Bills-Browns Tape Review

 

Thursday Night Football produced one of its more entertaining games as the Browns held off the Bills for a 37-24 victory. Despite the score, the game was a lot closer and it involved some major ebbs and flows, including long-term injuries to both starting quarterbacks (E.J. Manuel out for 4-8 weeks, and Brian Hoyer out for the rest of the season).

Before I go any further, please refer to the usual caveats for the posts in this series here.

So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Offense:

E.J. Manuel:

Manuel looked a little off in his timing on some of his throws early on. He also made a couple of ill-advised throws on the run in the first quarter – one such throw almost got T.J. Graham killed over the middle. Another throw in the second quarter was way behind T.J. Graham which should have resulted in a easy interception.

For now, I will chalk this up to a short week of preparation, but I will be keeping a close eye on Manuel’s timing and accuracy when he returns from his injury.

Speaking of the injury, Manuel’s decision to stay in bounds along the sideline despite having the first down has been criticized all week-long, and rightfully so. I want my quarterback to be aggressive, but he has to be smart and pick and choose his battles.

On just the play right before that one, Manuel showed an inability to recognize how fast the defense was closing in on him as he should have thrown the ball away as he scrambled out of the pocket but instead decided to make a half-attempt at a pump fake which didn’t fool Buster Skrine at all and the play resulted in a sack for a one yard loss.

Manuel will, hopefully, develop that internal clock as he gets more playing time and adjusts to NFL speed. This should be his number one priority as soon as he gets back on the practice field.

Jeff Tuel:

Tuel looked ill-prepared to play in this game, and really, how can one blame him? He gets very limited reps on most weeks and he likely got none on such a short week.

Unfortunately, he is also a rookie (an undrafted one even) and reps are the one thing he needs on a regular basis for his development. He showed some poise for being thrust into the game with the score in question with a very scant resume.

His lack of arm strength was evident when he was asked to make “NFL throws”. The deep outs/comebacks towards the sideline where he has to squeeze the ball between two defenders or a defender and a sideline were most troublesome for him.

The Bills tried to help him out a bit by calling play action passes to afford him an extra half a second by slowing down the linebackers half a step.

They even called a half-back toss back play but Tuel made the wrong read and threw the ball into double coverage to Robert Woods. T.J. Graham was open on a corner route on the other side of the field, granted Tuel did have a defender in his face and he was backed up on his own goal-line by the time he made the throw.

On the game-sealing interception to T.J. Ward, Tuel stared down his slot receiver, Robert Woods, and air mailed that pass to the Browns’ Safety.

Overall, he looked like the rookie he is. He really shouldn’t be anything more than a developmental prospect. I know the plan for the Bills, as head coach Doug Marrone explained in detail this week, was for them to have a veteran quarterback backing up Manuel (Kevin Kolb) and have a young developmental prospect as a third-stringer/practice squad arm (Jeff Tuel). But they failed to bring someone else in when Kolb went down with the season-ending injury in preseason.

I don’t buy that Tuel would have been signed off the Bills’ practice squad, but I realize hindsight is 20/20. I don’t know if Thad Lewis will be the answer until Manuel returns but lack of practice reps aside, Tuel does not have the arm or the athleticism to hold the bay in the interim. He has the skills of an NFL backup but he’s not even that at this point since he really needs more reps to get there.

Running Backs:

Spiller was clearly hobbled in this game as he didn’t even receive his first carry till the second quarter, finishing the day with just eight. He also whiffed badly on blitz pickup in the beginning of the second half but Manuel made a nice throw to Woods resulting in a big gain.

On the very next play, he reminded us why he is such a dangerous runner. On what looked like a run designed to go up the middle, Spiller quickly diagnosed the brick wall standing in his way and simply decided to go around it. He out ran his chasers despite a bum ankle with his world-class speed to the end zone.

Fred Jackson had an average game overall. His stats were boosted by two short touchdowns that were set up by-pass interference calls in the end zone on the Browns. Otherwise he averaged just 3.1 yards per carry on his 17 carries.

Wide Receivers:

Tight Ends:

Lee Smith is starting to become one of my favorite under-the-radar Bills. He is tenacious every play he’s on the field and his aggressiveness is especially evident in his run blocking. He plays till the whistle and then some. He is one of the reasons the Bills have run the ball with great success the last two weeks despite facing top run defenses.

Scott Chandler continues to be a security blanket over the middle. He might be more active in upcoming contests with Thad Lewis at the reins.

Offensive Line:

The offensive line as a whole had another excellent game run blocking. Eric Wood and Erik Pears both stood out to me on tape as they consistently got good leverage and push on their assignments. Cordy Glenn had one of his most complete games to date. He consistently won his assignments in the run and the pass game and he is the second rated left-tackle in the NFL per Pro Football Focus.

On the other end, as has become usual, Colin Brown continues to plague this unit with shoddy play but he too had one of his best games, which is really just an indication of just how poorly he has played thus far.

Defense:

Defensive Line:

Dareus is really starting to come into his own. He was doing a much better job of shedding blocks and holding his position on run plays while generating consistent pressure up the middle on pass plays. Dareus and Kyle Williams are one of the main reasons Mario Williams is seeing more one-on-one’s affording him 7.5 sacks through five weeks, good for third in the NFL.

Jerry Hughes had himself a few very nice plays. Rushing from the defensive end spot, he set up All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas on a fake spin move and then a speed rush around the edge which led to his sack fumble of Brandon Weeden.

The fumble was recovered by Cleveland, but that type of production from part-time players cannot be cast aside, especially since it was on a third down. I give extra points to “drive-killers” on defense and Hughes is a nice hybrid linebacker/defensive end that can really pin his ears back and stop drives in obvious passing situations.

Linebackers:

Kiko Alonso. That is all. What more can I say about this guy that hasn’t already been said? He won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month and he carried that right into the first game of October. His second quarter leaping goal-line stop of Willis McGahee behind the line of scrimmage reminded fans of Troy Polamalu.

He plays like a ten-year veteran with his quick diagnosis of plays, shows natural instincts, and makes drive-stopping plays in every game. I will stop short of calling him a pro bowler and see how he keeps growing and adjusting as offensive coordinators start keying on him. But so far, so good.

Manny Lawson showed well against the run again. He is very good at setting the edge and he made a great play on a goal-line stand against Willis McGahee which resulted in a four yard loss.

He diagnosed a screen play perfectly while the Browns were in “clock-killing” mode and stuffed running back Chris Rainey for a five yard loss. On the same drive, he had perfect coverage on Willis McGahee and killed that drive, forcing the Browns to kick a field goal.

I’m excited to see what this front seven is capable of when they have better coverage on the back-end. That wish could be proven true as soon as this week since both Jairus Byrd and Stephon Gilmore are expected to be back against the Bengals.

Secondary:

Aaron Williams came back to earth a little bit in this game after his stellar performance against the Ravens. He plays too flat-footed for the corner position and doesn’t have the speed to recover when he makes a wrong read. It’s no wonder one of the first moves this defensive staff made was to move Williams to his more natural position of Safety.

On the second play of the game, Williams got himself out of position on a simple post route by Josh Gordon and if the wide receiver hadn’t dropped an easy catch, he’d still be running.

He also made another bone-headed unnecessary roughness penalty where he demolished Devone Bess after an errant Brandon Weeden pass had slipped through his hands. Williams has to learn to play in today’s NFL or he’ll continue to offset his aggressive play with foolish penalties and costing the Bills field position and points.

Jim Leonhard is nothing more than a solid depth player at this point in his career. He’s in the right position more often than not, but he simply isn’t fast or strong enough to make the big play. He was a liability in the run game a few times against the Browns, getting washed up in the trash and unable to shed the block and flow towards the running back.

On Travis Benjamin’s punt return touchdown, Leonhard had the angle and the help of the sideline to tackle or push him out-of-bounds, but completely whiffed as he just didn’t seem to have the long speed to finish the play.

Leodis McKelvin rotated in at corner with Justin Rogers and had a decent game. He had nice coverage on tight end Jordan Cameron in the end zone which resulted in an incompletion and a field goal. He came out of the game unscathed and looks on track to start against Cincinnati.

Special Teams:

The punt coverage team will be getting chewed out this week in film session, and rightfully so. They got lazy, gave up the perimeter against a dangerous returner, and missed several tackles leading to 179 return yards for Travis Benjamin. I bet their play will be much improved against the Bengals after watching this tape.

Overall:

With E.J. Manuel out for an extended period of time, the Bills decided to go with Thad Lewis at quarterback. From a skill set point of view, he’s not that different from Manuel. He’s got a decent arm, not as strong as Manuel’s, and is athletic and can extend plays and even pick up first downs with his feet.

In his lone start for, ironically, the Browns last year against the then number one rated defense, Pittsburgh Steelers, Lewis held his own.

With a full week to prepare a young quarterback, hopefully Hackett will have a better game plan ready to put Lewis in the best position to lead the team. The return of Gilmore and Byrd should also help the defense against Andy Dalton who has shown the inability to hit receivers deep thus far in the season.

The Bills-Bengals contest will likely come down to defense and special teams, so it’s not as much of a guarantee for the Bengals as one might think.