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Browns vs. Bills: Scouting the Buffalo Bills with our Q&A with Buffalo Rumblings

We ask about the Bills’ second half struggles, first-round cornerback Kaiir Elam, and more.

New York Jets vs Buffalo Bills Set Number: x164230 TK1

This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Buffalo Bills. To help preview a few topics from the Bills’ perspective, we reached out to Matt Byham from Buffalo Rumblings and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 8-point underdogs against the Bills.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Chris: “The Bills have been struggling to put points on the board in the second half of games lately — what do you attribute that to?”

Matt: “Turnovers and a lack of a consistent quality running game. It’s as simple as that, as far as I’m concerned.

The Bills are also pretty dreadful in the red zone this season. They average a full touchdown less in 2022 as compared to last season. Buffalo needs to adjust its offense so it’s functioning on all cylinders at all points on the field.

When the Bills get up on an opponent, they continue to throw the ball. Sometimes, as appeared to be the case against the Green Bay Packers, it gets the better of Josh Allen and leads to forced throws in confounding situations. It’s not as though the Bills lack for a quality run game—they just refuse to use their backs as anything more than a complement sprinkled in like shaved truffles on a culinary masterpiece. Devin Singletary has become a more dynamic back this season who catches a lot of passes, but he disappears in the second half of most games. The team drafted James Cook early in April’s NFL Draft, yet they refuse to use him more than a handful of plays each game. While the screen game does act as a stand-in for the lack of a traditional run game and Josh Allen plays the role of Terminator as a runner, that lack of tradition may have telegraphed more of what they do on offense. That’s not a recipe for success if they’re going to insist throwing in adverse situations.”

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New York Jets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Chris: “Buffalo has been pretty solid against the run and the pass statistically. If there is an area where they’ve struggled defensively at times, though, what is it?”

Matt: “It’s against the run, at least in recent weeks. Cleveland’s backs could have a field day at—ahem—Ford Field. Buffalo’s loss to the New York Jets was humbling, especially when reviewing the Jets’ last drive where they ran it 10 straight times the length of the field. Putting aside the recent struggles against the run, the inexperience thrust into action within the defensive backfield has allowed opponents to get the better of the Bills.

At points this season (namely their three losses), Buffalo has started a pair of rookie cornerbacks, backups at both safety positions (including practice-squad call ups) and even rookies at linebacker. That wasn’t really the plan going into the season, with a defensive backfield loaded with All-Pro talent in Tre’Davious White, Jordan Poyer, and Micah Hyde. While I’d give the inexperienced players a better grade than many who follow the team, there’s a steep drop off from the regular starters to everyone else. Last week’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings can be attributed almost directly to player personnel, given wide receiver Justin Jefferson’s day. With more experience, it’s likely that incredible catch on fourth-down doesn’t exist because the ball is correctly diagnosed as a knock-down opportunity.”

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Chris: “The Bills selected cornerback Kaiir Elam in the first round of this year’s draft. Tell us a little about how his rookie season has gone, and will he be back to play this week from injury?”

Matt: “Elam looks like another solid pick for general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott. Under their leadership, the team has prioritized the secondary position, bringing in safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, while continually drafting well and landing guys like Tre’Davious White, Taron Johnson, and Christian Benford.

Elam is a very aggressive with elite athletic traits. Last season’s playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs may have played a part in the Bills selecting Elam. They lacked true elite speed at the position, and Elam brings it in spades (4.39 40-yard at NFL Combine). While it may have been an attempt to combat the speed of the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill, Elam’s abilities are even more important now that Hill resides in South Beach with the Miami Dolphins. As with any rookie, Elam’s had his ups and downs, which of course are magnified when you’re a starter at a premium position.

Until the Pittsburgh Steelers game, Elam had only been targeted 10 times in four games. Against the Steelers, he was targeted 13 times and gave up 10 catches for 126 yards. The narrative coming out of that game involved some degree of pessimism about his play. He gave up a lot of completions and yards, but he didn’t allow a touchdown and he caught his first interception in the league—all while playing every snap (team-leading 75) on defense.

Interestingly, Elam didn’t begin the season as one of the team’s two top starting corners. In Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams, it was Benford who started over Elam, with Dane Jackson on the other side of the perimeter. Defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier has tried to utilize a pretty equal time share between Elam and Benford so far, but both have missed time due to injury and had to fill in for each other. Once Benford went down with a broken hand (he’s since returned), Elam seemed to solidify his role as a starter. Then Elam was hurt and it was Benford who was forced to match up extensively with Justin Jefferson. The good news for Buffalo is that both appear available in Week 11.

While of course just speculation on my part, it would appear Elam is headed toward being a full-go on Sunday with Friday’s practice designation for game day as “questionable.” The Bills sorely need him, with White still unavailable a year out from his ACL injury.”

Minnesota Vikings v Buffalo Bills Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images

Chris: “Tell us about one player who Browns fans may not have heard of, but who could have an impact on this Sunday’s game.”

Matt: “I’ll give you two names on defense: Damar Hamlin at safety and Tyrel Dodson at linebacker.

Hamlin has been thrust into a starting role for much of this season, first when Micah Hyde was lost due to a season-ending neck injury in Week 2 and then sliding over to fill in for Jordan Poyer several weeks this season. Hamlin has played outstanding for much of the season, especially considering he wasn’t supposed to play a featured role as the last line of defense. He’s a huge hitter and has helped limit some of the huge plays that would otherwise plague the Bills without the stellar duo in Hyde and Poyer.

Dodson will play in place of injured linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. He has tremendous shoes to fill and not a lot of on-field experience, but the Bills’ coaching staff thinks a lot of his abilities and his time to prove he’s a starter for the team will never be better.”

Chris: “The Browns are +8 as of this question, per DraftKings Sportsbook, with the Bills favored to win. Who would you pick against the spread?”

Matt: “I think I’d pick the Bills against the spread for one reason: They better be motivated to play a full 60 minutes after failing to do so in two straight weeks. They must be ticked after getting up 17 on the Vikings late in the game only to lose the way they did. I’d expect them to continue throwing the ball because that’s who they are, as much as I believe they need to find a true running game.

Devil’s advocates will quickly point out factors working against the Bills: lack of practice time due to injury/illness; game moving to another state in another NFL team’s stadium; facing a potent running game; and their red zone woes on offense. But if Buffalo wants to quiet the doubters and realize what’s in front of them if they get their act together, they need to begin the correction phase this weekend.”

Thanks again to Matt for taking the time to answer my questions.