Mike Pettine has fond memories of his brief 2013 campaign in Buffalo, where he led the Bills to a franchise record 57 sacks as the defensive coordinator.
So it came to no surprise to Pettine that the Bills – without a full week of practice, without a real home crowd in Detroit – were able to cream the New York Jets 38-3 on Monday night.
"I know a lot of guys on that staff and know a lot of the players," said Pettine during his Wednesday press conference. "The character and the integrity and the toughness …I have nothing but fond memories of my time there."
Sunday marks Pettine's return to Ralph Wilson Stadium – as well as the Bills'. As life returns to normalcy in Western New York, it's without question the community will rally together behind their beloved football team.
"That's a great crowd. It'll be hostile. It'll be some tough circumstances," Pettine said.
The first challenge for the Browns comes with Buffalo's defensive line, a manhandling unit that Pettine said most consider the best front-four in football. The Bills lead the NFL in sacks (45) while also maintaining an extremely tough running defense (98.3 yards per game is ranked 8th in the NFL).
This type of strong defensive front has given Cleveland problems in 2014. Jacksonville and Houston both would call the strength of its team their defensive line, and both beat the Browns by a wide margin.
"It's a game we are going to have to come out and be on point with what we are doing," said Pettine.
Browns defensive line coach Anthony Weaver has a unique juxtaposition. Not only did he coach Buffalo's defensive line in 2013 as an assistant under Pettine, he played three seasons with the star of the Bills line, Mario Williams in Houston.
Pettine and Weaver both agreed, that the Browns can't get caught up in overthinking about Buffalo's offensive strategy just because they know head coach Doug Marrone and the personnel very well. Pettine said the Browns will only have 30-something defensive calls up for this game and will keep sticking to their formula which has brought a 7-4 record to Cleveland.
"As far as pinpointing weaknesses, there's obviously been discussions," said Weaver with a smile. "As long as you play with all 11 guys together offensively, you can frustrate that unit. You can put up yards and points."
Offensively, Buffalo made a bold switch, sidelining former first round pick E.J. Manuel and his athletic upside in favor of grizzly veteran Kyle Orton. The decision has paid dividends. The Bills (6-5) find themselves in the midst of the AFC playoff picture. Orton's limited mistakes, often putting the game in the hands of the team's strong defense.
Orton (12 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 4-3 record as the starter) hasn't done it all alone, though. Buffalo's offense has been assisted by a completely revamped wide receiving corps. Rookie Sammy Watkins is as dangerous as they come and his counterpart Robert Woods – who went off for a career best nine catches for 118 yards and a touchdown against the respected Jets' secondary on Monday.
Weaver said we'll get to see how much the Bills players respect Pettine during pregame warmups. The Browns' assistant coach doesn't expect there to be any pregame hugs, but the Bills respected their former defensive coordinator's poise, his approach to coaching and appreciated the intricate knowledge he brought to them to help elevate their level of play.
"From a football IQ standpoint, he has always been off the charts," Weaver said of Cleveland's head coach. "There were a lot of friendships formed there that will continue. But if there is any hugging, that might be fineable."
"We'll smile and shake hands before the game and we'll want to beat each other's brains out during the game," said a smiling Pettine.