Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Can the Browns rewrite the script against Buffalo?

terrance west browns billsThe Cleveland Browns shuffle off to Buffalo on Sunday to take on the Bills in the latest in a series of games that are vitally important to Cleveland’s playoff hopes.

It’s great that the Browns are beating on the NFC South like, well like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore regularly beat on the Browns, but Cleveland needs to start working on its conference record, which currently is a pedestrian 4-4. (Only Baltimore’s is worse among teams that are holding playoff aspirations.)

The Browns can do themselves a lot of good this weekend on several levels if they can take care of the Bills. A win gets the Browns to 8-4 heading into what should be a tough December schedule, and pushes the Bills a bit higher up next spring’s draft order, a key incentive as the Browns hold Buffalo’s No. 1 pick come the spring.

On the surface, it seems as if this game shouldn’t be a tough one for the Browns; after all, how hard can it be to beat a team quarterbacked by Kyle Orton and his 39-38 career record?

But we have been down this road before with Jacksonville and Houston, teams that beat up on the Browns in no small part because of their defensive line play.

The Bills have one of the best defensive front lines in the league, one that if the Jaguars and Texans taught us anything could give the Browns all kinds of headaches. Consider that:

  • The Bills rank eighth in the NFL in run defense, giving up 98.4 yards per game.
  • Buffalo’s front four of Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams and Kyle Williams have combined for 35.5 sacks this season.
  • Williams has 12 sacks (6.5 of those coming in his past three games), Dareus has 10 sacks and Hughes has 9.5 sacks.
  • Buffalo has average six sacks a game over the past three games, and the front four has posted multiple-sack games every week this season.
  • The Bills have allowed only five rushing touchdowns, tied for second in the league.

Sounds like the Browns – particularly quarterback Brian Hoyer – should throw their skirts over their heads and run for the hills, right?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo BillsWell, not so fast.

While the Browns struggled against the Texans and Jaguars (their only two losses since September; think about that for a moment), things are a little bit different this time around.

For starters, the running game looked much better last week against Atlanta, as Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West combined for 150 yards on the ground and the Browns had their best day running the football since the season opener, finishing with 162 yards on 29 carries (a tidy 5.6 yards per carry) and two rushing touchdowns.

While the numbers may look good for the Bills rush defense, they haven’t been playing that well in recent weeks. Over their past five games, the Bills are giving up an average of 135.4 yards on the ground. And according to Pro Football Focus, right guard John Greco is the fifth-best run-blocking guard in the NFL and left guard Joel Bitonio is fourth-best.

The Browns were not able to run the ball against either Jacksonville (69 yards) or Houston (65 yards), forcing Hoyer to have to pass the ball far too much (91 pass attempts in the two games combined).

If last week’s effort against the Falcons was the real deal, rather than just a one-week aberration against a bad defense, the Browns can go a long way toward not repeating the mistakes of their past two losses.

josh gordon browns billsThe Browns were also missing their biggest offensive weapon – Josh Gordon – in the games against Jacksonville and Houston. Gordon deserves a lot of credit for last week’s offensive performance against the Falcons, as he represents a player that opposing defenses have to account for. (And with Jordan Cameron missing another game due to concussion issues, Gordon becomes that much more important to the offense.)

Having Gordon on the field should loosen things up again for the running game, which brings with it the play-action passes that Hoyer runs so well, which slows down the pass rush, which should provide the offense the opportunity to cause some problems for the Bills.

Defensively, the Browns have lost another starter in safety Tashaun Gibson and will once again be without linebacker Karlos Dansby. But they should be OK as they are facing a mediocre Bills offense that is 20th in passing and 22nd in rushing this season.

Speaking of Buffalo’s rushing attack, we had to chuckle this week when running back Fred Jackson said he had “no respect” for Cleveland safety Donte Whitner.

donte whitner browns billsJackson only has 281 rushing yards on the season and hasn’t rushed for more than 50 yards in a single game since the season opener. You’d think Jackson would be more worried about that (or more worried about what Whitner may do to him if he gets a clean shot on Sunday) than something Whitner posted on Twitter last summer.

That also got us thinking about why anyone who plays for Buffalo would feel comfortable saying something about another player or team, especially when you consider that since 1999:

  • The Bills haven’t made the playoffs.
  • They have had just one winning season – 9-7 in 2004.
  • They have had eight seasons of double-digit losses since 1999.
  • They have won seven or less games 11 times.
  • They haven’t won more than seven games in a decade.

It might be time to get your own house in order there, Mr. Jackson.

Having said that, this is still no easy game for the Browns, but if they play well they should be fine.

We wrote last week that we were done trying to predict what this Browns team would do from week to week. But after watching how the final few minutes unfolded against Atlanta, we’re back to believing that anything is possible with this team.

So we’re back on the horse and expect the Browns to bring home the win this week.

(Photos courtesy of cleveland.com, USA Today and The Associated Press)

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