Shift To Safe Confines Of Ford Field Has Made Browns’ Challenge Greater Against Explosive Bills

Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, NY, will be buried under six feet of snow by the time the Browns and Bills kickoff at 1 p.m. Sunday in Detroit's Ford Field. (Buffalo Bills)

Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, NY, will be buried under six feet of snow by the time the Browns and Bills kickoff at 1 p.m. Sunday in Detroit's Ford Field. (Buffalo Bills)

Shift to safe confines of Ford Field has made Browns’ challenge greater against explosive Bills

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.

Four downs on Browns (3-6) v. Buffalo Bills (6-3)

First down: Goodbye, snow. Hello, hell.

The move of this game from the unplayable, snow-battered home of the Bills in Orchard Park, NY, to climate-controlled Ford Field in Detroit, MI, was necessary to free up all resources to protect the safety of Western New York citizens. It also changed the nature of the game. A typical “weather” game in Highmark Stadium would have neutralized Josh Allen’s high-powered passing game and accentuated the decided edge the Browns have in running the ball. It also would have forced Kevin Stefanski to actually rely on his running game – something he and the Browns’ analytics department have stubbornly refused to do. Inside the pristine confines of Ford Field, however, the Bills can execute all aspects of their overall No. 1-ranked offense and No. 2-ranked passing game. While the relocation may have removed the boost the Bills receive from their Bills Mafia home crowd, the inescapable conclusion is that Allen and Stefon Diggs & Co. become a far greater challenge for the Browns’ beleaguered defense indoors.

Second down: Like sands through an hourglass.

The Browns’ playoff chances are the final grains of sand through an hourglass, accelerating toward nothingness. A loss to Buffalo would drop the Browns to 3-7. Six of those losses would be to teams vying for AFC wild-card berths – the Jets (6-3), Chargers (5-4), Patriots (5-4), Ravens (6-3), Dolphins (7-3) and Bills (6-3). Math says 10-7 would still be a possible final record for the Browns, but the tie-breaker situation would be bleak. A win to move to 4-6 keeps alive the Browns’ slim, grim hope of turning over the reins to Deshaun Watson with a chance of making a belated run.

Third down: They meet again.

Once upon a time – and only once – the Browns executed a stellar defensive game against Allen, whom the Browns bypassed when picking Baker Mayfield No. 1 overall in the 2018 draft. The only time they’ve seen the Buffalo fireballer was his second season in 2019. Under the direction of then-defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, the Browns held Allen to 19 incompletions in 41 pass attempts and a 73.8 passer rating. Allen scored two times on the ground in a 19-16 Browns’ win in Cleveland. Allen and the Bills went on to earn a wild-card berth and the Browns finished 6-10 to ignite the regime change to Andrew Berry & Stefanski. Allen has steadily improved since that meeting, as has the Bills’ offense after the trade for Diggs in 2020. Allen is second in touchdowns (20) and seventh in rating (96.6), but also is last with 10 interceptions. Diggs is third in receptions (72) and receiving yards (985) and second in receiving touchdowns (seven). Allen, 6-5 and 237 pounds, is a modern-day John Elway, capable of killing a defense with chest-piercing throws and heart-wrenching runs; he leads the Bills with 476 rushing yards (7.0 average). “He is tough to deal with,” bemoaned defensive coordinator Joe Woods. “You see him on tape, you cover guys up and then he scrambles. If you bring pressure, then he is making throws. He can throw the ball I think forever and just flicking it. You have to have multiple things defensively to deal with him, but at the same time, you know there are going to be a few times that he is going to get loose. We just have to be disciplined with our rush lanes. We have to be disciplined with our coverage if he does scramble because he is scrambling and throwing the ball 60 yards downfield.”

Fourth down: Sad. So sad.

The days of the Browns fielding the best running back duo in the NFL are winding down. Unless there is a sudden turnabout, the Browns will have thoroughly wasted the resource of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt as a so-called Two-Headed Monster in the backfield. Over the last four games, Chubb has averaged 15.5 attempts for 77.7 yards to slip to third overall in the NFL with 904 rushing yards. Chubb leads the league with 11 rushing touchdowns. Over those same four games, Hunt has averaged 6.5 attempts for 16.7 yards. Hunt’s receiving numbers are also slightly down from the pace of the only season he played 16 games in his four years with the Browns. Given the Browns’ recent lack of interest in incorporating Hunt meaningfully in the gameplan, it’s doubtful we will see what should have been a unique piece of offensive weaponry. In Stefanski’s first season of 2020, Chubb (1,067) and Hunt (841) combined for 1,908 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground; Hunt added five TD receptions. That was the year the Browns went 11-5 and beat Pittsburgh in a wild-card game before losing a divisional round game in Kansas City. Since then, somebody in the building decided to shift the focus of the offense elsewhere. Henceforth, the Browns have gone 11-15.

The pick: Bills 32, Browns 20.

My record: 3-6.