September 22, 02012
Rain or shine, it will be a bruising bout between two top ground games when Cleveland hosts Buffalo on Sunday. NFLWeather.com forecasts a 40% chance of showers. Thus, both teams will look to get the running game going early and often. If the rain does hold off, expect the game plans to change very little given the amount of success both sides have had rushing the ball thus far this season.
Even without Fred Jackson the Bills (1-1) are the NFL’s best on the ground, averaging 198 yards per game. Jackson is expected to return by week six but in his place has been a thriving C.J. Spiller who averages over ten yards per carry. Since Spiller’s promotion, he ran for three touchdowns and 292 yards on 29 touches becoming one of the best draft picks for fantasy footballers who picked him up in the late rounds. Having cruised for 123 yards on 15 carries and two scores last week against Kansas City and a league-best 169 yards on only 14 touches and a touchdown at the Jets, C. J. Spiller has proven he is ready to start. Against a struggling Browns (0-2) defense on a muddy grass field, a replication of last week’s performance isn’t entirely out of the question.
Cleveland’s defense has allowed the fourth most yards in the league already with 831 yard given up but much of that has been through the air. While Joe Haden is out serving his suspension, a flimsy secondary needs to step it up against an offense ranked fourth in points per game (31.5) and seventh in yards per game (384.5). A slippery football could mean dropped, tipped or fumbled footballs and the Browns will desperately need to capitalize on any and all turnover opportunities.
Surprisingly the Bills have yet to surrender a sack all season so Cleveland needs to put pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick when he does drop back. Defensively, the Browns already forced five interceptions and racked up eight sacks. This Bill’s passing game averages 186.5 yards per game. Ryan Fitzpatrick, The Buffalo QB has yet to experience any sort of pressure so if the Browns can make him feel uncomfortable early, getting knocked down in the mud enough times will definitely get to him.
While Fitzpatrick has only tossed two picks, rookie Brandon Weeden bounced back from a four interception home debut to a two touchdown and zero turnover performance at Cincinnati. A rainy day would mean cautious play calling for a rookie quarterback still searching for his first NFL win.
Despite not being much a factor in week one, prized rookie rusher Trent Richardson put up first-round numbers last week with a touchdown and 109 yards on 19 carries. The Buffalo defense allows 134 yards per game on the ground and Richardson should have no trouble barreling through a beat up Bills D. Linebacker Nick Barnett is probable but DT Marcell Dareus did not participate during Friday’s practice and FS Jairus Byrd is listed as question. Holes in the Buffalo defense could cause not only some serious matchup issues but they also could lead to another big week from Richardson.
Rain has an obvious effect on the passing game but swirling western winds from 13 to 15 mph could be a driving factor as well. The last thing both offensive coordinators will do is have their QBs put the ball in areas where the wind takes control.
The Browns are without tight end Alex Smith so nine-year veteran Benjamin Watson will be Weeden’s bulky close range option despite having caught only three balls for 36 yards. Josh Cribbs is listed as questionable with a knee injury so Mohamed Massaquoi and Greg Little might be the go to guys finding space on short, quick routes. Massaquoi leads the team with eight grabs for 131 yards and Little has hauled in one touchdown and 57 yards on five catches. The Browns will be looking to put as little pressure and weight on Weeden’s shoulders as possible so when they hit the air, timing patterns will be the common theme.
When mother nature’s impact on a football is discussed it’s never a positive for the kicking game. But whether it’s rain, snow or wind; Phil Dawson has seen it all as the Cleveland kicker. Last weekend Dawson nailed a 50-yarder, the 18th of his 14-year career. Bills kicker Rian Lindell is a 13-year vet but his home field provides an AstroPlay turf surface. Buffalo certainly has it’s winds but Cleveland’s stadium provides the ultimate wind factor. Look for some short high punts and possibly a quick kick on 3rd down as the coaches are unlikely to attempt long field goals in these conditions. In a close game, the wind could be what determines this one.