Jerry Hughes is entering his third season with the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo acquired Hughes in a player-for-player trade, sending Kelvin Sheppard to the Indianapolis Colts. Through two seasons, it’s one of the most lopsided trades in Bills history. Sheppard spent one season in Indianapolis and was a non-factor with the Colts. Last season, he played for the Dolphins. Hughes on the other hand has recorded 99 tackles, 20 sacks, five forced fumbles, 79 quarterback hurries, 18 quarterback hits and 55 stops for Buffalo in two seasons.
Despite Hughes’ terrific play, people have been hesitant to give him credit. Some will say that Hughes’ success is strictly due to the fact that he plays alongside players like Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. It certainly doesn’t hurt, but people who use that excuse truly haven’t watched Hughes’ outstanding play in Buffalo.
In 2014, there was one game that really stood out for Hughes: Week 13 against the Cleveland Browns. Lined up across from Hughes all game was Joe Thomas, one of the best left tackles in football. Thomas was recently named by his peers as the 23rd best player in the NFL, the highest rating for an offensive tackle on the NFL’s Top 100 Players list. Over at Pro Football Focus, Thomas graded out as the third best tackle in the NFL behind Jason Peters and Andrew Whitworth. Heading into the game, many assumed that Hughes would be a non-factor against Thomas. Those people were wrong.
Here’s a look at Hughes’ dominant display against the Browns.
In the first quarter, the Browns were driving the ball down the field on the Bills. Just outside of the red zone, the Browns call a run play to Terrance West. Hughes beats Thomas on the play by stepping to the outside before using his speed to get inside of Thomas’ right shoulder. Now in the backfield, Hughes misses the open field tackle on West, but he causes the back to stop, spin and take the ball to the outside where he’s stopped for a one yard gain.
Hughes was most disruptive in the second quarter against the Browns. On Cleveland’s first play of the quarter, Hughes locks up with Thomas and then gets to the outside of Thomas. It appears as though Hughes would have the opportunity to sack Hoyer on the play, but he’s held by Thomas. The 14 yard pass is nullified by the holding penalty and the Browns are backed up to their 10 yard line.
Later in the same drive, the Browns are on Buffalo’s 39 yard line and Hughes once again uses his first step and speed to get around Thomas. Hughes’ pressure causes Hoyer to throw the ball quickly to Isaiah Crowell. The pass falls incomplete.
Cleveland’s next drive had a second holding penalty called on Thomas, this time declined due to a sack by Nigel Bradham. Hughes deserves his fair share of credit for the sack. On the play, Hughes looks as though he’ll again use his speed to get to the outside of Thomas but then utilizes a spin move. In doing so, Hughes collapses the pocket and causes Hoyer to try to run out of the pocket but find Marcell Dareus. Hoyer is able to avoid the big man, but runs right into Bradham for a sack. Cleveland had to punt following the play.
Last, towards the end of the first half, Hughes once again finds success going outside of Thomas’ left shoulder. It appears that Hughes stumbles as he tries to go low, but a third holding call against Thomas could have been called. Regardless, Hughes’ pressure forces Hoyer to get the ball out quickly. He attempts a pass to Travis Benjamin that is almost intercepted by Bradham.
At the end of the first half, Buffalo trailed Cleveland 3-0.
To start the third quarter, the Bills continued to sputter on offense with Kyle Orton throwing an interception to Joe Haden. The Browns proceeded to go three and out. On Buffalo’s next possession, the team finally put together a quality drive that went eight plays and 84 yards. It was capped off with a Chris Hogan touchdown reception. Buffalo now led 7-3 and had the crowd actively into the game. After a Jordan Gay touchback, Jerry Hughes really brought the crowd to their feet.
West gets the carry on the play and Hughes and the Bills draw West out towards the sidelines. It appears that the play is going to go for a loss of two yards, but on the way down, Hughes strips West of the ball, recovers it and runs it into the end zone for a touchdown.
In the span of about one minute, the Bills scored two touchdowns and took a 14-3 lead. These were all the points Buffalo would need on the day as the Browns were only able to score 10 points on the game.
The last play of the game that will be featured was simply a play where Hughes stayed at home. The Browns appear to be running a play to their right but Hughes doesn’t bite. He stays put and quickly sees that Johnny Manziel, now in at quarterback, still has the ball and starts rolling towards Hughes. Hughes runs towards Manziel and the quarterback throws an errant throw just out of the reach of Bemjamin.
Hughes played 67 snaps against the Browns and made his mark during the game against one of the best left tackles in football. Thomas was graded by Pro Football Focus with a -3.2 rating. It was his lowest grade from the analytics site on the season and Hughes’ play was a major factor. The next time someone tells you that Hughes’ success is due to the players around him, tell them about the Week 13 game where Hughes made Thomas look ordinary.