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TONY’S TAKE – FIVE THINGS TO KNOW FOR BILLS-BROWNS

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ORCHARD PARK, NY – NOVEMBER 03: Devin Singletary #26 of the Buffalo Bills carries the ball for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins at New Era Field on November 3, 2019 in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo defeats Washington 24-9. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Welcome to Week 10 of the NFL season. Here at 300 Level Media, we will attempt to inform and educate our readers about the Buffalo Bills’ upcoming opponent and what each team might do to emerge victorious.

The Bills’ ninth game of the 2019 season will take place at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland as they face the Browns. Here’s what you should know:

ORCHARD PARK, NY – NOVEMBER 3: Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson (26) runs for a long gain in the first half during the Buffalo Bills defeat of the Washington Redskins 24-9 at New Era Field in Orchard Park, NY on November 3, 2019 . (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

BUFFALO’S DEFENSE GREAT, BUT STRUGGLED AGAIN LAST WEEK

Last week the Bills’ defense had a rough day at the office against the run, allowing 34-year old future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson to rush for 108 yards on just 18 carries – with the first 101 of those yards coming on 10 handoffs in the first half. Most of the damage was done on inside zone runs, where the Bills’ defensive linemen and especially linebacker Tremaine Edmunds struggled at filling gaps and diagnosing the blocking scheme up front.

It’s a concerning trend for the Bills’ defense, as they’ve allowed 139 rushing yards per game over their last four outings. Buffalo will need to correct this in a hurry against a Browns team that has running back Kareem Hunt returning from suspension and creating a one-two punch alongside Nick Chubb – potentially a lethal combination.

Buffalo attempted to address this situation by signing former Chargers and Raiders defensive tackle Corey Liuget earlier this week. Liuget, a former first-round draft pick by the Chargers, is in the midst of his ninth NFL season and had a role for most of his career as a run-stuffer (and is a decent one at that), so perhaps his presence in the Bills’ lineup can help cover up some holes.

The Bills’ defensive unit is more or less the same as last year’s group, except for rookie defensive tackle Ed Oliver stepping in for the now-retired Kyle Williams. Schematically, they rely on basic zone coverages after the snap, but before the snap it is complex – safety rotations to disguise their coverages keep opposing quarterbacks guessing and selective pressure looks at the line of scrimmage are Sean McDermott’s calling card (those blitz looks are usually in the A-gaps from their linebackers – for more info on McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s defense, please read: https://fromthe300level.com/2018/08/pressure-package-how-the-late-buddy-ryan-has-influenced-the-buffalo-bills-defenses-for-over-20-years/?fbclid=IwAR3iYcnJ5qvl8shWHkZJVNO50VJXPeaEx8k0-Rk1VWV_Qx2OEfsAn2NY_ys).

Given how talented the Browns are at wide receiver, however, the Bills may let Tre’Davious White follow Odell Beckham Jr. all over the field in man coverage on Sunday rather than stay at left cornerback and play mainly zone. The Bills’ gameplan for the Browns’ offense will be fascinating to see unfold on Sunday.

ORCHARD PARK, NY – NOVEMBER 03: Devin Singletary #26 of the Buffalo Bills runs with the ball for a first down as he is pursued by Jon Bostic #53 of the Washington Redskins during the first quarter at New Era Field on November 3, 2019 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

BILLS’ OFFENSE EFFICIENT LAST WEEK, BUT CAN STAND TO IMPROVE

Against the Washington Redskins Josh Allen completed just 14 of 20 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown. Those are pedestrian numbers for sure, but the most important statistic of the day was that Allen has now thrown 89 straight passes without an interception and has turned the ball over just twice in the Bills’ last four games – marks of a young quarterback making some progress.

Buffalo made an investment in adding help for Allen along the offensive line and at the skill positions during the offseason. The offensive line – once viewed as potentially the worst in football – has been upgraded on paper, with four new starters having arrived via free agency and the draft to provide help for third-year left tackle Dion Dawkins.

The Bills’ weapons around Allen have also theoretically been addressed from a year ago. John Brown has brought speed and downfield playmaking ability to Western New York and Cole Beasley is a reliable security blanket while playing the Wes Welker/Julian Edelman role that is emphasized in Daboll’s Patriots-style system. In an offense that’s built upon concepts involving option routes from the slot, downfield routes from the outside, designed quarterback runs to take advantage of Allen’s mobility, deep dropbacks and alignments that create favorable matchups (and some trick plays with jet motion, sweeps and end arounds with Isaiah McKenzie), the Bills have much more to work with than they did at this time last year.

Despite the upgrades in talent, however, the Bills aren’t quite producing like they should be. Ranking in the bottom half of the NFL in most team statistical categories, the Bills need to figure out how to get their offense to jell together consistently. They also struggled on short-yardage plays last week, particularly when Frank Gore and their goal line package was in the game. Perhaps if running back Devin Singletary can build upon the 95 yards on 20 carries and three catches for 45 yards that he had last week the team can improve even more.

DENVER, CO – NOVEMBER 3: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns has words with head coach Freddie Kitchens of the Cleveland Browns as they consider challenging the result of a play against the Denver Broncos in the third quarter of a game at Empower Field at Mile High on November 3, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

BROWNS’ OFFENSE TRYING TO FIND ITS WAY

The Cleveland Browns were surrounded by loads of hype heading into the 2019 season and rightfully so. The additions of a lot of big-named players over the offseason, an improved record in 2018 and the development of quarterback Baker Mayfield had some feeling as if the Browns could challenge for the AFC North’s crown.

So far that hasn’t happened. The Browns are just 2-6 at the midway point and are in a hole that they need to climb out of in order to work their way back into contention.

In 2018 Baker Mayfield had a solid rookie year, completing 64 percent of his passes for 27 touchdowns – breaking the league’s rookie record shared between Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson – and tossing 14 interceptions in 13 starts. This year Mayfield finds himself in a sophomore slump with just seven touchdowns and 12 picks to his credit.

Just because he hasn’t played well in year two, however, doesn’t mean Mayfield isn’t talented. According to former MMQB/SI writer Andy Benoit, “(Mayfield) extends plays with his feet, but only when necessary, relying first on his outstanding timing and accuracy, especially on seam balls and underneath throws from spread formations. More impressive are the passes Mayfield does not make; he has a veteran’s sense for getting off of bad reads. And when he does get fooled into the occasional turnover, he continues to be aggressive.”

Not helping Mayfield’s cause is an offensive line that is merely so-so in pass protection. Beyond guard Joel Bitonio and center JC Tretter, the Browns don’t have much. The rest of their starters are former Rams bust Greg Robinson, former Bill Wyatt Teller and right tackle Chris Hubbard. They are, however, decent in the running game.

Cleveland doesn’t lack for weapons in the passing game though. Beckham Jr. is one of football’s elite talents and Antonio Callaway is a good vertical target. Jarvis Landry is one of the NFL’s better slot receivers and Rashard Higgins is adept on dig and corner routes. Former Chief Demetrius Harris is starting in place of the injured David Njoku.

Chubb is slippery and fast and has over 800 yards already, joining Jim Brown as the only players in Browns history with more than 800 yards rushing in the team’s first eight games. The return of Hunt adds even more speed into the Browns’ backfield.

DENVER, CO – NOVEMBER 3: Myles Garrett #85 of the Cleveland Browns looks over the offense during the second half of a game against the Denver Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on November 3, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Browns 24-19. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

CLEVELAND’S DEFENSE UP AND DOWN

The Browns’ defense does have some pieces to work around but much like their counterparts on offense, they aren’t getting a lot of positive results either, especially against the run. They are, however, very good against the pass – ranking sixth in the league in that category.

Myles Garrett leads the AFC in sacks with 10, but the big, quick defensive end from Texas A&M doesn’t have much help in getting after the quarterback. Veteran bookend Olivier Vernon, the former Miami Dolphin and New York Giant, has just three sacks in eight games this year and will miss Sunday’s game due to injury. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson has also been hit-or-miss, so to make up for the lack of help defensive coordinator Steve Wilks will likely play Garrett all over the Browns’ defensive line in order to get favorable matchups.

At linebacker, the athletic Joe Schobert is flanked by rookie thumper Mack Wilson. That crew is missing Christian Kirksey though, as he is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Kirksey is every bit as speedy and quick as Schobert and his absence limits what the Browns do schematically a bit.

Similar to McDermott’s defensive scheme, the Browns’ pass defense is built around zone coverages but a crucial difference between McDermott and Wilks (his successor in Carolina) is Wilks’ penchant for blitzes from the slot. Those usually come from journeyman nickel cornerback TJ Carrie, as he supplements two young, on-the-rise defensive backs in Denzel Ward – who specializes in matching up with smaller, quicker wideouts – and rookie Andraez “Greedy” Williams, who typically gets assignments against bigger targets. Cleveland’s starting safeties are former Packers Damarious Randall (who is out for Sunday’s game) and Morgan Burnett.

MUSINGS

  • Buffalo’s defense has allowed less than 400 yards of offense in 20 straight games dating to last year.
  • The Bills currently lead the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage with a mark of 85.7 percent. Conversely, the Browns are 25th in red zone efficiency with a mark of 46 percent.
  • Look for the Bills to utilize more play-action this week to take advantage of Damarious Randall’s absence in Cleveland’s secondary.
  • Should Buffalo emerge victorious on Sunday, the Bills would be 4-0 on the road to open a season for the first time since 1965.
  • According to Chris Brown of buffalobills.com, Allen has joined Dak Prescott, Cam Newton and Steve Grogan as the fourth quarterback in NFL history to record at least 20 passing touchdowns and 12 rushing scores in his first two seasons.
  • The Bills’ defense leads the NFL in three-and-out percentage with a rate of 30 percent.
  • Cleveland’s skill position players are second in the NFL in dropped passes. Only Miami has been worse.

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