The Buffalo Bills will “host” the Cleveland Browns this week, but the game won’t take place at Highmark Stadium. Instead, Buffalo will play its second-ever home game in Detroit, as a major snow storm caused the NFL to move the game to Ford Field this week. The last time Buffalo played a home game in Detroit was the 2014 season, when they beat the New York Jets 38-3 following a major November snow storm.
That team was a middling group that battled its way to a 9-7 record. This team is a group with Super Bowl aspirations; however, they find themselves on the ropes a bit after dropping two consecutive games. The Bills need to right the ship this week by winning two games in Detroit—one as the home team on Sunday, and then another as the road team on Thanksgiving Day against the Detroit Lions.
Like the Bills, we’ll take it one game at time, though, and discuss our five players to watch against the Browns before we think about the Lions. Here’s who we’re watching on Sunday.
QB Josh Allen
Dear Josh: Please stop throwing interceptions. Signed, all of us. It’s hard to be mad at Allen and his gunslinger streak, as it’s what makes him great. However, that faith that he can jam a ball into any small window has led to him throwing six interceptions in his last nine quarters of play. Unfortunately, four of those interceptions have come in the fourth quarter or overtime of games, too. At the risk of sounding too obvious, Allen needs to come out and play a clean game this week. He’s only gone one game this year without a turnover, and that was a 41-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Week 2. If he finds his teammates rather than Cleveland defenders, Buffalo should easily win the game. Allen has been otherworldly playing in domes thus far in his career, completing 77% of his passes for 1,041 yards, 10 touchdowns, and four interceptions in four career games. He’s also rushed for 137 yards and four touchdowns in those games. Cleveland’s defense is ranked No. 31 in points allowed, No. 17 in total yards allowed, and No. 19 in passing yards allowed. This should not be a day where Allen struggles to find receivers.
RB James Cook
The Bills have only four wide receivers on their roster, as Jake Kumerow was placed on Injured Reserve on Thursday. That tells me offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey will need to use his quick, versatile running backs more in the passing game this week. While Nyheim Hines could very well be the beneficiary of more touches, I’m more inclined to guess that Cook will be the guy who moves around and has a few designed plays come his way. Buffalo needs to attack the edges more with their faster runners, but perhaps they can run something other than that shotgun toss-sweep to Cook—which seems to be their preferred method of involving him on offense. A bubble screen, a slant, a wheel route out of the slot or backfield—there are so many ways they can use Cook as a mismatch. It’s time to unleash the rookie.
TE Dawson Knox
I was tempted to shout out wideout Khalil Shakir, but I like Knox’s chances at a big game this weekend. With limited outside options at receiver, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some formations where Knox is lined up as an “X” receiver, with Quintin Morris as the in-line tight end, Stefon Diggs on the other side, and either Hines or Cook in the slot. Knox could also see some of Kumerow’s snaps alongside Gabe Davis in run situations. Buffalo could run some weird personnel groupings this week and still find mismatches against the Cleveland defense. Imagine a set without receivers that included Knox, Morris, Hines, Cook, and fullback Reggie Gilliam? Allen needs to incorporate his tight end more in the offense, and this week is a great time to do it.
DT Ed Oliver
Last week, Big Ed was a big problem. He had just two tackles and half a sack on the day, but he hit Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins four times. He was extremely disruptive all throughout the game. Against a Browns offense that has two excellent running backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, Oliver and his fellow interior defensive linemen will need to be just as disruptive in order to force quarterback Jacoby Brissett to beat them with his arm. If Oliver can do exactly what he did last week next to Jordan Phillips, DaQuan Jones, and Tim Settle, then Cleveland could find itself in plenty of behind-the-chains situations—which bodes well for the Bills’ defense.
LB Matt Milano
Without knowing who will be playing next to him, it makes it hard to rely on Buffalo’s linebacker duo. Milano is healthy, while Tremaine Edmunds has been unable to practice this week thanks to a groin injury. If he misses the game, it will make Milano’s play that much more important, as the second-level defenders will need to corral and contain that daunted Browns running back duo early and often. Of course, the Bills’ offense could score enough points where Cleveland’s success in the running game is moot. But Milano will still need to continue his phenomenal play in order to ensure that the defense runs at maximum efficiency.