J.D. Bagley, @jdbagley5
Browns fans are enjoying their ‘Victory Monday’ after Cleveland took down the Buffalo Bills yesterday 19-16, for their first home win of the season. This was a game in which everyone involved with the Browns needed to win, including Freddie Kitchens, Baker Mayfield, the Haslam's, and of course, the fans. Even with a larger than average away fan base in attendance at FirstEnergy Stadium, Browns fans continued to get louder and louder as the game went on, helping guide their team to a late victory. With Pittsburgh coming to town on Thursday night, the Browns need to quickly put this one behind them and turn their attention to the all of a sudden, playoff contending Steelers, who have won 4 straight after starting 1-4.
Freddie Kitchens was able to avoid most scrutiny after the game yesterday, as winning has the ability to deter the media from his mistakes. But in my opinion, even with the win, Kitchens still didn’t have the best day yesterday. It started in the 1st quarter with his red zone play calling. It’s been an issue in 2 straight games as the Browns have struggled mightily inside the 20. Cleveland had two separate drives in which they ran a combined 11 plays inside the 3 yard line, coming away with only 3 total points. The Browns are lucky that Chris Hubbard was called for a false start on 4th and goal, forcing Kitchens to take the field goal. There has been nothing Cleveland has shown me over the last month that said they would punch it in on the 12th try after 11 failed attempts. At that point Kitchens just needs to own up to the bad play calling, take the points, and mentally restart for the next offensive drive. Late in the 3rd quarter, Freddie called a timeout with 2 seconds left as Buffalo was trying to get the Browns to jump offsides on 3rd down before the clock ran out. This was a complete waste of a timeout since the Bills were taking it to the end of the quarter where Kitchens could’ve done whatever he needed to do instead of using a timeout. The final Kitchens blemish came when the Browns were backed up with a 1st and 10 from their own 8 and decided to run an empty formation. With no threat of a running play, the Bills brought pressure and Mayfield was sacked by Tremaine Edmunds for a safety. Outside of those faulty coaching decisions, I was thrilled with the way Kareem Hunt was used in his first game back from suspension. Kitchens didn’t involve him too much in the run game, making sure not to reduce Nick Chubb’s role. But the Browns used him all over the place, alongside Chubb in the backfield, in the slot, and out wide. Hunt also did some dirty work with several key blocks to spring Chubb free for extra yardage. If used correctly, he can be a huge boost to this offense down the stretch. The offensive line played an all around pretty solid game both run blocking and pass blocking. Baker Mayfield didn’t turn the ball over for the second straight game and was only sacked twice, getting the ball out of his hands relatively quickly on most of his throws. Jarvis Landry was the beneficiary of many of those quick throws as he finished the day 9/97/1 with his 2nd touchdown of the year coming on the opening drive of the game. On the Browns final drive to try and win the game, Mayfield lofted one up toward the near sideline where Landry made an incredible adjustment on the ball in mid air, hauling it in at the 7 yard line to set up the game winning score.
Although he had a great day, Landry could’ve cost the Browns this game had things not ended the way they did. Following his touchdown in the 1st quarter, Landry got up in the face of Bills CB Levi Wallace, resulting in a taunting penalty, which moved the extra point back, causing Austin Seibert to miss. If Steven Hauschka’s field goal at the end of the game had gone in and tied the game, we would be talking about Landry’s penalty under an entirely different light. Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t have the type of game that popped on the stat sheet, but was impactful in drawing coverage from one of the best corners in the NFL, Tre’Davious White, all game long. This helped open things up for guys like Landry, Hunt, Demetrius Harris, and Rashard Higgins on the final drive.
Beckham drew two defensive pass interference penalties in the endzone on the same drive in the 1st quarter, giving the Browns two chances at 1st and goal from the 1 where they couldn’t convert. With Antonio Callaway ruled out as a healthy scratch by Freddie Kitchens, Rashard Higgins resumed #3 WR duties. Higgins had just 1 catch but it ended up being the biggest one of the day as he caught his first touchdown of the season to give the Browns the lead with 1:48 to go in the game. Demetrius Harris also had minimal opportunities with the ball but made the most out of them. His 2 catches both came in clutch moments on the same drive in the 1st quarter, gaining 12 yards on 3rd and 10, and 16 yards on 4th and 1.
The Browns defense played fairly well throughout the game. They had their miscues as well as moments of encouraging play. Denzel Ward had his best game of the season with multiple pass breakups, and the entire Cleveland secondary held Buffalo’s receivers in check outside of a couple big plays from John Brown and Cole Beasley. The toughest task for Browns defenders was containing Josh Allen, who can be a real dangerous player if given time in the pocket. Leaving the middle of the field open is never wise when going up against a mobile quarterback like Josh Allen and he took advantage of that on his first touchdown run. Although his accuracy hurt him at times, Allen showed off his rocket arm yesterday when he had time to sit back and fire to receivers downfield. With Olivier Vernon out with a knee injury, Myles Garrett stepped up and had his way with the Bills tackles. He didn’t show up on the stat sheet much, but his impact was felt with several QB pressures, making Josh Allen uncomfortable in the pocket and forcing him to get rid of the ball quickly. Just before Allen’s 2nd rushing touchdown, on 3rd down from the 11, the pocket collapsed forcing him to escape as Sheldon Richardson came from behind and punched the ball out. Luckily for Buffalo, John Feliciano pounced on the ball at the 1 yard line gifting the Bills a 1st and goal.
Transitioning to special teams, Austin Seibert remains perfect on the year as he improves to 16/16 on field goal attempts this season. I know he’s missed a few extra points, but the Browns haven’t had this kind of kicking consistency since Phil Dawson. People don’t talk about this enough with the fact that so many NFL games come down to one or two plays here and there, having a kicker you can rely on is a major positive.
The Browns needed this win to save their season, and thankfully, they came out on top. But, facing the Steelers two of the next three weeks is beginning to look like more of a challenge than originally thought after the early season loss of Big Ben. Pittsburgh is hitting their stride, winning 4 in a row, by playing suffocating defense and sticking to Mason Rudolph’s strengths. Thursday night will be a huge test to see where this Browns team is mentally heading into ‘must win’ territory.