Bills vs. Browns: Travis Benjamin brings special teams problems to light

Jason Miller

For four weeks, the Buffalo Bills struggled punting the football, but avoided allowing big returns thanks to great coverage. When the coverage wasn't great in Cleveland, their biggest special teams wart was exposed in a major way.

In our game preview written prior to last night's game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cleveland Browns, we offered up this quick blurb on the potential big-play ability offered by the Bills' punting situation and the Browns' explosive return man:

Two sleeper Browns

WR/PR Travis Benjamin. As a rookie last season, Benjamin gave the Bills some problems with two receptions for 44 yards and a touchdown despite Buffalo's win. He's an afterthought as the fourth receiver in Cleveland's offense, but his speed was an issue last season, and the precedent is there for Benjamin to surprise. The real reason we're putting him here, however, is because of that speed in practice as a punt returner. Bills punter Shawn Powell continues to struggle with consistency, and while they've thus far dodged the bullet on giving up a lengthy return or two to talented returners, Benjamin may have the opportunity to end that lucky streak tonight.

Normally, it's fun to be right. In this particular case, it was not; Benjamin set a Browns franchise record with 179 punt return yards in the Browns' 37-24 win, a feat which included a 79-yard return for a touchdown in the second quarter to give the Browns a 17-10 lead. They wouldn't score again until EJ Manuel left the game with a knee injury in the third quarter.

Bills head coach Doug Marrone admitted after the game that the Bills changed their punting approach following Benjamin's two big returns - and that they were struggling on the punt unit all night long.

"I think it starts out (with) hang-time, direction, and then we got out-leveraged," Marrone said of the long returns. "So, it all starts at the beginning, how it goes and you just can't have that against a good punt returner with speed. You saw that, and we knew that going in. After the big return, the two returns, then we tried to make a strategic excision to try to make sure we kick the ball out of bounds. We didn't want to give him another opportunity."

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