Buffalo @ Cleveland – Game #3 Preview
Well another 0-2 start for the Browns is not what the fans want to see; however Sunday is another winnable game for the team. Buffalo has been Jekyll and Hyde so far this season; after getting blown out in the opener, they went home and beat the Chiefs handily. I believe it is safe to assume this game can go either way.
Offense: Following an initial poor outing, Brandon Weeden improved greatly; now it becomes imperative that the signal caller has a repeat performance on Sunday. The Bills did surrender over 300 yards passing last week – however most of that was due to the fact the Chiefs were losing and were forced to throw to catch up. The Bills both hit and sacked the opposing quarterback five times; it appears the Browns will face a better defensive front than they did in Cincinnati. If Weeden can continue to get rid of the ball while facing pressure (like he did when throwing to Chris Ogbonnaya and Alex Smith last week), the defensive game plan may become ineffective. The secondary Cleveland will face is very young and athletic; the Browns’ quarterback cannot make a mistake in staring down a receiver. Such an error could lead to an interception and possibly even a touchdown. Assuming Weeden plays the way he did last week, this should not be an issue.
Trent Richardson will face another group of tenacious defenders on Sunday that include the likes of Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams; the rookie will not get complacent from his 100 yard plus rushing game, however, and will look to outgain that total. The Bills allowed 150 total rushing yards last game (after giving up 118 in week one), so the probability that the Browns will be successful on the ground is pretty good. I love seeing screen passes to Richardson as well – watching him in open space is very exciting. (More importantly, it is refreshing to finally see a quarterback that can effectively utilize this play). I am not sure whom the Browns will use as their third down back, but I expect either Jackson or Ogbonnaya to have a couple receptions and pick up ever-important first downs.
Previous years for the Browns included inconsistent play by the wide outs, which lead to an unproductive unit. However, if Mohammed Massaquoi and Greg Little can assume the roles of the #1 and #2 wide receivers on a weekly basis (i.e. leading the team in receptions, yardage, etc.), the passing offense will be a strength throughout the season. When a team commits their two best cornerbacks to the Browns’ top targets – Josh Gordon, Josh Cribbs, and possibly the tight ends can cause coverage mismatches that favor the offense. Weeden spread the ball around nicely last week, hitting eight receivers, so I envision the other options (outside of Massaquoi and Little) getting open and making plays for the Browns.
A key for the Bills’ success will be how well they can get to opposing quarterback; the team did not record a sack in their loss but had five in their victory. You can bet there will be many blitzes dialed up against the Browns in order to force their rookie quarterback into mistakes and turnovers. After improving from a tough opening week, the Browns’ offensive line will have to continue to prevent pressure coming immediately; four of the five sacks came from the Buffalo defensive line against the Chiefs. I liked seeing the Browns use Richardson to chip on passing plays – he allowed Weeden to complete a pass downfield with his block. If the team has to do that again this week, so be it – it reduces a receiver on the play but can eliminate a negative outcome (i.e. a sack, turnover, injury, etc).
Defense: The defensive line will have their hands full trying to contain C.J. Spiller, who has rushed for over 120 yards in both games this season (not to mention he’s the leading rusher in the NFL). They will have to limit him at the line of scrimmage, as the athlete has shown an ability to break off a long run. Ryan Fitzpatrick has not been throwing the ball much this year, and with the success of their running game, expect to see a healthy rotation of defensive lineman for the Browns as they will likely face several rushing attempts. Hopefully Billy Winn will be healthy from his concussion to give the defense another option. But the way John Hughes played last week (six tackles, a sack, and a hit on Andy Dalton) gives me hope the interior of the defensive line should be able to battle at the line of scrimmage regardless. Additionally, the Bills have not given up a sack this year, so Cleveland’s pass rush (which has eight sacks – second in the NFL) will have to find a way to badger the opposing quarterback.
Assuming there has been no meeting with Roger Goodell (to review the bounty ramifications), Scott Fujita could be on the field more this week. He is known as more of a run-stopper (as opposed to stout in pass coverage); the anticipated game plan of keeping the ball on the ground would dictate increased playing time for the veteran linebacker. It appears rookie James Michael-Johnson may not be fully healthy to help the team – expect to see a fair amount of L.J. Fort, Craig Robertson, and Kaluka Maiava once again. In the passing game, defending Scott Chandler will be the key for the linebackers; he is a solid player but not a game-breaker like Jermaine Gresham. The possibility of C.J. Spiller catching passes out of the backfield must be guarded against – stopping the runner in the open field is challenging enough on rushing attempts.
The drop-off from A.J. Green to Stevie Johnson is not considerable; the Browns must find a way to blanket the opponent’s leading receiver better than they did against the Bengals. Johnson had a forty-nine yard touchdown last week, so the threat of big play is always there. I would assume the Browns would continue to play several yards off of him to reduce the chances of this. Also, I hope the team reinforces the importance of tackling, as it was miserable last week. Hopefully Sheldon Brown will return from injury – the physical cornerback can help make plays in the running game and after opponents catch the ball. Outside of a few plays made by T.J. Ward, the safeties for the Browns have struggled in both pass coverage and run support. Neither Eric Hagg nor Usama Young have taken the reins at the free safety spot – hopefully week three will be a breakout game for (at least) one of them.
Special Teams: It goes without saying (but I’ll mention it anyways) that the Browns’ special teams have to forget about last week and redeem themselves. The Bills had a punt return touchdown against the Chiefs, so some concerns persist for Browns fans. This appears to be the only issue (albeit, a huge one) for the units – so if the kicking, punting, and return teams can maintain status quo or even improve, and they do not allow a long return, their performance will be acceptable for the game on Sunday.
Coaching: The team must clean up their penalty situation; there was far too many infractions committed by the Browns (ten penalties totaling 103 yards). The team does not need another obstacle to overcome, and the team cannot use replacement officials as an excuse. I was content with the offensive play calling last week, and hope they continue to run similar plays and formations. Defensively, adjustments obviously need to be made – I believe the secondary can be more aggressive than last week without fear of giving up several touchdowns.
Prediction (My Record 1-1): I see the offense picking up where it left off against Cincinnati, as well as the defensive backfield improving as well. Pat Shurmur said this game is a must win for the Browns. I believe Spiller will have a good day for the Bills but the Browns’ defense will keep Fitzpatrick in check. This is the week the Browns finally get a win, with the final score being 30 – 23.