After eight games of the 2019 season, the Bills are one of the league's nicest surprises while the Browns have been a surprise of a much more negative connotation. Buffalo boasts a 6-2 record while the Browns sit at 2-6 and in search of not only their first home victory, but also a positive start to the second half of the season.
While the Browns have been flashy at times, the results have not been pretty. As for the Bills, they are rarely flashy, but the results have been the most beautiful kind of ugly. They play great defense, especially against the pass, they run the ball effectively, and most importantly, when they get into the red zone, they score touchdowns. In fact, the Bills have a red zone touchdown rate of 71.4 percent, which is best in the NFL. Knowing that stat, it seems crazy that they don't even score 20 points per game (19.8). Again, it's not pretty, but it has been effective, and Browns fans would take effective over pretty any day of the week.
After last week, in which the Browns did not turn the ball over for the first time all year and won both the turnover and penalty battles, we will not harping on the old T&P in this week's winning mix. Instead, I will assume that our clean play will carry on this week because frankly, without it, there is no winning mix.
Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium is going to be cold, wet and a perfect setup for a smash mouth affair from two teams whose respective offensive identities are currently linked to their ground games. That, of course, ties in very nicely to the winning mix for the Browns, so away we go!
1) Pound The Rock
Paging Nick Chubb, Nick Chubb! This game is tailor made for the Chubbernaut, who enters Week 10 ranked second in the NFL averaging a whopping 100.4 yards rushing per game on 5.2 yards per carry (also second-best among all backs with 100 carries).
The Browns are at their best when Chubb is the focus of the offense, and in the two wins this year, he has 38 carries for 227 yards and four touchdowns while adding seven catches for 54 yards as a receiver.
This week, Chubb will not be alone in the Browns backfield, as Kareem Hunt returns to action for the first time all year. Hunt, of course, led the NFL in rushing with 1,327 yards as a rookie with the Chiefs in 2017 and posted 1,202 total yards and 14 touchdowns in 11 games with them in 2018 prior to his suspension.
If there ever was a week to go "old school" and run, run, run it, folks, this is it. The Bills pass defense is as good as it gets. They have not allowed multiple passing touchdowns in 12 straight games, the longest such streak in the NFL, and have surrendered only five passing scores all season, which is second fewest in the league. They allow a 60.6 percent completion rate, 184.6 yards per game and an opposing QB rating of 74.8, all third-best in the NFL. In other words, trying to pass on this defense, led by star CB Tre'Davious White and star S's Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, is not a recipe for success.
However, the Philadelphia Eagles exposed one fatal flaw in this Buffalo D, namely stopping power runs up the middle. Philadelphia ran it 41 times for 218 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and three touchdowns in a rout of the Bills. Even last week, the struggling Redskins ran for more thns 100 yards in the first half and finished with 127 yards rushing on 5.5 yards per carry.
Between the guards, the numbers are even more staggering. The Philly special was Jordan Howard up the middle and repeat. The Eagles smashed it up the middle 21 times for 142 yards and two scores. Meanwhile, the Redskins ran between the guards 12 times for 100 yards. Now, I'm not a rocket scientist, but I will take 7.3 yards per carry up the gut all day long. In other words, inject Jim Donovan saying Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt up the middle into my veins all day long on Sunday.
Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Bills Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey
2) Contain Devin Singletary
The Bills' season started with the venerable Frank Gore firmly entrenched as the main runner for Bills in 2019, but after coming back from a hamstring injury, things have transitioned to the Devin Singletary show.
Singletary played his college ball at Florida Atlantic and was the Bills' third-round pick of the Bills in this year's draft. He was tabbed to be the team's back of the future. However, the future is now. He is coming off of his first game as the true featured back, as he ran 20 times for 95 yards and a touchdown against Washington last week while adding three catches for 45 yards.
Prior to that game, Singletary had never taken more than seven carries in a game or received 10 total touches in any game. That, however, had nothing to do with his efficiency.
Prior to Week 9, Singletary had a Chubb-like start to his rookie campaign, racking up 172 yards and a touchdown on just 20 carries, which is just an absurd 8.6 yards per carry. Now, he will get to bring his NFL-leading 6.7 yards per carry to Cleveland as the newly christened "Main Man."
To say that Singletary is explosive would be an understatement. So far this year, he has ripped off a 15-plus yard run once for every five carries, by far the best rate in the NFL among backs with 40 carries.
Singletary is also dangerous out of the backfield, where he has hauled in 12 of his 16 targets for 103 yards and a touchdown, forcing five missed tackles along the way.
This year, running backs are averaging 4.93 yards per carry against the Browns, the second-most in the NFL. Backs have scored 1.4 touchdowns per game on the ground against Cleveland, most in the NFL. The 113.4 yards rushing per game from the running back position is sixth-most, while the 47 receiving yards per game allowed to backs are the 11th-most. In other words, it has been a feast all year long for opposing backfields, and it has been even worse of late.
Over the last four games combined, opposing running backs have produced at least 120 total yards in all four games, with more than 165 three times and in excess of 200 total yards three times. During that span, they are averaging a back-breaking 141.5 yards and one touchdown rushing per game on 5.6 yards per carry.
This needs to stop, and it needs to stop Sunday against the dangerous Singletary. The big question is will we see more of a traditional three-linebacker base defense this week?
The Browns' 53 man roster as of December 18, 2020.
3) Pressure Josh Allen
Thanks Captain Obvious is what I'm sure you're all thinking right here. Of course, pressuring the quarterback is the key to limiting their productivity, but in the case of Allen, the difference between clean pocket Josh and pressured Josh is wider than the Grand Canyon.
From a clean pocket this year, Allen is completing 68 percent of his passes, has an accuracy rate of 79.5 percent, has thrown seven touchdowns with only three interceptions and has a QB rating of 94.3. Those are strong, winning numbers in the NFL.
However, things take a big dip when Allen is under duress. His completion percentage dips to 44.4 percent (eighth-worst in the NFL). His accuracy has the second biggest fall of any QB in the NFL, as it drops all the way to 59 percent (also eighth-worst in the NFL). His QB rating falls all the way down to 55.8 (which is seventh-worst in the NFL) due in large part to the fact that he has thrown three touchdowns with four interceptions when under pressure.
This why point No. 2 is so important. You have to stop Singletary and the Bills from running the football effectively, especially on the early downs. That will put Allen and the Bills into obvious passing situations and allow the Browns to cook up the kinds of pressures that rattle the second-year quarterback. It will also help to reduce the effectiveness of play-action, where Allen currently boasts a QB rating of 100 and a four-to-one touchdown to interception ratio.
The best spot to generate pressure this week will be against the left side of the Bills OL. Per Pro Football Focus, LT Dion Dawkins has allowed 15 total pressures this year (three sacks) and LG Quinton Spain has surrendered 18 total pressures thus far. With Myles Garrett often moving around, it will be critical for Chris Smith and Chad Thomas (one sack this year) to step up if Olivier Vernon can not play.
Pressuring from Allen's backside will help keep throws going to the right side of the field. Unlike most right-handed quarterbacks, Allen has been much better when working the left side of the field this year. On throws to the left, Allen is 35-of-44 (80 percent) for 481 yards (10.9 YPA) with four touchdowns and no interceptions and a QB rating of nearly 140. On throws to the outside right (flush him right, fellas), Allen is 32-of-64 (50%) for 403 yards (6.3 YPA) with two touchdowns and four interceptions and a QB rating under 60.
However, it is very important for the Browns to keep contain on Allen, who can do a lot of damage with his legs, especially in the red zone. Last year, Allen led all quarterbacks with eight rushing touchdowns and is on a similar pace with four in eight games this season. In other words, get pressure on Allen, but make him beat you with his arm and capitalize on his mistakes.