After back-to-back agonizing losses, the Buffalo Bills look to right the ship in NFL Week 11 as they host the woeful 3-6 Cleveland Browns. After starting the season on fire, Buffalo has slowed down a bit, particularly on the defensive side of the ball – where they’ve been embarrassed trying to contain opposing ball carriers. This week presents a daunting challenge as they’ll need to slow down the NFL’s leading rusher, Nick Chubb, in a game that’s likely to be played in severe snow conditions.
In their last three games, the Bills have surrendered a whopping 518 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 90 carries (5.7 yards-per-attempt). Dating back to their 27-17 Monday Night Football victory over the Green Bay Packers, Buffalo has been gashed on the ground. Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon’s 197 combined rushing yards were brushed off due to the win, but the issues that appeared in that game have bubbled over to the point where panic is beginning to ensue following consecutive losses. In the previous three games, Buffalo’s defense has allowed 15 runs of 10-plus yards and four 20-plus yard runs.
“I think keeping our gap and having that consistency down in and down out of being in our gap and then the fits behind the gap integrity up front,” Coach Sean McDermott says is the biggest issue with his team against the run.
“I think overall, you watched the game this past week and we were handling it pretty well – the guys were battling, playing physically – and then all of a sudden a run goes for 70,80 yards. That skews the effort overall. You can’t let it happen.”
Limiting Nick Chubb will be paramount to Buffalo’s success – or failure – on Sunday. The former Georgia star is a complete back that runs with power, speed, and vision, while possessing elite contact balance. He’s averaging 5.7 yards per carry this season while rushing for 904 yards and a league-leading 11 scores.
While the Bills still rank seventh in total run defense (986 yards), they’ve allowed the fourth-most broken tackles in the NFL (30), while flat-out missing on 17 attempts (Sports Info Solutions). This is an issue that absolutely must be rectified in Week 11, as Chubb leads the league in forced missed tackles (54) that often result in big gains. According to Pro Football Focus, He leads the league in both 10 and 15-plus yard runs (28, 14) and trails only Derrick Henry in yards after contact (611).
“He’s a guy that you turn the tape on, and you’re impressed,” McDermott said of Chubb during his Wednesday press conference. “You watch their running game, I know Bill Callahan does a great job, and you watch people get populated to the ball, and all of a sudden he [Chubb] gets out of it and it’s an explosive run for another 20, 30 yards. He’s as good as there is in the league.”
What’s most impressive about Chubb’s phenomenal season is that the 5-foot-11, 227-pounder is doing all of this in an offense lacking a passing threat. Jacoby Brissett has struggled as Cleveland’s starter this season and simply isn’t a threat to push the ball downfield. His 36.1-percent completion rate on deep passes (PFF) has allowed opposing defenses to stack the box, daring the inadequate passer to beat them deep.
As a result, Chubb has faced eight-man boxes on 33.75-percent of his snaps and still is having incredible success. In these situations, Chubb has 240 yards and eight touchdowns on 67 carries.
In a game that will likely be played in harsh conditions, the Bills will be able to sell out a bit against the run and stack the box. To date, the Bills have only seen 50 rushing attempts while they’ve had eight or more box defenders, and have given up a measly 67 yards – the third-lowest total in the NFL, while recording 15 tackles for loss (fifth-most).
It’s clear that the Bills are successful when loading the box – they just haven’t done it much. After their recent struggles to fit and stop the run, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier would be wise to be the aggressor and dare the Browns to play into Buffalo’s hand and be a two-dimensional offense. Getting Jordan Poyer back on the field will provide a big boost to the Bills’ defense, but the statuses of Greg Rousseau and Tremaine Edmunds – two of the team’s better run defenders – are up in the air.
The Bills fell to third in the AFC East and sixth in the AFC after their loss to the Vikings, and while Josh Allen has been taking a lot of criticism for his game-sealing interception, the defense allowing an 81-yard score to Dalvin Cook allowed Minnesota to get back into the game. The woes defending the run are real, and the Bills absolutely must solve the problem if they hope to contend, not just for a Super Bowl, but a top seed in their division. That process starts this week in a huge test against Nick Chubb.