There’s just something ugly that happens when the Browns travel to Buffalo.
While I would never refer to the football city of Buffalo as such a thing, considering that the Browns and Bills are almost kindred NFL souls – equal parts regional and NFL malaise and at times mired by an outdated, octogenarian owner – the recent history can only be summarized by one word.
Much like the Browns’ first win of 2009 – a special teams theft in windswept Orchard Park – Sunday’s loss to the Bills represented the ugliest game of the year for a variety of reasons.
The instant narrative coming out of the loss targeted the usual suspects, as Brian Daboll’s play calling was less than inspired and Jake Delhomme again proved his limitations as a starting NFL quarterback option. Throw in a sagging, one-dimensional rushing offense and complete lack of skill position playmakers and a touchdown-less performance could be considered as the status quo.
Of course, this much we already knew about the 2010 Browns. While ultra-competitive, these Browns are still limited in terms of talent. In fact, the hallmark of the team’s five-win success this season can be exclusively devoted to the team’s extraordinary physical style of play.
Yet on Sunday, although the losing margin was again slight, the Browns were finally outmuscled en route to their eighth loss of the season.
In the simplest terms, the Browns’ defensive line was overwhelmed by what appeared to be one of the league’s worst offensive lines. Entering Sunday, the Bills scrambled to assemble a working starting lineup – although you would never know by the results.
Buffalo finished with 192 total rushing yards and held the ball for a backbreaking 36 minutes.
Buffalo’s second-year guard Eric Wood was shifted to center and throughout Sunday’s game, he outplayed Cleveland’s Ahtyba Rubin. In what has proven to be a disturbing trend over the past month of the season, Rubin has been handled by the likes of Nick Mangold, Vince Manuwai and now Wood. While Mangold and Manuwai simply overpowered Rubin, Wood used some lightning-quick hands to engage and punch the Browns’ nose tackle.
The same could be said for Buffalo’s Andy Levitre, who at times dominated Brian Schaefering. Like Rubin, Schaefering could never establish any leverage against Levitre, which allowed Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller a number of cutback lanes throughout the first half – something that Eric Mangini noted after the game.
“Both backs (Jackson and C.J. Spiller) being able to hit the edge and get to the outside, that hurt us.”
Perhaps the best evidence of the Browns’ defensive line struggles was seen during Buffalo’s 89-yard touchdown drive that began late in the first quarter. On this drive, the Bills used some effective tight end seal blocks to drive the ball off tackle. With the Browns’ interior three defensive linemen swallowed up by Buffalo’s Wood, Levitre and Chad Rinehart, right tackle Demetrius Bell was free to drive into Matt Roth. As a result, the Browns playmakers consisted of Chris Gocong and Eric Barton some four and five yards down the field.
Of course, the Browns’ front seven as a whole have to be held accountable for much of the defense’s poor play against the run. The usual suspects of the Browns’ 2010 defense – namely sloppy tackling and a lack of speed – contributed to Ryan Fitzpatrick accumulating close to 50 yards in scrambling yardage. Fitzpatrick’s running and quick pass drops effectively neutralized the Browns’ pass rush.
“We didn’t keep Fitzpatrick in the pocket. He hurt us with his feet”, said Mangini.
Most significant on this drive was the apparent lack of energy shown by the Browns’ defensive front. Simply put, this defense was tired by the time the second quarter began. Throughout the drive – and for most of the game – the Bills’ offensive line consistently engaged and pushed back the Browns’ defenders. This was a trend that continued into the second half.
Perhaps the lone bright spot for the Browns’ line came late in the quarter, when Shaun Rogers beat Bell one on one and combined for a sack with Marcus Benard. The sack led to a Bills’ field goal and gave the Browns some slight hope heading into the second half.
In the third quarter, the Bills’ offensive line continued their dominance, which led to Jackson gaining most of his 112 rushing yards. Buffalo began to pull their guards and tight ends off tackle, which created some sizable running lanes for Jackson. Perhaps the play that was most indicative of the Browns’ poor rushing defense came midway through the quarter, when Buffalo tight end David Martin rolled right and blasted Cleveland’s Jason Trusnik.
For the remainder of the game, the Bills mixed heavy doses of the run with some swing passes. These passes again showed the front seven’s lack of speed and kept pass rushers Roth and Benard off balance.
However, there really wasn’t much mystery as to what the Bills’ offense was doing. Throughout the afternoon, the Bills only attempted one first down pass and a botched end around against the Browns’ defense. Every other series began with a run – usually right at the heart of the defensive front. By the time the game reached the later stages of the fourth quarter, Rubin and Kenyon Coleman began to get some good pushes – however, the damage was already done.
In the end, you could easily make a case that the Browns’ defense certainly wasn’t helped by a shuddering display of offensive ineptitude. Outside of the game’s first drive, the Browns’ offense couldn’t sustain any type of momentum and was ravaged by a series of turnovers. Also, it’s becoming obvious that this defense clearly misses the veteran influence of Scott Fujita. The leap between Trusnik and Fujita is a severe one and it’s clear that the Browns’ run defense has suffered in his absence.
However, at the heart of the Browns’ demise on Sunday was the absence of the team’s most vital quality.
The Browns’ defense was simply overpowered.
And the result was a typical source of Buffalo ugly.