clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bills 31, Browns 23: Five things we learned

The Bills are weathering some mid-season struggles, which is a lot easier to handle when they win

Cleveland Browns v Buffalo Bills Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills beat the Cleveland Browns, 31-23, at Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday. In doing so, they avoided their first three-game losing streak since 2018, and moved to 7-3 to climb back into a first-place tie in the AFC East with the Miami Dolphins (who, yes, currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker). Buffalo has a quick turnaround for its Week 12 game, as they’ll fly home for a few days, then straight back to Detroit on Wednesday for a Thanksgiving Day showdown with the Detroit Lions.

Buffalo is weathering some mid-season struggles, which is a lot easier to handle when they’re able to win while doing so. Here are five things we learned from Buffalo’s big win to cap off a crazy week.

Bills ran and stopped the run

Coming into this matchup, Buffalo’s run defense was on its heels a bit; after giving up a combined 382 rushing yards in Weeks 8-9 to the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets, they mostly contained the Minnesota Vikings’ run game last weekend—that is, until an 81-yard touchdown run from Dalvin Cook completely changed the momentum of the game. Cleveland sports one of the NFL’s best running back duos in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, so Bills fans were naturally worried about that matchup.

Chubb ended up with 19 rushing yards on 14 carries. As a team, the Browns ran for 80 yards on 26 carries (3.1 yards per rush). Buffalo contained a quality rushing attack and prevented the big play on the ground this week, and it made a huge difference in the game’s outcome.

On the other side of the field, the Bills were finally able to run the ball with their own running backs. Buffalo has run for at least 100 yards in every game this season, but quarterback Josh Allen has had to do a lot of that work himself. In this game, Devin Singletary (18 carries, 86 yards, and a touchdown) and James Cook (11 carries, 86 yards) keyed the Bills to a 171-yard rushing effort. Their ability to control the ball on the ground masked some more second-half deficiencies in putting this game away.

Buffalo plays turnover-free ball

A big talking point throughout the past few weeks had been the Bills’ inability to reel themselves in on the turnover front; in their past 10 quarters, they’d turned the ball over eight times, which came back to bite them in two losses by a combined six points.

There were certainly some close calls, but in the end, a clearly-struggling Allen (more on that next) was able to play a clean game, and the Bills did not turn the football over in this contest. The lone turnover in the game belonged to Cleveland, which fumbled a center-quarterback exchange in the second quarter, recovered by linebacker Matt Milano. The turnover battle wasn’t necessarily central to the outcome of this contest—although a fourth-down stop by Buffalo’s defense and a blocked field goal try by defensive tackle DaQuan Jones could alter that discussion a bit—but the Bills didn’t beat themselves this week, and it made a big difference.

Josh Allen is grinding right now

Allen wasn’t the only Bills player to struggle mightily throughout the first half—the team did only have one full-team practice this week, after all—but as is always the case with star quarterbacks, his struggles were more pronounced. Allen struggled with his accuracy early in this game while Buffalo’s offense sputtered. Even as he found his groove late in the second quarter and helped the Bills to score 25 unanswered points in building a 28-10 lead, he was clearly not his otherworldly self from earlier in the season. At the end of the day, Allen completed 18-of-27 passes for 197 yards, with one touchdown, the aforementioned no turnovers, and a quarterback rating of 100.4.

Just like the team in general, Allen is working through some things right now. His lack of practice time may be affecting him, as he’s been on a limited throw count throughout the week while he nurses the sprained elbow he sustained in Week 8. He’s not seeing the field as clearly as he had been. It’s not all on him; it took offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey entirely too long to find his running game in this contest, which kick-started the attack, and Buffalo’s receivers have dropped some key passes along the way.

Allen has always found his way through rough patches, but even in victory, he’s not out of the woods just yet.

Bills’ pass defense struggles again

In the past two weeks, Minnesota and Cleveland have adopted a chuck-it-up strategy against Buffalo’s young and inexperienced cornerbacks, and it’s paying dividends. While their coverage has been pretty sound, the Bills’ defensive backs—ranging from cornerbacks Dane Jackson and Christian Benford, to safety Damar Hamlin, predominantly, though they are not the only culprits—have lost more than their fair share of 50-50 balls. Justin Jefferson posterized the secondary in Week 10, and Cleveland continued that trend this week.

Jacoby Brissett finished this game by completing 28-of-41 passes for 324 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 116.3. He was sacked just once—by Milano, who had an outstanding day (11 tackles, 7 solo, three tackles for a loss, and that sack)—but the bigger story was Buffalo’s inability to make plays once the ball was in the air.

Under head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier, Buffalo’s pass defense had not allowed back-to-back 300-yard passing efforts in a season since Weeks 2-3 in 2020. It has now happened twice this year—in Weeks 5-6, and now Weeks 10-11—and it feels like that streak may extend if the team isn’t able to overcome its tendency to give up contested catches, avoid penalties, and perhaps most importantly, get linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and cornerback Tre’Davious White back onto the field. That last bit doesn’t seem imminent with a four-day work week coming up.

Feeding James Cook over Nyheim Hines is the right call

Buffalo’s trade for running back Nyheim Hines at the NFL trade deadline is looking more befuddling by the week; without having the snap counts handy, Hines felt a bit more involved this week, but still only saw one passing target (an incompletion) and lost eight yards on his only carry.

Meanwhile, it was rookie second-round pick James Cook who provided Buffalo’s offense with a spark in the second and third quarters. He looked excellent in carrying 11 times for 86 yards, making good on a recent trend where he looked as if he were ready to give Buffalo’s ailing running game some much-needed juice. He still didn’t play much—Mike Clay of ESPN had him at 16 snaps played (25.8% of total)—but Cook clearly made the most of his opportunities on a day the Bills needed him to.

At this point, Buffalo is rightly prioritizing Cook’s offensive involvement over Hines’, and this is the right call from every conceivable angle. Hines may end up being a partial-season rental, as his contract is set to become significantly more expensive after this season. Singletary is also in a contract year. Cook is the only back on the roster under team control for the foreseeable future. He is clearly talented, and is producing within a growing role in the offense. Not only is he playing well, but the Bills need to know exactly what they have in him. It’s likely we’ll continue to see him involved before Hines.