The Buffalo Bills are on the road this week for a home-away-from-home date with the Cleveland Browns. Mother nature decided it wasn’t ready for the Battle of Lake Erie to take place in Orchard Park, NY this season. With the Detroit Lions on the road this week, their cozy dome will play host for Buffalo to escape the dangerous blizzard conditions.
This week has the feel of a get-right game for the Bills with the Browns at 3-6, but nothing about the 2022 season has come easy for Buffalo since October hit. While those outside the Browns’ fanbase might think the biggest storyline and distraction this season has been about quarterback Deshaun Watson, there may be bigger issues at hand between ownership, the front office, and the coaching ranks. While the team boasts a fantastic, talented pair of edge rushers in Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, their performances this season have been underwhelming, to say the least.
It’s not all bad for Cleveland, though. The dynamic wide receiver duo of Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones have flown under the national radar a bit in terms of ability and production. Of course, they also have one of the best running backs in the league, in Nick Chubb, plus an unhappy Kareem Hunt and even D’Ernest Johnson—who all present a daunting challenge for Buffalo’s defense.
1. What has the re-location of Sunday’s game changed for the Browns as they prepare to play the Bills in Detroit?
It changes a few things. Obviously, it is now being played at a neutral site. There are two cities that Cleveland takes the bus to: Pittsburgh and Detroit, so they are already in Detroit on what was about a 3-hour bus ride. While they are sitting in their hotels, relaxing, and going over game preparation, Bills players, coaches, and assistants are just trying to figure out how the hell they’re going to get out of Buffalo. Some of that seems to include players shoveling themselves out of several feet of snow in their driveway, which is a strenuous task that can definitely make you sore when you have a game on Sunday. On top of all that, it’s going to be far easier for Cleveland fans to make a 2.5-hour drive to Detroit and buy discounted tickets than it will be for Buffalo fans, so I’m expecting it to almost be a home game of sorts for the Browns.
2. Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney make for a fearsome pair of edge rushers, but the Browns only rank 21st in the league in sacks and second-worst in QB hits. With the talent they possess, what’s behind the underwhelming numbers in 2022?
According to Pro Football Focus, Myles Garrett leads the NFL in pass-rush win rate at 26.3%, ahead of Nick Bosa at 25.4%. However, Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus was interviewed this week, and said that Garrett is “really suffering from how bad the rest of the line is,” and that unlike other top-tier pass rushers in the league, the Browns don’t move Garrett around as much to other spots. Jadeveon Clowney has been fine in spurts, but has had the injury bug again, missing several games. As for why the team’s ranking in quarterback hits is so low, I’d attribute it to the defensive tackles being very bad, both at the starting level and in depth. Teams are learning to just run the ball right at them, and it works because before the running back even gets to the line, our guys have been pushed back several yards or are missing assignments. Most teams have known to pass the ball quickly when they do throw, negating the pass rush. For teams that haven’t been smart — like the Panthers, Bengals, and Falcons (for three quarters of a game), Garrett, Clowney, and the defense ate the quarterbacks up. Everyone else has seen the obvious and left our defense bewildered.
3. Cleveland has assembled a quality pair of pass catchers in Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Can you give us a little intel into how both have elevated the Browns’ passing game this season?
I’ll start with Donovan Peoples-Jones. He is not the type of receiver who is going to get a lot of separation, but he’s done such a good job this season as keeping his concentration and hauling in contested catches, whether it be on deeper passes, sideline catches, or bullets right up the seam. He’s a respectable No. 2 receiver and he hasn’t had any issues with his hands.
For Amari Cooper, it’s still perplexing why the Dallas Cowboys traded him for next to nothing. Although I would argue that Cooper’s abilities should be leveraged a little more in Cleveland, he runs good routes, can excel at the short, intermediate, or long passes, and can go out there and have a 100-plus yard receiving day without even breaking a sweat. As for a complaint, I think fans would be surprised that he’s near the top of the NFL in dropped passes. It doesn’t seem like it because what often happens is that he’ll have a dropped pass, and then shake it off and/or make-up for it the rest of the game with the seven catches that you do remember — but it’d be nice if he kept his concentration a tad more to hold on to everything.
4. What’s behind the larger success with the Browns’ running game—certainly Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and even D’Ernest Johnson are a talented trio—is it deeper than just their talent?
The Browns deploy a zone-blocking scheme and are athletic, with the guards often doing great work in pulling from one side to plow a hole open on the other. Chubb runs low and fast and has tacklers slide off of him in a way that is crazy; even for all the carries he gets, he rarely takes a big hit. Hunt, on the other hand, will take on the contact, but then he’ll move and torque his body around in such a way that he keeps on churning out more yards. Both backs should be utilized a touch more in the passing game; they’d excel at catching the ball, but the Browns don’t get them enough opportunities there.
Up until last week, I would’ve said, “If I had seen a way to slow the rushing attack down, I’d tell you,” and that’s because only the Patriots had been able to do it. However, Miami also stymied the Browns’ rushing attack last week, and the stats were only improved by a 30-plus yard touchdown run from Chubb in the fourth quarter. Part of the down effort was the Browns’ offensive line being banged up during the game, but Miami also crowded the box. Early on, Cleveland wisely had the gameplan to run the playaction pass and hit open receivers. But our defense couldn’t stop the Dolphins, so after a few hiccups by our offense, Cleveland was down by multiple possessions, and then that’s not the type of game that Jacoby Brissett is meant to come back from.
5. How do you believe Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey should attack the Browns’ defense—is there a particular weakness of which you think the Bills have the personnel to exploit with devastating results?
Run the ball. Just pound it away, and your offensive line should push our defensive tackles back to the second- and third-level often. Wear our defense down, and then after they are worn down, sell the run and chances are, some player will have overplayed the run, leading to a wide open receiver. It’s a can’t-lose strategy, and something that, in five of our last six games that were losses, only the Bengals failed to deploy. Cincinnati wanted to remain pass-happy, and our defense thrived on that.
6. Is there an unrepairable power struggle within the front office and coaching ranks—and are things yet again heading towards another coaching house cleaning?
That is one thing that I think is completely absent. As frustrated as fans are with the team’s performance this year, there is absolutely no power struggle between head coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry. I think Berry is going to get a bye because owner Jimmy Haslam okayed the effort to go out and get Deshaun Watson, so the whole group will get a chance to have at least a season with Watson under center. The bigger question is whether defensive coordinator Joe Woods survives all of this; he’d be an easy scapegoat to fire, while still maintaining much of the important continuity at head coach and general manager.
7. The current DraftKings line for Sunday’s game has the Browns as +7.5 “road” dogs. Do you agree with that line, or do you think things play out differently on Sunday since the game is no longer in Orchard Park?
Given the fact that the Browns completely dominated the Bengals before their bye week, I probably should be giving Cleveland a chance, especially with Buffalo being distracted by the chaos from the snow. However, I think Buffalo will be smart with their gameplan and just attack and impose their will up front; and when that keeps happening, I can’t disagree with the line. It should be noted that Cleveland has only lost by 7.5 points or more in two of their six losses; the other four losses were games we could have or should have won at the end.
My thanks to Chris from Dawgs By Nature for chatting with me about this weekend’s suddenly dramatic Bills-Browns game. While it would have made for epic television and an all-time classic game, playing at Highmark Stadium this weekend was not in anyone’s best interests.
I think the move actually helps the Bills this week. Josh Allen was built for a dome, and that’s what Ford Field offers him the next two games. Working against the Bills is a very dangerous Browns team that might be built and ready to take down Buffalo at their weakest point.
Be sure to head over to Dawgs By Nature to read my replies to Chris’ questions about the Bills!