Browns special teams not so special, OL struggle to beat Bills

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DETROIT — A strong first quarter turned into a nightmare for the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon as they took on the Buffalo Bills in Detroit — highlighting the same lingering issues that have plagued the team throughout. throughout the season unable to fix what’s broken.

Among those issues is the team’s special unit, which has been anything but special all year.

Ongoing problems with kick and kick return coverage multiplied on Sunday, with the Browns giving up 76 yards – one 32 yards – for kick returns and 37 to kick returns on two attempts. Meanwhile, the downfall of punter Corey Bojorquez who saw weak punts in their last series of games continued against the Bills. Bojorquez’s long 55 was his only decent three-attempt punt.

“They had some big plays on special teams that kind of went unnoticed, but it hurt us. If they get a turnover, we have to get up and play a big play. We didn’t have a turnovers to help our attack. I think between those three phases we didn’t play well together at all,” said safety JohnJohnson III.

As for kicker Cade York, he lost his leg in another game with the special teams unit sent to the field to protect him. For the third time this season, York’s field goal attempt was blocked as the Browns were desperate for points.

Week after week, Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer goes into great detail about how he’s been working to improve his unit, but with recurring issues there’s clearly a need for more drastic action. Action will always speak louder than words, and with Bojorquez’s regression and the lackluster efforts of his cover unit, the action has gone silent.

“Just miscommunication. I sense a bit of miscommunication between punter and gunners and stuff like that, so I just have to be on the same page. Comebacks, we just have to do tackles,” said safety Ronnie Harrison Jr. after the loss. “I feel like we’re there every time, we just have to wrap the guy up and make a tackle. So we’re close, we just have to keep fighting.”

The only bright spot on special teams was Jerome Ford who continued to show he could be what the Browns were looking for in their rematch.

While the already seen efforts of the special teams unit were problematic, there were also recurring problems with the defense.

Now the defense did a good job of starting the game, limiting the Bills to two baskets going into the final two minutes of the first half. Then the problems came back. The inside of the defensive line couldn’t resist the run at several points in the game, with the Bills exploiting gaps and moving chains with ease.

Safety Grant Delpit admitted the problem comes down to guys understanding their assignments, playing together and maintaining the integrity of their gap to avoid big runs.

“To have confidence, you have to know what you’re doing. You have to have confidence in – you have to know what you’re doing, and then the team has to feel like they know what they’re doing. If you don’t I don’t know what you do, it never works,” Delpit said.

On the edge, Myles Garrett had a sack, but he and Clowney were chipped enough to give Bills quarterback Josh Allen enough time to get the ball out.

Still, there were positives Sunday from the defense, like the return of linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah who made his impact known early and continued to make plays all over the court all day, scoring 12 tackles, seven solo and one for loss.

“Everyone has to do their job. Be aggressive at the point of attack. Use what you know and stop thinking and go,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “I made a few mistakes on that. I just gotta go. If you know the game, if you feel the offensive line and you feel the tight ends moving, you gotta go. And that’s something on which I’m going to get back to the drawing board and I’m going to work on myself.”

And on the attacking side of the ball, things weren’t going so well. A solid first quarter gave way to three hard-to-follow quarters. The Browns’ offensive line, which used to be one of its strongest areas, turned into a shell again on Sunday. Yes, center Ethan Pocic went down with the injury early in the first quarter and was replaced by third substitute Hjalte Froholdt, but even tackles Jedrick Wills Jr. and Jack Conklin struggled throughout the day.

Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett under pressure throughout the game and dealing with low shots from Froholdt was a recipe for disaster.

“Obviously losing Po in the first or second game of the game is not ideal. Hjalte came in and tried to fight his way in. He didn’t have as many shots in the middle. If you look at , it’s probably our fourth or fifth center of the year. It was tough. But I think the guys fought back. We never gave up,” said guard Joel Bitonio.

As for the running game, the Browns tried to keep it going, but it wasn’t the normal strength fans expected.

“We were talking on the sidelines like we could be the Jets here, we can make a comeback, and we were pretty close. But it wasn’t good enough early on and we never really moved the running game forward like we owe it to get it going,” said Bitonio.

The positive of the offense? A solid outing from wide receiver Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones, who continued to build a connection with Brissett that on Sunday continues to shine.

“I think those guys came in and played well. Obviously making big plays. We obviously called on those two guys a lot. We knew we had an opportunity in their high school to pursue them. These guys answered the call and made a lot of plays for us,” said head coach Kevin Stefanski.

Unfortunately for this Browns team, the silver liners won’t get them far. With a 3-7 record heading into a game against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, a playoff appearance seems all but lost. Still, the Browns plan to not send the remaining games knowing that in this league, it’s not over until it really is over.

“Stranger things have happened. We could go and win seven straight, easily. We just gotta get that first win first. Get that first win first, then stack them,” wide receiver Amari Cooper said. “Play better. That’s the remedy right there. We play better, we win, you win, you gain momentum, gain confidence, start racking up wins, it’s impossible to stack wins if you don’t ‘don’t get the first one.’

Camryn Justice is a reporter for News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.

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