It;s only been nine weeks, but look at how far we have come, folks. From each game being a “must-win” match-up in order to keep playoff hopes alive to now trying to win a game vs. the Buffalo Bills in order to salvage the season. The Bills have been one of the more surprising teams in the league, currently sporting a 6-2 record on the heels of one of the league’s best defenses.
The Bills have been dominant against the pass thus far in 2019, ranking top-3 in the league in passer rating allowed, yards per attempt, and passing yards per game. Two key players on the defense are cornerback Tre’Davious White and tackle Jordan Phillips. Per Pro Football Focus (“PFF”), White has allowed the fifth-lowest passer rating when targeted this season (49.8). He will most likely shadow Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., but that should not deter quarterback Baker Mayfield from force feeding the superstar, whose 67 targets are the lowest in his career through the first eight games of a season.
Phillips currently leads the team in sacks, quarterback hits, and tackles for loss. As defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier previously stated: “He’s doing some good things for us, for sure. He did bring a lot of energy when we got him a season ago and he’s doing that now. He’s bringing a lot of energy and making some splash plays for us that really make a difference in games. Hopefully he can continue that, but he’s done a good job for us throughout the season.” He will face-off against Browns right guard Wyatt Teller, who finished dead last in PFF run-blocking grade in Week 9 (31.2), but posted a respectable pass-blocking grade of 71.9 (21st among all offensive guards).
The Bills defense is fairly susceptible vs the run, currently ranking 19th in rushing yards per game allowed (111.6) and yards per carry (4.4). They will face their biggest challenge to-date in Browns running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who will be making his first start in a Browns uniform. The two should form the most formidable running back duo in the league and should be the focal point of the offense going forward. I foresee a fair amount of usage in “21” personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE, and 2 WRs), which would put the Browns five best playmakers on the field at the same time in Chubb, Hunt, Beckham, Jarvis Landry, and Ricky Seals-Jones. Hunt should be a welcome addition to the sputtering offense that is still searching for an identity.
Since 2016, among all running backs with at least 400 touches, Hunt ranks 7th in yards per touch (5.61). Also, he is tied for first in forced missed tackles per carry (0.23) with none other than Nick Chubb (minimum 300 carries). The Browns should also feature Hunt in the passing game, as he led all running backs in yards after the catch per reception in 2018 (13.3).
On the defensive side of the ball, the Browns will want to pressure second-year quarterback Josh Allen as much as possible, while also trying to slow the ever-improving rushing attack. Per PFF, Allen has only completed 32 of 72 pass attempts for a 44.4% completion percentage, which is 27th among qualifiers, when under pressure. Current AFC sack-leader Myles Garrett has the opportunity to feast vs. Bills’ tackle Dion Dawkins, who has allowed 16 pressures and three sacks thus far in 2019.
Bills rookie running game Devin Singletary has garnered more touches as-of-late, including a 20 carry, 95 yard performance in Week 9 vs. the Washington Redskins. The former third-round pick possesses the acceleration, vision, and power coveted in today’s NFL and will be a challenge for the Browns’ 30th-ranked rush defense.
The Browns are searching for their first win of the season at First Energy Stadium, while also looking to end a three-game losing streak that has pushed fans to the brink and all-but-eliminated the team from playoff consideration. The Bills are a worthy opponent and one that should not be taken lightly. It all comes down to the same weekly question: can the Browns put together a complete, dominant, and mistake free game?