early on this season. Unfortunately for Mingo, the play that will most stand out of his was not as a pass rusher or a positive as he lost his bearings playing contain on a rush bounced out by C.J. Spiller en route to a 54-yard score.
Mingo will, you would think, learn from that play, but his persistence and consistency as a pass rusher in this game even though he came up short of the impact play should be encouraging after registering more pressure against Cordy Glenn than the Bills’ tackle had conceded in the first four weeks of the season. He even showed his ability to rebound from a bad play, following up his poor play on Spiller’s touchdown by driving inside of Lee Smith to make a 2-yard tackle on Fred Jackson, immediately getting back with a play on the positive side of the ledger.
Weeden Makes Most of Second Chance
Just as Brian Hoyer appeared to making the Browns’ starting job his own cruel fate for Hoyer afforded Brandon Weeden (+4.3) a chance to reclaim the job, and he grasped it with both hands. Weeden picked up right where he left off after a solid display against the Ravens in Week 2, consistently putting the ball where it needed to be, even if his receivers didn’t always bring the ball in — he suffered three drops on 21 aimed passes.
Weeden worked particularly well on deep routes outside the numbers going 5 of 7 for 104 yards and his touchdown on passes aimed 10+ yards in the air outside the left numbers. There were a couple of poor throws mixed in but, by and large, in a game where the Browns were so predicated on the run, Weeden was on point with a number of good throws and a few out of the very top drawer. More of the same and Weeden could yet play his way into keeping the Browns’ starting job beyond the end of this season.
– Of the 28 carries by Willis McGahee and Bobby Rainey, the Browns pulled backside lineman on 24 of them. Prior to this game the Browns had used a pulling lineman (from front or backside) on just over half of their run plays.
– After his impressive display against the Ravens last week, Aaron Williams came crashing back down to earth this week surrendering 133 yards and a touchdown on seven targets (five catches) with a 153.3 passer rating allowed.
– Craig Robertson led the Browns with a career high six defensives stops, just ahead of Ahtyba Rubin who matched a career high with five.
PFF Game Ball
For his display in relief of Brian Hoyer, making the big plays like the long touchdown to Josh Gordon and a 3rd-and-18 conversion midway through the fourth quarter, Brandon Weeden gets the nod as the Browns move atop the AFC North.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.