I wanted to wait until Mike Pettine announced the Browns' starting quarterback for this Sunday's game before I reviewed the 26-10 loss to Buffalo. Had QB Johnny Manziel been named "the guy," I might have focused more time on him.
Since the decision was to stick with QB Brian Hoyer, I made sure I paid more attention to what happened while he was in the game. Why was the offense so inept? Was it because Hoyer was missing reads? Did he do something so outrageous in this game that he deserved to be benched? Or, was Buffalo simply another bad matchup for our offense? Let's get to my complete game review to find out.
WEEK 13 - CLEVELAND BROWNS VS. BUFFALO BILLS
(COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
- Goat of the Game: RB Terrance West - There were a lot of parties who played poorly on offense this week. Namely, there were more plays in which LT Joe Thomas and WR Josh Gordon set the offense back. However, the one that proved to be the most costly was the fumble by West immediately after the Bills had scored their first points of the game.
Cleveland's defense had been playing very well in a 7-3 game. I know people are probably sick of me saying that the Browns could have "won ugly," but down one score, we could have. Once it became a two-score deficit in a matter of ten seconds, Cleveland was screwed. West also nearly fumbled in the first half, had his elbow not touched the ground first.
- Awarding the Game Ball: CB Joe Haden - Haden shut down WR Sammy Watkins, holding him to 3 catches for 11 yards. He intercepted QB Kyle Orton on Buffalo's first series of the second half, giving the Browns great field position (which they did nothing with). He also blocked a field goal at the end of the first half to preserve a 3-0 lead.
- Run Blocking Not Cutting It: Let's take away the runs by QB Johnny Manziel and the "garbage" run on the final play of the game by RB Terrance West, which went for 18 yards. The result? The Browns' running backs carried the ball 23 times for 43 yards (1.87 YPC).
The run blocking wasn't cutting it from the get go. Between Buffalo's front four just being too dominant and the Browns having mix-ups on who was supposed to block who (Gary Barnidge being out most of the game didn't help), Cleveland was doomed to fail. On the play above, it's a pitch to RB Isaiah Crowell on the first play of the Browns' second drive of the game. RT Mitchell Schwartz and TE Jim Dray both block the same guy.
My expectation is that either Schwartz or Dray are supposed to release and block the linebacker shooting through the gap, while TE Ryan Taylor takes on the outside defender. Instead, the linebacker runs free and hits Crowell for a loss of four yards.
Some of us wondered why the Browns didn't just run the ball up the middle more often. This might be a reason why. When they tried to do so two plays after the pitch, look what has happened before Crowell even gets the handoff.
- Bills Playing Deeper Zone Early: Despite the two failed run plays, Cleveland had their best drive of the game on series number two. QB Brian Hoyer hit three straight completions of 13, 11, and 15 yards. His completions were typically three-step drops that were quick hitters to his receivers, negating the Bills' pass rush.
My assessment is that the Bills played a deeper zone in the first quarter. On this play, that's going to allow WR Josh Gordon to come open underneath with enough cushion to run after the catch for a first down.
As we'll see later in the game, the Bills continued to play zone coverage but started to get a jam on the initial receiver before letting them run right into the zone. With that extra time, Hoyer couldn't make the same type of quick throws because the receivers weren't open.
- Browns Can't Convert in Red Zone: After two straight run plays, Cleveland faced a 3rd-and-goal from the 4 yard line.
At the bottom of the screen, I'm really not too sure why we have WR Andrew Hawkins running a fade route, given his size. The Bills double team WR Miles Austin and TE Jim Dray up the seams, and WR Josh Gordon is running a shallow crosser right into a zone defender.
Going to Gordon might have been the best decision here since he has a one-on-one and you'd like to hope he can use his strength to get in, but the defender would also be able to drive on him as soon as the ball is thrown. Hoyer tries to give Austin a shot in the back of the end zone on what is a very difficult throw to make, so it falls incomplete. The Browns settled for a 22-yard field goal by K Billy Cundiff to go up 3-0.
- Robertson's Delayed Blitz: The Browns' defense was very good most of the afternoon.
This was a blitz that caught QB Kyle Orton and the Bills off guard past the mid-way point of the first quarter. Facing a 3rd-and-10, S Jim Leonhard comes on a blitz. After the snap, ILB Craig Robertson takes one step away from the line, as if he's going to go into coverage, before blitzing around Leonhard.
Robertson comes free, but RB Fred Jackson peels out and Orton is able to dump the ball off to him. OLB Barkevious Mingo whiffs on an awful attempt at a neck tackle, but other defenders are able to come in and stop Jackson for a gain of just one yard.
- MarQueis Gray Runs Free, Part 1: The Browns went three-and-out on their next series after a defender broke up a slant pass to WR Miles Austin on third down.
Facing a 2nd-and-6 from the 44 yard line, QB Kyle Orton found TE MarQueis Gray wide open for the first of two times in the game. He finished the day with 2 catches for 70 yards. Of all the former Browns who could potentially come back to bite the Browns, who would've picked that player to be Gray?
Above, you can see that Gray comes across the formation on a playaction fake, something that TE Gary Barnidge often does in our offense. OLB Barkevious Mingo is circled in green.
Gray sells the block and will release. Mingo sees the fake and goes hard after Orton...
...which leaves Gray uncovered. With the help of a downfield block and our secondary bracing for a deep pass (green), Gray's catch-and-run up the sideline goes for 30 yards.
- Leonhard INT in Red Zone: Several plays later, the Bills are facing a 3rd-and-6 from the 7 yard line at the beginning of the second quarter.
WR Sammy Watkins is going to try to shake CB Joe Haden at the top of the screen before doing a post to the end zone. SS Donte Whitner (green arrow) is going to creep up to cover the tight end on the crossing route. That gives QB Kyle Orton the illusion that Watkins has a one-on-one matchup, so he never sees FS Jim Leonhard slow creeping underneath the route (green zone).
Orton is releasing the pass as Leonhard is making his break.
If Leonhard doesn't make the tip (and then the interception), the ball was on path to hit Watkins (although Haden might have slowed up a bit as not to run in to his teammate). The turnover preserved the first half shutout.
- Faulty Offense Not All on Hoyer: Here are some examples of the offensive struggles not being all on QB Brian Hoyer.
On the first play after the interception, the Browns try a playaction fake that has him drop ten yards behind the line of scrimmage -- a different strategy from the team's first drive. Hoyer is hit as he throws and the duck still falls for a 14-yard gain to WR Andrew Hawkins, but it's negated because of the holding penalty above on LT Joe Thomas.
On 1st-and-20, Hoyer tries to get half of the yardage back on a slant to WR Josh Gordon, but the pass is dropped. Despite being stuck with a 2nd-and-20, the Browns caught a break when Buffalo held WR Travis Benjamin on the next play, leading to a fresh set of downs.
- Finding Austin Open Downfield: A few plays later, Cleveland faced a 2nd-and-7 from the 31 yard line.
QB Brian Hoyer makes an adjustment pre-snap, and WR Miles Austin appears to say something to his quarterback. Off of the playaction fake, there are only two receivers going into the route.
This is something that has to kill you about the Browns' playcalling this week. On tape, the Bills' breakdowns in coverage came on these type of plays -- a receiver lining up in the slot and running a fade up the sideline. It negates the zone that Buffalo was typically running in the middle of the field while giving single coverage on an outside receiver. Here, two defenders go with WR Josh Gordon, leaving Austin free.
The throw gets there, but a better throw would've hit Austin in stride for at least 10 more yards. Nonetheless, the completion still goes for 30 yards and puts the Browns in Bills territory.
- Bills Sitting in Zone Coverage: Two plays later, Cleveland faced a 2nd-and-10 from the 39 yard line.
All four receivers are running to pretty much the same spot in the middle of the field, which personally looks like a poor play design to me.
Coupled with the fact that Buffalo is just waiting for passes over the middle, it makes the play even worse. Where is QB Brian Hoyer supposed to go with the football? RB Isaiah Crowell leaks out at the last second and Hoyer hits him, but Crowell didn't snap his head around quick enough so the pass falls incomplete.
- Gordon Bends Route Upfield: A couple of plays later, the Browns faced a 3rd-and-6 from the 19 yard line.
WR Josh Gordon is on the outside running a slant to the middle. It's a route that, with a catch-and-run, will be right at the sticks, either for a first down or a "4th-and-1 let's go for it" situation.
Based on how Gordon starts his route, he's running on the yellow path. QB Brian Hoyer plans to zip the ball to him on that path. Will Gordon take contact from the defender in cyan? Yes...but that's what our receivers needed to do on Sunday. Instead, Gordon sees the defender and bends his route upfield toward the green arrow.
Here is the perspective more from Hoyer's point of view -- you can see based on Gordon's footwork that he is going upfield. The problem is that Hoyer is already committing to what he thinks Gordon is continuing with -- the original slant.
The pass falls incomplete. Was the Bills defender there? Yes -- but if Gordon confidently continued with the original route, he would've had body position on the defender and been in front of this ball, likely for a first down. Instead, the Browns settle for a field goal attempt, which K Billy Cundiff shanks from 37 yards out. Lovely.
- Crowell Stumbles: Earlier, I said the run blocking wasn't doing too well. After the Bills went three-and-out, RB Isaiah Crowell picked up six yards on first down to set up a 2nd-and-4.
It was more important this week to get the Bills' defense in situations that weren't obvious third down passing situations. Therefore, on 2nd-and-4, the Browns ran a pitch play to Crowell. At worst, maybe we can set up a 3rd-and-1 with a threat to run or pass? Looking at the above, Crowell seems to have at least a little room to pick up yardage.
Unfortunately, he slips and is touched down for no gain.
- Hoyer Shows Some Hesitation: On the next play, Cleveland faced a 3rd-and-4 and we're going to see a little bit of hesitancy from QB Brian Hoyer.
As you can see, the Bills are heavily in zone coverage over the middle, but we're not testing Buffalo on the outside flag routes. Hoyer wants to go to WR Josh Gordon on the slant over the middle, but will he run the right route? Is the defender on his heels or ready to jump the route?
Hoyer hesitates for a click and then a pass rushers does an inside spin move on LT Joe Thomas to get in Hoyer's face a little. Hoyer tries to move outside the pocket then, which is a mistake for a non-mobile quarterback against this front four, and takes a sack for a loss of six yards.
- Awful Decision Nearly Leads to INT: The back-and-forth struggle continued. Cleveland's defense forced a three-and-out so QB Brian Hoyer got the ball back with just under two minutes to play in the first half.
After picking up one first down, the Browns faced a 1st-and-10 at the 35 yard line with 1:14 left in the half. And, once again, all of our routes are designed to go over the middle, right into the Bills' zone coverage.
The outside defender gets an immediate jam on WR Travis Benjamin. Hoyer still thinks he can zip a pass in to him once he breaks off the jam. The problem is that he's not paying attention to the other guys in zone who are just sitting on the route.
This pass should have been intercepted, but the defender dropped it. A lot of people gave Hoyer flak for his next throw, but this was the one that was all on him.
- Lack of Chemistry Does Lead to INT: Now facing a 2nd-and-10, on cue, QB Brian Hoyer did throw an interception, but I'm in the camp that puts the blame on WR Josh Gordon.
When it comes down to it, a quarterback can't have success in the NFL if all he does is wait for receivers to break open. You have to anticipate. Gordon should be running the deep dig route that he ran all of last season here, but instead, he breaks off of it and goes deep.
If Gordon breaks this off, he's got a 15-yard reception at the least. If he does a nice spin move when the defender tries to make a tackle, maybe it goes for more yardage, knowing how good he is at that. Instead, he keeps running deep and the safety in cyan picks the pass.
- Haden Starts 2nd Half w/ INT: CB Joe Haden blocked the Bills' 53-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half to keep it a 3-0 lead. He stayed red hot at the start of the second half.
Facing a 3rd-and-5, WR Sammy Watkins tries to run a slant on third down and QB Kyle Orton is looking his way the whole time.
Watkins has a difficult time getting off Haden's press coverage, and Haden's eyes are on the quarterback as he is delivering the pass.
Haden fights for position and intercepts the pass at the 30 yard line. Given all of the struggles the offense had in the first half, my instinct as a fan was to think, "Great! With a touchdown drive here, we can go up 10-0 and play defense!"
- Quick Hitter to Agnew? The first offensive play after the interception was a run by RB Isaiah Crowell for no gain.
On second down, QB Brian Hoyer took a three step drop and threw a pass to FB Ray Agnew.
We should not be throwing the ball to this guy in the flat. Agnew catches it, but is hit immediately for no gain. Was anybody else really open? Hoyer is also getting hit as he throws it. Again, the playcalling left a lot to be desired on Sunday.
- Taking a Sack After the Turnover: Just like that, the Browns find themselves in a 3rd-and-10 situation. If they don't gain any yardage, K Billy Cundiff would have to try a 47-yard field goal.
The Bills are sitting in zone coverage at the line of scrimmage. Hoyer appears to have a shot at one of the two receivers at the top of the screen, but doesn't pull the trigger.
This was just a three man rush, and Cleveland's offensive line got owned pretty quickly. I put this on the offense struggling in general, and not just on the saying that "Hoyer can't take a sack in this situation."
- Bills Prevail on 4th Down: I've said before that it is incredibly difficult to pitch a shutout in the NFL these days. Mid-way through the third quarter, the Bills finally struck.
Facing a 4th-and-2, the Bills look to be in a passing formation. QB Kyle Orton is going to roll out to his right, cutting off half the field. Ideally, if we have the route covered, the play will be dead and one of our pass rushers will get to the quarterback.
Despite showing a lot of defenders at the line, the Browns only bright a three-man rush (and keep in mind that our three-man rush is not Buffalo's three-man rush). Orton has no where to go, so he steps up in the pocket and WR Robert Woods improvises on the other side of the field. At this point, I don't fault CB Buster Skrine for not breaking up the pass -- this is a tough cover for him, given the circumstance. It can't help that S Jordan Poyer (green) is busy in no-man's land, not even paying attention to Woods.
Woods makes a great catch, even with the pass interference.
One play later, Buffalo basically runs the same play -- a rolling pocket, but this time, WR Chris Hogan has enough separation on CB K'Waun Williams to secure the 3-yard touchdown and give the Bills a 7-3 lead.
- West Careless With the Football: This had to be one of the most demoralizing plays all season.
On the Browns' first offensive play following their 7-3 deficit, RB Terrance West got the pitch. He had a lane to cut upfield, but instead, he made the early decision to sprint to the sideline and try to turn the corner.
Buffalo's defense contains him, and then West is carrying the football in the wrong arm. That allows DL Jerry Hughes to hack in with the strip, sack, recovery, and return for a touchdown.
- Hoyer Doesn't See the Safety: From there, the snowball effect of negativity was in full force.
Now down 14-3 mid-way through the third quarter, Cleveland ran a playaction fake in which WR Josh Gordon is the only downfield threat available to QB Brian Hoyer. FB Ray Agnew (AHHHHH!!!) is leaking into the flat.
Other team's safeties have bit for the playaction fake. Buffalo's safeties sat back. Hoyer delivers the ball to Gordon, not expecting the safety to be there, and should have been intercepted. I've hated on Agnew, but another thing that Buffalo was vulnerable to on Sunday was the running back or fullback leaking out late after the playaction. If the dumpoff is to Agnew here, we've got some fair yardage.
- Gordon Continues Rough Stretch: The Browns went three-and-out but forced a defensive stop. They got the ball back before the end of the third quarter and faced a 3rd-and-11 after Cleveland had a first down negated by offensive pass interference.
Here we go again -- QB Brian Hoyer is going to be looking for WR Josh Gordon on a deep dig route.
Hoyer anticipates Gordon cutting in, and there is space there for a nice 20-yard completion and maybe some yards after the catch. The arrow above shows what Gordon should have done. Instead...
...he plants his foot and just sits here...
...resulting in the incomplete pass.
I understand Hoyer's frustration, and this is the part I feared about Gordon coming back. He's not in sync with the offense yet and it is costing Cleveland dearly. The Browns should probably limit his options -- run the shallow crosser, the deep post, or the bubble screen -- until he gets more acclimated to the game again.
- Nelson Watches Punt Go By: Because the Browns were thin at cornerback, they activated DB Robert Nelson and DB Pierre Desir for special teams purposes.
P Spencer Lanning had a short punt. Nelson is the gunner, and he inexplicably backs up when he sees the ball bouncing. The return man can't believe it, so he grabs the ball and returns the punt nine yards. It might not seem like much, but Buffalo later kicked a 49 yard field goal to go up 17-3.
- Hoyer's Final Pass Before Being Yanked: The final pass for QB Brian Hoyer came at the beginning of the fourth quarter, down by two touchdowns.
Facing a 2nd-and-6 from the 24 yard line, the Browns run another playaction fake and send the receivers to the middle of the field. The key on this play is S Da'Norris Searcy, who is circled in cyan. He initially lines up over WR Miles Austin; WR Taylor Gabriel is on the outside.
Searcy gives the impression that he's staying with Austin, but knowing he has help, he releases him to the deeper defenders.
Hoyer has already released the pass and Searcyy has a beat on it. Note that our running back is open in the flat again late, something we never went to.
Here is another look from Hoyer's perspective. He sees this, and it looks like Searcy is going to follow Austin to the middle of the field, leaving Gabriel with one-on-one coverage on his in route.
This has to be great scouting by the Bills' defense during the week, because they play this beautifully. Mentally, I'm sure Hoyer thinks he's got the matchup he wants and has no idea that Searcy backed off when he did.
- It's Johnny Football Time: The Bills capitalized with a field goal to take a three possession lead at 20-3 with 12:05 left in the game. That's when Mike Pettine made the switch at quarterback.
The first play for QB Johnny Manziel is a playaction bootleg. Be design, the only receiver running a serious route is WR Josh Gordon on the crosser. Again, the Bills aren't buying it -- they have four defenders surrounding Gordon.
As Manziel approaches the line of scrimmage, TE Jim Dray just stood there. If he took off upfield, this could have been a nice, improvised completion.
Manziel gave it a look for a second, but Dray didn't move, so the rookie quarterback took off for a gain of three yards. If this was QB Brian Hoyer, we'd be in 2nd-and-10. With Manziel, it's 2nd-and-7. Given how well the Bills played Cleveland in this game, Manziel's mobility factor would have been an asset to try to get positive yardage on dead plays. Against a softer defense like the Colts this week, you don't anticipate them playing as well.
Three plays later, Manziel found WR Josh Gordon over the middle for an 18-yard completion. On the surface, one would think, "Wow, Manziel can hit Gordon for a big completion; Hoyer hasn't done that all game!" Well, look at Buffalo's defense -- they also didn't play this soft of a coverage all game. The safeties are deeper and the linebackers are creeping up. Nonetheless, Manziel does a good job recognizing it and firing the pass accurately.
- Firing the Pass to Dray: Two plays later, QB Johnny Manziel finds TE Jim Dray for a gain of 24 yards.
Dray is lined up to the left of Manziel at the tight end position. Also, make note of RB Terrance West, who is lined up as the slot receiver to Manziel's left.
As Manziel is getting to his dropback, the Bills' defenders in the secondary all go toward the middle of the field. West would have been uncovered for the touchdown.
Still, this isn't a play where I think, "Manziel missed a read," because Dray is a good choice too.
In live action, the defender almost intercepts the pass. I think you could make a case that Manziel could have actually led Dray a little bit more to the right with this pass. With the impressive amount of zip on it, though, the defender is late getting to it.
- Manziel's TD Run: Here is the touchdown run for QB Johnny Manziel.
I start the screenshots mid-action. Keep in mind that the line of scrimmage is the 10 yard line. For the second straight pass play in a row, the Bills leave RB Terrance West uncovered as he fades to the end zone.
Again, I can't blame Manziel here. The sea has been parted and he sees the end zone -- why not go for it? That's the X-Factor this guy brings. If he reviews enough film and gets more experience, he might be able to pull the trick of running up and then hitting an open receiver before he's past the line of scrimmage. The touchdown made it a 20-10 game with 8:54 left in the game.
- MarQueis Gray Runs Free, Part II: Could the Browns pull off a miracle comeback?
Facing a 3rd-and-1, the Browns packed the line of scrimmage. SS Donte Whitner and OLB Barkevious Mingo are at the line on the right side of the screenshot above. For the Bills, the player on the end of the line is TE MarQueis Gray. The left tackle will block Whitner, and with Mingo going around the edge...
...it's a wide open throw to Gray, who goes for a catch-and-run of 40 yards as Cleveland was selling out to stop the run. With that, the Bills were able to milk several more minutes off the clock. Before the game was all said and done, Buffalo tacked on two field goals to win 26-10.
- Special Teams Tackles: There were 4 special teams tackles, with 2 from ILB Chris Kirksey and 1 each from ILB Zac Diles and ILB Tank Carder. CB Joe Haden blocked a field goal.
- Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, TE Gary Barnidge only played one snap due to a rib injury he suffered, so TE Jim Dray played almost every snap. On defense, the workload for OLB Jabaal Sheard increased a little bit.
- Brownies: The Browns were 3-of-12 (25%) on third downs. ... The Bills were just 2-of-15 (13%) and had under 300 yards of offense on the day. ... The Browns had no chance at winning the final challenge that head coach Mike Pettine made (short on fourth down), but you still have to throw the red flag as he did. ... I did think that QB Johnny Manziel might have done the "tuck rule" motion on his second drive, but from a logical football perspective, the Bills should have had a touchdown there.
Did QB Brandon Weeden going to Dallas set off the chain reaction that allowed the Bills to get QB Kyle Orton? . ... The Browns stopped the running game of the Bills pretty well, holding them to 3.5 YPC on the day. ... While I like his attitude and effort, P Spencer Lanning has quietly been a liability. ... He doesn't shank punts, but his average is among the worst in the NFL and hurts Cleveland in the field position game.
Up next, the Browns take on theat home. Keep it tuned to Dawgs By Nature for our coverage leading up to the game!