Both starting quarterbacks went down to injury. Brandon Weeden stepped in and got some redemption by leading the Browns to a 3-2 record. Cleveland is also now in sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
Final Game Analysis for the Cleveland Browns
Pass Offense: It doesn’t matter who is at quarterback in the third quarter because that frame has been terrible all season, especially at the start for Cleveland. Brandon Weeden’s slow decision-making resulted in five sacks overall with what seemed like continuous pressure from the Bills’ front seven.
However, no one can deny Weeden’s arm strength. Two long pitch-and-catches to Greg Little then Josh Gordon for a 37-yard touchdown built some momentum. Little made a statement tonight on the receiving side, as both he and Gordon converted key first downs in the fourth quarter to eat up time. It wasn’t pretty, but Weeden did not turn the ball over and did just enough to manage the game.
Run Offense: Cleveland eventually went back to the run late in the third after abandoning it. Just like last Sunday, Willis McGahee heated up in the second half, which was even more of a benefit because of the erratic play of Weeden. However, McGahee got pushed back for a loss at the 1-yard line and the Browns had to settle for a field goal in the second half. In the end, the Browns cobbled together a combined 92 rushing yards that helped eat up the clock.
Pass Defense: Cleveland’s pass rush got much more effective once Bills quarterback EJ Manuel left the the game due to injury and undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel came in. Armonty Bryant collected his first career sack in the third frame that pinned Buffalo inside their own 5-yard line. The much-maligned secondary came through when it counted most when safety T.J. Ward got a pick-six to put the game away with less than two minutes to go.
Run Defense: T.J. Ward missed a tackle on Buffalo’s first drive of the third quarter that allowed C.J. Spiller to gallop 54 yards for a touchdown, the longest allowed by the Browns this season. The Bills were relentless in sticking with the running game until the fourth quarter, handing off the ball 31 times and wearing down Cleveland’s defense. Buffalo had to go to the air once the home team built a lead, and that took away their most efficient component of this game.
Special Teams: Buffalo wisely kept the ball away from Travis Benjamin in the second half following his punt return touchdown and another 57-yard run back that nearly resulted in a score. Benjamin now holds the Browns’ single-game record for punt return yards with 179. Nothing overly interesting on the kick return side of things for either club.
Coaching: Major kudos to Cleveland’s coaching staff for making adjustments on the fly tonight when starting quarterback Brian Hoyer went down with a knee injury. They kept hammering down the running game and managed the clock effectively.
First-half Analysis for the Cleveland Browns
Pass Offense: Disaster struck when quarterback Brian Hoyer went down with a right knee injury following an awkward slide early in the first quarter. Brandon Weeden was subbed in and got off to a typical Weeden start that combined inaccurate throws with slow decision-making. The former, now current starter, chipped together a respectable late-half drive and finished the half throwing 6-of-12 for 68 yards.
Run Offense: Willis McGahee struggled to get to that next gear when handed the football through one-and-a-half quarters, which resulted in a whole lot of nothing. The wily old veteran kept at it and chipped away to amass 36 yards on 14 carries. On three straight rushes, McGahee finally punched the ball in from the 1-yard line for a touchdown.
Pass Defense: Everyone on defense was caught off guard by the Brian Hoyer injury, and it allowed Buffalo quarterback EJ Manuel to strike early and put up 10 quick first-quarter points. Then the pass rush started rumbling and applied consistent pressure on Manuel. Cleveland’s Ahtyba Rubin also picked up his first sack of the season.
Run Defense: After settling down from the Hoyer right leg injury, the defense controlled the run for the most part. Buffalo’s Fred Jackson was showing no signs of his MCL strain as he pulled off several gashing rushes for a total of 42 yards and a long of 11. C.J. Spiller is being seldom used because of his injury and Tashard Choice only carried twice.
Special Teams: Travis Benjamin exploded for a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown to put the Browns up 17-10. This is after a 57-yard return that would have gone for a score if not for the punter pushing him out of bounds. Benjamin is definitely an early candidate for Special Teams Player of the Week.
One interesting story comes via Greg Little, who made consecutive poor decisions to run the ball out of the end zone on kickoff returns. Little was deep on both occasions and got buried inside the 10. He was replaced by Bobby Rainey.
Coaching: Not much the coaching staff could do being thrown a curveball like quarterback Brian Hoyer going down to injury.
Smart decision making by sticking with the running game and limiting the amount of times Brandon Weeden had to throw the ball. Head coach Rob Chudzinski was also calling for noise from the crowd, which got everyone jacked up. Great to see passion from a lifelong fan.
Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist
Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81