Browns vs. Bills preview: Everything you need to know in Week 11

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Written by John Sparaco

Over the years, the Buffalo Bills have invented nearly every creative way to lose a football game – Wide Right, Music City Miracle, Hail Murray, 13 seconds – you get the picture.

However, what went down last Sunday was a brand new one.

Leading 27-10 with under two minutes to go until the fourth quarter, the Bills allowed the Vikings to start chipping away. Dalvin Cook immediately broke loose for an 81-yard score. Josh Allen threw a red zone interception on 4th & 2. Minnesota marched down the field again but missed the extra point. Buffalo’s offense stalled, giving Kirk Cousins a chance to lead a game-winning drive. Sacks by Boogie Basham and Von Miller had everything all but wrapped up, and then…

Justin Jefferson happened.

The superstar wideout climbed the ladder on 4th & 18 to move the chains with a seemingly impossible, leaping one-handed snag. After another grab by Jefferson moved Minnesota inside the 10, it appeared all was lost for Buffalo. Had they been defeated right here, it would have been remembered as your standard second-half collapse.

But things did not go that way. 

A goal line stand by Buffalo’s defense changed possession at the one-inch line. The Bills’ official Twitter account tweeted “BALL GAME,” which was later deleted. On the very next play, a mishandling on the snap led to a fumble, which was recovered in the end zone for a Minnesota touchdown, giving them a late lead. Without dragging this story out much longer, Buffalo drove down the field in a hurry to send it to overtime, continued to suffer from bad luck on coin tosses, and sealed the loss on another Josh Allen red zone interception.

Now sitting at 6-3 with eight games left in the regular season, the Bills have some work to do to reclaim their spot at the top of the division and the conference. As things stand now, Buffalo is third in the AFC East behind the Dolphins and Jets. They hope to rebound from their two-game skid and get back on track against a sneaky 3-6 Cleveland Browns team, but they will have to do so under unique circumstances.

Top storylines

  • Snowvember: A historic lake effect storm swept across Western New York late this week, burying Highmark Stadium and the streets surrounding it in up to 77 inches of snow. For reference, that is the exact height of Josh Allen and enough to submerge someone like running back Devin Singletary, who is 5-foot-7. The NFL recognized that these are not ideal conditions for playing and especially traveling, which is why the game was moved to Ford Field in Detroit. This is not the first time that the Lions have allowed the Bills to borrow their house keys for a “home” game. In Week 12 of the 2014 season, a matchup between the Jets and Bills was moved to Ford Field due to a similar snowstorm. The Bills ended up winning in a 38-3 blowout, which memorably included tight end Scott Chandler’s shoveling touchdown celebration. That time, the game was pushed back to Monday to accommodate travel plans. However, that is not an option this time around because the Bills are scheduled to play the Lions just four days later on Thanksgiving. The players had some adventures digging themselves out of the snow to get to the airport but fortunately, the entire team was able to board the plane in time for a 4 p.m. takeoff today.
  • Getting back on track: The Bills have lost two consecutive games, which has oddly become a trend around this time of year. Since head coach Sean McDermott took over in 2017, the Bills are 3-7 in weeks 9 and 10. In all other games, their record is 52-28. What is even more strange is that the Bills are undefeated in the first game after the bye during that span. This delayed bye week hangover appeared to first kick in during the second half of the Packers game in Week 8. Buffalo has only scored 12 second-half points over the last three games, largely due to the excessive number of turnovers by Allen and the offense. Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey will have to find a way to get the offense back in sync and out of this rut to avoid a three-game slide. Playcalling and execution in the red zone will be a good place to start.
  • No Tre White again: We are approaching exactly one year since the last time Tre’Davious White took the field during an NFL game. The All-Pro cornerback tore his ACL on Thanksgiving Day last year, which has sidelined him ever since. White was cleared to practice on Oct. 12, opening a 21-day window for him to join the active roster. He was activated on Nov. 1 but has not been active for either of the games he has been eligible to appear in. The Bills announced on Friday that White will be inactive again this week. Buffalo has been especially cautious with White’s rehab, refusing to place a timetable on his return. Both White and McDermott have alluded to the mental and physical obstacles to overcoming an injury like this. Considering that the next two games will be played on slit film turf, which data shows puts players at a higher risk of non-contact injuries, it would be surprising to see White in action anytime before Week 13.
  • Where is Nyheim Hines?: Since Buffalo decided to trade running back Zack Moss and a conditional sixth-round draft pick for Nyheim Hines at the trade deadline, fans have seen very little of him on the field. Other than fielding punt returns, Hines has been on the field for just 10 offensive snaps in two weeks. In those 10 snaps, Hines has caught one pass for nine yards on two targets and received zero carries. “It does take some time,” McDermott said when asked about Hines’ lack of involvement so far. “It’s just opportunities and I’m sure over time he’ll continue to get more and more comfortable.” Across the league, other offensive weapons that were traded at the deadline have gotten involved quickly, including Dolphins running back Jeff Wilson, who has already carried the ball 26 times in two games. Wilson was acquired for a fifth-round pick. This could be an opportune week for the Bills to get Hines more involved, especially since his pass-catching ability could encourage Allen to take more safe checkdown throws instead of forcing it downfield when there is no open window. 

Impact matchups to watch

Dion Dawkins vs. Myles Garrett

It is no secret that the Browns have one of the most fearsome edge defenders in the game in Myles Garrett. The former first-overall pick from the 2017 Draft has notched double-digit sack totals in each of the past four seasons, reaching a career-high of 16 last year. Garrett is well on his way to extending that streak to five years, as he has 7.5 this season.

Garrett has a great relationship with Hall of Fame Bills pass rusher Bruce Smith, who has been a mentor to him since he entered the league. He also has a strong bond with current Bills edge rusher Von Miller, who joked earlier this week that he accidentally gave Garrett the jersey he was wearing when he broke the Denver Broncos’ all-time sack record.

“If anybody other than me had to have it, I’m glad it’s Myles Garrett,” Miller said.

Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins will be in charge of neutralizing Garrett in this one. The two have only matched up once before in 2019, and for the most part, Dawkins kept him in check. Garrett finished the game with just one tackle on the stat sheet.

If the Bills’ offensive line can give Allen a clean pocket tomorrow, their odds of eliminating those mistakes that have plagued them in recent weeks will be much higher. Easier said than done, of course.

Bills’ linebackers vs. Nick Chubb

While Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson remains suspended, Cleveland will continue to lean on their run game to move the ball with Jacoby Brissett under center. The Browns possess one of the strongest running tandems in the league with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Chubb leads the way with 904 yards and 11 touchdowns this season on an impressive 5.7 yards per carry.

This is a difficult matchup for the Bills’ defense, especially with starting middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds being ruled out with a groin and heel injury. To help out, Buffalo brought back another old friend this week, claiming linebacker A.J. Klein off waivers from the Chicago Bears. Klein spent the 2020 and 2021 seasons with the Bills, starting in 15 of the 31 games he appeared in. Due to his experience in the system, he should be able to contribute right away. However, the same was said for safety Dean Marlowe, who has not played much since being brought back via trade.

Buffalo will need big performances from Klein, Matt Milano, Tyrel Dodson and Terrel Bernard to limit the damage caused by Chubb. They almost accomplished that against Dalvin Cook last week, until the big touchdown run late in the third quarter after Edmunds had already exited the game.

How to watch

Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday at 1:00 p.m. EST on CBS. Andrew Catalon and former Bills receiver James Lofton will be on the call with Amanda Renner reporting from the sidelines. The Bills are returning to their uniform combination of blue jerseys and blue pants. Snow cannot hurt them here, as Ford Field is indoors. Buffalo will return to the stadium just four days later for a Thanksgiving battle with the Lions.

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