1 – Offense finds balance
Buffalo's primary aim on offense heading into Week 11 was to cut down on the turnovers. And while they were able to keep a clean sheet in that category for just the second time this season, they also found something else in the 31-23 win over the Browns.
After attempting to pass on 10 of their first 12 plays, Buffalo turned to their run game and focused on mixing it in with more regularity. In fact, on each of their next four scoring drives the Bills called 22 passes and 16 runs piling up 22 points in the process. The Bills' run game was instrumental in helping them score on each of their last seven possessions, not counting their kneel down at the end of the game.
"Very impressed by the way we ran the football," said head coach Sean McDermott. "I think both backs had close to 80 plus yards there so that was good to watch. They were running hard taking care of the football. Good to watch our offensive line go to work like they did."
Devin Singletary and James Cook each ran for 86 yards as the team averaged 5.2 yards per carry on the day. Sunday was just the third game this season in which a running back was the leading rusher for Buffalo. The Bills are 3-0 in those games.
After gaining control of the game on the scoreboard, Buffalo used the ground game even more to salt away clock calling five consecutive run plays for James Cook leading to a field goal to make it 25-10 early in the fourth quarter.
"They found holes and our offensive line fought their tails off," said Josh Allen "That's going to help us out going forward."
By game's end the Bills had 33 run attempts and 27 pass attempts. It was just the second time this season that Buffalo had more rushing attempts than pass attempts as their Week 8 win over Green Bay was the only other instance. Allen had a season low 84 passing yards at halftime, but Buffalo's quarterback is all about the victories. That's why if that kind of rushing success can continue down the stretch, he has no problem turning around and handing it off or pitching it.
"Devin and James both ran the ball well, and it's credit to our guys up front, making those holes for him," said Allen. "If we can run it like that, I mean, we're going to continue to run it. That's no secret."
2 – Milano spearheads defensive effort
Sunday wasn't the first time Matt Milano made his presence felt in a game this season. But on a day where it was hard to know what the Bills could deliver after their week turned upside down by illness and weather, Milano who was ill himself midweek, provided a head-turning performance.
With his running mate Tremaine Edmunds out with a groin injury, Milano spearheaded the defensive effort contributing 12 tackles, including a team-leading three for loss with Ed Oliver (3 TFLs), a sack and a fumble recovery.
"You need to start talking about him as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate," said DT Jordan Phillips. "For real. It's not just this game. It's every game. He makes a big play every week. He doesn't miss tackles, interceptions, touchdowns, you can't tell me anybody that is playing better football than Matt Milano. He's a leader, he's consistent, you can count on him every week. Tell me who is playing better?"
Milano was unquestionably part of the team effort to neutralize Browns' top back Nick Chubb, who came into the game as the league's third-leading rusher. On Sunday, Chubb was held to 19 yards on 14 carries, the lowest yardage total of his career in a game in which he had 10 carries or more.
Buffalo's playmaking linebacker had two of the six tackles for loss on Chubb. Ed Oliver had or shared three others with Tim Settle, Shaq Lawson, Von Miller and Taron Johnson chipping in as well.
"We had things bottled up in the Vikings game last week and they got one big run on us," said Phillips of Dalvin Cook's 81-yard touchdown run. "Then we're hearing about Nick Chubb and how we had to stop the run. The stats showed if they don't run the ball very well, they don't win games. So we were able to stop the run and we won the game."
"The defensive line did a great job of getting a push back, staying in their gap," said Milano. "DQ, Tim, Shaq, Big Phil, the whole D-line played well."
Milano's biggest stop came on a 1st-and-goal from the five-yard line, when Chubb took a direct snap and Milano shot the gap, forcing the Browns' back to retreat and choose a different path. But it was too late as the Bills linebacker closed in and dropped him for a six-yard loss. Cleveland eventually settled for a field goal on the series.
"The week that we didn't have him, we missed him," said Phillips of Milano. "Just his presence out there. Matt's a dog. I think he's the best defensive player in the league and it's not even close."
Eight of Chubb's 14 carries went for a yard or less and only two went for more than five yards in the game.
For the second straight week, Buffalo's defense also forced a turnover on downs. Last week it was defending their own goal line. This week they stopped Browns' QB Jacoby Brissett on back-to-back sneaks on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1. Phillips and Tyrel Dodson stopped Brissett on third down with Shaq Lawson getting to Brissett first on fourth down before help arrived to hold him short of the line to gain.
"They have an 88 percent conversion rate on fourth down, so we were expecting it and we got the stop both times on it," said Milano. "It was pretty cool to see it work out. Shaq came down and made a key play and stopped Brissett's momentum. That stop gave our offense some juice."
"I watched it over and over all week and no one was stopping him," said McDermott. "He's a big guy and strong and they do a good job. Coach Stefanski does a good job of changing the looks and quick counting at times. And I mean, our guys two plays in a row stood up and did a great job."
3 – Cook and Hines provide some juice
James Cook and Nyheim Hines have been working hard to earn more time on the field on offense. Both provided sparks for the offense in different ways and were productive in generating scoring opportunities on Sunday.
Hines returned kickoffs and punts on Sunday and provided the offense with excellent field position early on. His opening kickoff went for 32 yards giving Buffalo a drive start of their own 35 on their first possession. Late in the first quarter he took a punt 28 yards down the sideline to provide the offense with what would be their best drive start of the game at the Cleveland 32. And though the offense was only able to add eight yards themselves, Hines' return put them in field goal range from the jump.
"It was huge for us. Especially again, that first quarter, we didn't really move the ball that well early on, but for him to get that that return and get us into field goal range. That's a weapon right there," said Allen. "And he's going to continue to get into this offense as he learns more and hopefully, we can utilize him the way we need to utilize him because he's got some game-breaking speed."
Hines finished the game with five returns for 113 total yards helping give Buffalo an average drive start of their own 38-yard line, one of their best this season.
Meanwhile Cook matched his season high in carries on offense with 11 but eclipsed his previous season high of 53 yards with 86 against the Browns. Cook served as a dynamic change of pace to Singletary as Browns' defenders were often grabbing at air as Cook deftly dodged defenders and shot through holes created by the offensive line.
"Like I always say I just keep going," said the low-key Cook. "Just playing my one-eleventh each and every week and just help the team get the dub (win). That's it. The team needed to get a spark, so whatever they need me to do I'll be there to help them."
Cook almost broke a run for a long touchdown on a 1st-and-10 from the Bills' 37 at the end of the third quarter but was tripped up in the secondary by Browns' safety John Johnson. The 29-yard run was the longest play from scrimmage in the game for Buffalo.
"I was trying to go," said Cook. "It could've gone for 80. I was a tackle away from going. It'll come. I've just got to be patient."
Buffalo's 171 rushing yards on Sunday were the most this season in a regulation game. They ran for 175 in their overtime loss to Minnesota last week. But the development and consistency of their run game the past two weeks serves notice that it might be rounding into form at just the right time.
"The more balance we have, the better we're going to be," said Cook. "We just have to keep working every week."