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Joe B: 7 observations from Bills - Browns (12/18/16)

Posted at 7:15 PM, Dec 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-18 19:15:00-05

The Buffalo Bills handled their business against the winless Cleveland Browns, captured a victory, and brought themselves back up to a .500 record in 2016. The Bills now sit with a 7-7 record, and before the Denver game at least, still have a remote chance at the playoffs in 2016.

The Bills defeated the Browns 33-13 in a game that was largely uncompetitive. How did it all happen?

Seven observations from the game:

1) Rex’s fate underscores the day… again
- For the second week in a row, during the buildup to the Bills game a national report emerged outlining the impending fate of Rex Ryan’s job as the team’s head coach. This time it came from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, one of the NFL heavyweights as far as football reporting goes. Rarely is Schefter wrong, and today he wrote that not only is Rex Ryan expected to likely lose his job, but that he’s aware of his status with the team. After the game, Rex Ryan was asked about knowing that his job would be lost at the end of the season, and predictably said that the report was not accurate whatsoever. The case and point of it all is all to do with what has led us to this point. The Bills should not be using anything from that Cleveland Browns game as evidence to base firings off of. They faced one of the least talented teams in the last decade, and handled their business as they should have. Unless Rex gets a lot to go his way, the Bills win out, and somehow defy the odds and sneak into the playoffs, all the national reports indicate this thing is headed with Rex out the door, and wins over the Browns aren’t going to do anything to convince anyone at this point. They don’t atone for an underperforming and inconsistent defense, poor game day decisions from the coaching staff, nor does it help get over the quarterback position just not being good enough for the majority of the season. The only way this game would have mattered for Rex Ryan is if his team managed to lose to this Browns team. That, in itself, would have likely finished off the Bills head coach. Now, he’s likely safe for another week — considering that the last head coach to be fired midseason after a win was Dan Reeves in Atlanta in 2003. He learned of his fate from the owners, and asked to be relieved of his duties prematurely. With this possibly being Rex’s last shot at coaching, I wouldn’t expect him to ask for the Reeves treatment.

2) McCoy once again shows off game-breaking skills
- Death, taxes, and LeSean McCoy having another incredible game for the Buffalo Bills — all these things are known to be true in 2016. McCoy, going against one of the two worst run defenses in the National Football League this season, set his career high for a single-game as a member of the Buffalo Bills. It just looked easy for McCoy all game long, seamlessly cutting up the field and making defenders miss on his way to racking up 153 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, and then adding another 16 receiving yards to boot. McCoy has truly been a treat to watch all year long, a diamond on a team that has fully lived up to his expectations in 2016. If only he had a quarterback or a great defense… he would be phenomenal to watch in the postseason. He’s that type of player.

3) Clay exists!
- After a season’s worth of essentially being underneath an invisibility cloak to the eyes of quarterback Tyrod Taylor, tight end Charles Clay gloriously emerged on Sunday against the Browns and had his best game of the season. The Bills didn’t get Sammy Watkins or Robert Woods involved, which left Clay — like most weeks — ready, open, and willing to be a part of the passing attack. His 72 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions Sunday was a great sight. However, for Taylor, it’s a case of too little, too late with his top tight end. Clay has had openings all year long, essentially in every single game. Would he have been a game-breaking player if given those opportunities? Probably not, but would he have had a lot more games like the one we saw today against Cleveland if Taylor would recognize the coverages and read the play to throw him open? Why yes, he certainly would have. It’s just another frustrating element to add to a season that’s full of regret.

4) Run defense settled in after slow start
- After watching the Browns’ game against the Cincinnati Bengals, it was pretty apparent that the best thing they had working within their roster is their rushing attack. When still in games and not having to become a one-dimensional offense, the Browns can move the chains on the ground with running back Isaiah Crowell, and an offensive line that probably deserves more credit than they get. They had some early success against the Bills, too, with Crowell averaging seven yards per carry at one point early on. The Bills then settled in, built a lead, and they started to find the same success against the run as they saw against other opponents early in the season. Once the Browns had to rely on Robert Griffin III to lead them out of the abyss, it was all over. Good job by the Bills run defense to not let it become a huge issue all game long.

5) The Kyle Williams effect was felt
- It certainly didn’t hurt that the Bills had one of their best players on the team back against the Browns this week. Kyle Williams returned to the field after a one-week absence, and put on a similar show that we’ve so many times before this season. Williams, like LeSean McCoy, deserves so much more based on how much he’s put into the season and what he’s meant to the defense. He can single-handedly rip open an offense’s game plan by getting into the backfield time and time again. Sunday proved that, showing that Williams is one of the most indispensable players the Bills have on their roster.

6) Kouandjio kept the pocket clean for Taylor
- The Bills were without left tackle Cordy Glenn this week due to a back injury, and to be quite honest, I wonder if the upcoming opponent had anything to do with it. The Cleveland Browns’ pass rush has been awful in 2016, and Glenn would have been up against rookie Emmanuel Ogbah. The Bills opted to give Glenn the entire week off to rest his back injury, and third-year player Cyrus Kouandjio got the start in his place. If Kouandjio had struggled against Ogbah, it would have certainly been a bad omen for his future with the team, but the former second-round pick more than held his own against the rookie. Taylor was kept clean from the blindside for the majority of the game, and the play of Kouandjio was certainly a big part of that. A positive step forward for him, and they needed it, because they might need him to either start in 2017, or be the main backup tackle once again.

7) The Browns are *this* close to realizing their dreams
- The team that the Cleveland Browns put on the field was unequivocally the least talented roster I’ve seen since I started covering the NFL in 2010. The Browns, though, have to be trying to be this bad. The top overall draft pick, and the top pick in every other round for the 2017 NFL Draft is now only two losses away — which has to be the Browns’ ultimate goal. Robert Griffin III, as he showed against Cincinnati, is a shell of the once exciting player we saw in Washington so long ago. Trotting him out there every week is no better indication that the Browns have their eyes on the top overall selection. It’s going to be the deepest rebuild we may have ever seen from an NFL franchise, but it’s one that I’ll be fascinated to track throughout the next several years.

Bills MVP: RB LeSean McCoy
- C’mon, like you’d think it would be anyone else?

Bills LVP: S Corey White
- The cornerback-turned-safety gave the Browns a glimmer of hope by being late over the top on the big reception by Andrew Hawkins. He has struggled in almost every single game he’s played in for the Bills.

Up Next: The Bills (7-7) are next up against the Miami Dolphins (9-5) on Saturday, December 24. Kickoff is at 1:00 p.m.

Playoff Standings Update: The Bills are still alive, albeit barely, and in 10th place in the AFC at 7-7. The top Wild Card spot is out of reach due to both Kansas City and Denver having at least 10 wins. For the final playoff spot, the Dolphins currently hold it at 9-5. If the Dolphins win once, either against the Bills or Patriots, the Bills are officially eliminated. Buffalo still trails Denver, Tennessee, and Baltimore -- all with an 8-6 record -- in the Wild Card standings as well.

Draft Order Update: Even with the Bills, regardless of how the late games wind up, will retain the 13th overall pick in the draft through 14 games.

Final Thoughts:
- The Bills did exactly what they should have done against the worst team in the National Football League. They dominated from start to finish, leaving no question as to who the more talented and more prepared team was on the day. The Bills safely avoided the immense displeasure of being the first team to lose to a winless team, and they did so without leaving any doubt. However, beating teams like the Browns have never been the problem for Buffalo in 2016. We’ve seen that all year long with wins over the Rams, 49ers, and Jaguars. If the Bills have any hopes of the playoffs left, they’ll need to beat a Miami Dolphins team that are down to their second-string quarterback, but it would still represent a team that is legitimately in playoff consideration. Matt Moore isn’t a slouch at the quarterback position, by any means. If Rex Ryan has any lingering hopes of keeping his job, he likely needs to have next week’s game against Miami.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia