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Vic Carucci's Take Five

Bills must be wary of Browns' desperation

Vic Carucci

Here are my five takes for Sunday's game between the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns at First Energy Stadium.

1. The Browns' desperation could spell trouble.

Despite their 6-2 record, the Bills have no reason to be complacent. They have struggled through most of their games, and have flaws that have been exposed in every phase.

The Browns, who were a popular pick be a serious postseason contender, have been a major disappointment at 2-6. They have shown signs of dysfunction, with players allowing their frustration to boil over in public. At times, it seems the Browns are focused too much on what they haven't done than what they should be doing.

Rookie coach Freddie Kitchens is feeling considerable heat, with speculation he could be fired before the end of the season. A loss Sunday could very well be the tipping point.

The players like having Kitchens in charge, because he mostly gives them the freedom to be themselves. Recognizing the urgency to turn the season around, they could very well be inspired to perform accordingly.

2. Josh Allen has a chance for a huge day statistically.

Allen's season has been uneven, to say the least. But he seems to be trending in the right direction. After throwing six interceptions through the first four games, he has thrown only one in the last four.

The Browns will be without one of their key pass-rushers, Olivier Vernon, who will be sidelined with a knee injury. They still have Myles Garrett, who is one of the best edge rushers in the game, but the Bills should be able to shift more of their protection his way with less concern about the rest of the Browns' front.

The Browns also have concerns in their secondary when it comes to defending deeper throws. Although Allen has had accuracy issues in those type of passes, he figures to have greater success with more time in the pocket and injuries at safety for the Browns.

Early on, expect the Bills to lean heavily on their running game, especially Devin Singletary. Once he and Frank Gore get rolling, which should be the case against the NFL's 30th-ranked run defense, that will help open up opportunities through the air.

Besides receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley, expect tight ends Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney and the running backs to have a significant impact in the passing game.

3. Don't get trampled, again, by the run.

It happened for an entire game against the Philadelphia Eagles. It happened for a half against the Washington Redskins.

The middle of the Bills' defense has proven vulnerable against the run. Despite the dramatic second-half improvement the Bills showed against the run last Sunday, there is reason to think they'll continue to have issues in that area with the Browns' dynamic backfield combination of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, playing his first game since being reinstated from an NFL suspension. Hunt hasn't played since November of 2018, when he was with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Bills' defense needs someone other than Jordan Phillips to make a difference at tackle. It is time for Star Lotulelei to start living up to the massive free-agent contract he signed in 2018. It's also time for Ed Oliver to play up to the level of the ninth overall pick of the draft.

4. Don't let this be Baker Mayfield's rebound game.

So far, the Browns' quarterback has done his best performing in national TV commercials. After a strong rookie season that helped validate the Browns making him the top overall pick of the '18 draft, Mayfield has been awful.

He has pressed too hard to get the ball into the hands of receiver Odell Beckham Jr., considered one of the biggest offseason acquisitions in the NFL and the player who was expected to do the most to make the Browns a contender. The Bills need to take advantage of Mayfield's tendency to take most of the offensive load on his shoulders, and force him into mistakes through their pass rush and solid coverage. Mayfield also might be inclined to take greater risks in order to show he's better than Allen, the seventh overall pick of last year's draft.

The Bills also have to be wary of his ability to run, which makes containment a priority of their defensive game plan.

5. Heed Bruce Smith's advice and clean things up.

As the Hall of Famer told players on his former team before last Sunday's game, they must address areas such as pre-snap penalties, other mental errors and turnovers that have been problems.

The Bills can't afford to let self-destruction become a factor, given the other challenges they will likely face Sunday.


Game details

Here is what you need to know for Sunday's game.

TV: CBS. Announcers: Andrew Catalon (play-by-play), James Lofton (analyst).

Radio: Bills Radio Network. Buffalo-WGR 550 AM; Toronto-Fan 590 AM; Rochester-WCMF 96.5 FM and WROC 950 AM; Syracuse-WTKW 99.5 FM and WTKV 105.5 FM. Announcers: John Murphy (play-by-play), Eric Wood (color analyst).

Series history: The Browns lead the series, 12-9. The Bills seek to win their first four road games of the season for the first time since 1965.

Bills injury report: No one listed.

Browns injury report: Out: DE Olivier Vernon (knee), S Eric Murray (knee). Questionable: S Damarious Randall (hamstring), OT Kendall Lamm (knee), TE Ricky Seals-Jones (knee).

Point spread: The Bills are a 3-point underdog at

Did you know: The Bills have held opponents to one or fewer touchdown passes in 12 consecutive games. That's the longest active streak in the NFL and equals the longest in franchise history (1971-72 and 2009).

Next: The Bills are on the road again next Sunday when they face the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.

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