The Cleveland Browns travel to snowy Buffalo, New York to face the Bills in a pivotal game to help determine the AFC playoff picture. The 7-4 Browns will face a hungry 6-5 Bills’ team who desperately need a win to stay in the race for the playoffs. The Browns will be equally motivated as they look to keep pace in the highly competitive AFC North, which is comprised of three teams with 7-4 records.
The Browns must focus in on three areas if they wish to come away victorious this Sunday:
Offensive Line Must Neutralize Bills’ Defensive
The Bills boast the league’s best defensive line as Mario Williams and company have amassed 46 sacks in on the season, which is tops in the NFL. In an effort to keep the Bills from teeing off on Brian Hoyer, they will need to have success in the run game to keep the Bills vaunted defensive front off balance. The Bills have shown they can stop the run as well as rush the passer without bringing extra defenders. Browns’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan spoke about the Bills’ defensive front earlier in the week.
“They’re a very good defensive line, obviously. They’ve got two good pass rushers on the outside and they have two good inside players and as good of players as we’ve played all this year. They penetrate, they come off the ball, they know your snap count, they tee off. You have to mix up your cadence, you’ve got to try and move guys around, you’ve got to change up some schemes, but they’re tough to deal with not matter what you do. It’s going to be a grind.”
The Browns currently have the 12th best rushing attack in the NFL as they average 117.5 rushing yards per game. The Browns will need to come close to that number in order to utilize play action and refrain from becoming one-dimensional.
Stop the Bills’ Three-Headed Rushing Attack
Despite the loss of CJ Spiller, the Bills have three talented running backs that the Browns will need to contain this Sunday. While the Bills are rated 22nd in the NFL in rushing yards with just 97.5 rushing yards per game, their running backs are more than capable of having a good game against a porous Browns’ defensive front. Browns’ head coach Mike Pettine spoke very highly of the Bills’ running backs this week.
“Fred Jackson, he’s ageless. You think that the career is winding down at some point. All he does is go out. … He’s productive. I only knew Fred from the outside, being with the Jets. I admired him then, but once I got to know him and be around him every day you realize what a special person he is and how well he takes care of himself and how professional he is and what a good leader he is. …Then they added a big back. … I think they found it in [Bills running back Boobie] Dixon”
Stay in Sammy Watkins’ Hip Pocket
Joe Haden has been performing at an All-Pro level in recent weeks and the Browns will need him to continue his stellar play against Bills’ rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins. If healthy, Watkins has the type of skillset that could give Haden some difficulty. The Browns must minimize explosive plays from the prodigious playmaker to increase their chances of getting a win. Browns’ defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil praised Watkins and his development.
“He’s a good player. He’s further ahead than what most rookies are. Usually when most rookie wide receivers come into the NFL, they kind of settle in on five or six routes that they’ll run in the offense. The’ve done a great job with him out there. They move him around. They build it around him. He’s obviously athletic, fast, has got an unbelievable catch radius. He’s a good player. He’s going to be a challenge for us this week.”
The Browns will have their hands full, in the secondary, especially with the absence of Tashaun Gipson. Expect Watkins and Woods to make their fair share of plays throughout the game, but it will not be enough for the Bills to get the win. The Browns should be able to keep the Bills’ ground game in check forcing the Bills to become one-dimensional, enabling them to notch their eighth win of the season.
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