The Cleveland Browns are finally returning to FirstEnergy Stadium after a lengthy road trip for three straight home games. Up first is the Buffalo Bills who are one of the surprises in the NFL through the first half with a 6-2 record.
Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane have done a fine job building the Bills into a contending playoff team surrounding second-year quarterback Josh Allen with talent on both sides of the ball including first-round picks Tre’Davious White, Tremaine Edmunds and Ed Oliver as well as free agent acquisitions in Frank Gore, John Brown and Cole Beasley.
As for the Browns, many questions are surrounding this team but they are adding another weapon offensively with the season debut of running back Kareem Hunt. The 2017 NFL rushing leader was suspended the first eight games for violating the personal conduct policy.
His addition gives Baker Mayfield another insurance policy in both the running game as well as in the passing game, Hunt has 79 career catches and ten receiving touchdowns in his first two seasons.
However, head coach Freddie Kitchens hasn’t been able to utilize the talent that’s been on the field through eight games so questions will continue to loom whether or not Hunt will be inserted successfully.
Offensive Keys to the Game
Jack McCurry: With the arrival of Hunt, the Browns should become a run-heavy offense down the stretch especially with the cold weather starting in Northeast Ohio.
The Bills have allowed five passing touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 74.8 this season, add in the fact that Baker Mayfield is 2-10 when throwing 35+ times in a game.
Buffalo is 20th in run defense allowing 111.6 yards per game and nine rushing touchdowns.
Cleveland has been averaging 23.3 rushing attempts per game and that number should increase down the stretch. It’ll allow Chubb and Hunt to get enough carries between them to keep each player satisfied and also alleviate some pressure off of Mayfield and hopefully create more of a rhythm offensively.
Anthony Joki: The arrival of Kareem Hunt will bring some change to the Browns offense as Jack mentioned. For all times we were wondering why Dontrell Hilliard was in the game, you can expect those situations to go to Hunt.
Do not be surprised to see 21 (2 RB 1 TE) personnel or even 20 (2 RB 3 WR) personnel with Hunt back. With his return to the Browns, expect to see lots pre-snap shifting and motion. Utilizing Hunt and Chubb as decoys should help this struggling offense.
Defensive Keys to the Game
JM: Josh Allen has made some strides in his second season in the NFL but there’s still some noticeable flaws in his game.
The biggest one is the turnover issue. Allen has thrown seven interceptions while fumbling ten times but only losing three. Allen does like to run the football when things start to break down averaging 7.5 rushing attempts per game in his young career.
Cleveland’s defense has only forced nine turnovers this season after forcing 22 turnovers through eight games last season. If there was ever a game to have a dominant defensive performance, it could be this one if they can get after Allen early and often.
Add in the fact that Allen has been sacked 21 times already this season after being sacked 28 times in 12 games last season, Myles Garrett and company could make some noise on Sunday.
AJ: With no Olivier Vernon today, the Browns are going to be cognizant about setting the edge. That job is going to fall upon second-year DE Chad Thomas. Setting the edge is going to be paramount to prevent Josh Allen from taking off.
If the Browns can set the edge, blitzing through the A and B gaps should give Allen some trouble. Mack Wilson will more than likely be used in a spy role to keep an eye on Allen as he tries to scramble.
Unlike the Browns, the Bills have been great in the red zone this season so Cleveland is going to have to have a “bend, don’t break” mindset on defense. If the Bills get into the red zone, holding them to field goals will be a win, like Denver did to Cleveland last week.
JM: Bills 24-13
AJ: Bills 26-17