NFL Preview - Buffalo (1-1) at Cleveland (0-2)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - If it were up to Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey, he would run the football on every snap.
It looks like he has the right man for the job if he wants to do just that when his team visits the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, with Bills running back C.J. Spiller trying to pad his NFL-leading rushing total and send the Browns to yet another 0-3 start.
Spiller, a 2010 first-round pick, entered the season No. 2 on the depth chart behind Fred Jackson, who was in the midst of an outstanding season in 2011 before suffering a broken right leg that ended his campaign prematurely. Jackson got a contract extension this offseason, but suffered a right knee injury in a Week 1 loss to the New York Jets.
That opened the door for Spiller, who ran for 169 yards and a score on 14 carries versus the Jets before adding another 123 yards and a pair of touchdowns in last Sunday's 35-17 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Buffalo ran 36 times in the last game, sticking with a philosophy that Gailey mentioned again this week.
"That is just the way I have thought about the game through the years," said the Bills' coach. "It is a tough, hard-nosed game. It is a tough game for tough people. I think if you run the football, you can impose your will on other teams. It is different. The game is different than it was 10-to-15 or 20 years ago. You change. You change with the times and you adjust. You do what you have to do."
Though Jackson is aiming to return by Week 5, Gailey may have a hard time taking touches away from Spiller, who has also caught five passes for 72 yards through the two games.
The third-year back has fine-tuned his game during his short career in an effort to rack up more yards.
"I am more decisive," Spiller said. "I am more north-south than of an east- and-west (runner). If I have to bounce it, I will. But I try to get up the field more quickly than I did in the past."
With every team in the AFC East currently sporting 1-1 records, the Bills will look to keep pace while handing the Browns their fourth 0-3 start in five seasons.
Cleveland's offense struggled in a narrow 17-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1, then failed to keep up with the Cincinnati Bengals in this past weekend's 34-27 road setback.
Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden is aiming to get his first NFL victory as a starter.
"There's so much football to be played, but you don't want to put yourself into a hole where you're digging yourself out," said the 28-year-old. "Even though it isn't a (division) game, I think it's still nice to get on the right track."
Weeden threw four interceptions in the Week 1 loss, but did not turn the ball over last Sunday while throwing for 322 yards with two touchdowns. That is an effort he will aim to build off of for this game.
"I think it just shows me that I can play at this level," Weeden said. "The Bengals have a good defense, they were a playoff team last year. It gives you that self-confidence that you can make all of those throws, you can do things to put your team in position to score points. We scored more points in that game than we probably scored offensively as ones the entire preseason, so confidence-wise it was good for me. Now, I just have to build off of it, be consistent and do it two weeks in a row."
Fellow rookie Trent Richardson also saw his numbers go up in Week 2, as the Cleveland running back rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown while also hauling in a scoring throw from Weeden.
Browns lead 10-6
Last Meeting: Bills 13, Browns 6 (Dec. 12, 2010 at Buffalo) Last Meeting at Site: Browns 8, Bills 0 (Dec. 16, 2007)
Bills HC Chan Gailey vs. Browns: 1-0 Browns HC Pat Shurmur vs. Bills: 0-0 Gailey vs. Shurmur Head-to-Head: First Meeting
Notes: Browns had won three straight in the series prior to their 2010 defeat at Ralph Wilson Stadium, including narrow road victories in 2008 (29-27) and 2009 (6-3). Bills have visited Cleveland just once since the Browns re-entered the NFL in 1999, having last bested the Browns on the road via a 22-19 decision on Oct. 2, 1995. Teams also faced off in a 1989 AFC Divisional Playoff, with the Browns prevailing at home by a 34-30 count.
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
Buffalo: 7th overall (384.5 ypg), 1st rushing (198.0 ypg), 28th passing (186.5 ypg), 4th scoring (31.5 ppg)
Cleveland: 22nd overall (324.5 ypg), t11th rushing (114.5 ypg), 23rd passing (210.0 ypg), tied 24th scoring (21.5 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
Buffalo: tied 25th overall (403.0 ypg), 24th rushing (134.0 ypg), 23rd passing (269.0 ypg), 28th scoring (32.5 ppg)
Cleveland: 29th overall (415.5 ypg), 18th rushing (115.0 ypg), 28th passing (300.5 ypg), tied 19th scoring (25.5 ppg)
Buffalo: 0 (4 takeaways, 4 giveaways) Cleveland: +1 (6 takeaways, 5 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Buffalo: 100 percent (5 possessions, 5 TD, 0 FG) -- 1st overall Cleveland: 0.0 percent (3 possessions, 0 TD, 2 FG) -- 32nd overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Buffalo: 50.0 percent (8 possessions, 4 TD, 3 FG) -- tied 11th overall Cleveland: 60.0 percent (5 possessions, 3 TD, 2 FG) -- 20th overall
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
The Bills rode Spiller (292 rushing yards, 3 TD, 5 receptions) and a host of other bodies in their win over the Chiefs, racking up 201 of their 379 total yards on the ground. Gailey has spread the carries a bit despite the loss of Jackson, with Tashard Choice (40 rushing yards) getting eight attempts and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick taking off four times for 34 yards. Depth back Johnny White even got five carries against Kansas City. Thanks to the ground game, Fitzpatrick (373 passing yards, 5 TD, 3 INT) only had to throw the ball 19 times, though he passed for two touchdowns and 178 yards without a sack or turnover. Wide receiver Stevie Johnson (6 receptions, 2 TD) and tight end Scott Chandler (6 receptions, 2 TD) both made a pair of catches with one touchdown each while combining for 109 yards. Spiller led Buffalo with three receptions, while wideout Donald Jones (6 receptions, 1 TD) is also an option for Fitzpatrick.
The Browns struggled in keeping Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton from finding the end zone last week, allowing him to throw for 318 yards with three touchdowns. Stud middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (8 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 INT) did grab Cleveland's fifth interception of the year while coming up with three sacks, a standout star on a unit that overall struggled. The secondary was forced to make a lot of stops, with cornerback Buster Skrine (15 tackles) and safety T.J. Ward (17 tackles) among the team's leading tacklers in the game, though the Browns did get excellent pressure in netting six sacks total. The other three all came from the front four, with ends Frostee Rucker (7 tackles, 1 sack) and Juqua Parker (3 tackles, 1 sack) each getting to the quarterback in addition to rookie tackle John Hughes (6 tackles, 1 sack). Fellow linemen Ahtyba Rubin (6 tackles) and Jabaal Sheard (3 tackles) figure to be keys to sealing off Spiller from the left side.
WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL
Cleveland will look for Weeden (440 passing yards, 2 TD, 4 INT) and Richardson (148 rushing yards, 1 TD) to take another step forward this weekend after the duo helped the offense amass 439 yards against Cincinnati. The duo also factored in together on two Cleveland touchdowns, with the rookie back posting a 32-yard scoring run in addition to his 23-yard pass from Weeden. The Browns' quarterback threw the ball 37 times versus the Bengals, completing 26 attempts for 322 yards. Weeden also did a good job of spreading things out, targeting wide receivers Greg Little (5 receptions, 1 TD) and Mohamed Massaquoi (8 receptions) seven times each, running back Chris Ogbonnaya (6 receptions) six times and looking Richardson's way on five occasions. Tight end Alex Smith (4 receptions) also saw four targets. Cleveland's key for this game will be the play of the offensive line, with left tackle Joe Thomas and rookie Mitchell Schwartz on the right side needing to keep Buffalo's talented defensive ends away from Weeden.
Though Buffalo still gave up 422 yards of offense to the Chiefs, the defense made a number of big plays by logging five sacks, grabbing an interception and recovering a pair of fumbles. Tackle Kyle Williams (6 tackles, 2 sacks) had two of the sacks and fellow interior lineman Alex Carrington also had a sack and forced a fumble. End Mario Williams (3 tackles) recovered one of the two fumbles and free safety Jairus Byrd (12 tackles, 1 INT) picked off a pass. Byrd is likely a game-time decision for this contest, though, due to a foot injury. Mario Williams and end Mark Anderson (3 tackles) are a big part of Buffalo's front four and need to be contained, while linebackers Kelvin Sheppard (12 tackles, 1 sack) and Nick Barnett (15 tackles) are always looking to make plays.
The key to this game is likely to be how well the Browns stand up against the Bills' run attack. Given Spiller's motivated performance through the first two weeks, Cleveland's defensive unit could be in for a long day. Gailey has made no secret of his desire to run, so getting Weeden off to a quick start and getting early points will be a must for the Browns. Buffalo's speedy defenders should serve as a challenge to Cleveland's young offense, giving Fitzpatrick plenty of time with the ball to make plays.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bills 24, Browns 17
09/20 13:35:57 ET