Browns-Bills: Five keys

Posted Oct 2, 2013

Browns Senior Editor Vic Carucci breaks down the five keys for tonight’s game against the Buffalo Bills at FirstEnergy Stadium.

>>Stop the run for a fifth game in a row. The Browns’ defense has a remarkable streak of run-stuffing going, and it can’t stop now. The Bills have a pair of high-impact running backs in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, but both are hurting. Spiller is questionable with an ankle injury and Jackson is probable with a sore knee. The Browns cannot allow the Bills to find a way to move the ball on the ground, and that seems likely given how stout defensive linemen Desmond Bryant, Phil Taylor, and Ahtyba Rubin, and inside linebackers D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson have been. The Browns’ best chance to win is to force rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel to try to win the game with his passing arm.

>>The pass rush has to make the rookie quarterback feel like a rookie. It won’t be easy, because Manuel has mostly shown exceptional poise through the first four starts of his career. He is big, strong, and runs well. The Browns’ front seven will have to focus on containment, keeping Manuel in the pocket as often as possible. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will look to confuse the rookie with a variety of blitzes and coverages. With outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard and Quentin Groves likely to remain sidelined with knee and ankle injuries, respectively, the Browns must continue to rise to the occasion with their excellent front-seven depth. Rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo has had an incredible start to his career, with three sacks in three games, and he’s barely scratching the surface of his potential. The Browns will count heavily on him and fellow outside linebacker Paul Kruger to make the night as long as possible for Manuel, whose top receiver, Stevie Johnson, is probable with a hamstring injury.

>>Brian Hoyer must exploit a banged-up Bills secondary. Through his 2-0 start as the Browns’ No. 1 quarterback, Hoyer has consistently made good decisions with where to go with his throws. He excels at studying and understanding the weaknesses of opposing defenses, and he is well aware of the multiple holes the Bills have in the back end of their defense. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore is out with a wrist injury, cornerback Leodis McKelvin is questionable with a hamstring injury, and safety Jairus Byrd is questionable with a foot injury. Hoyer should be able to continue to connect with wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron for big plays.

>>The offensive line needs to hold up against a strong front seven. The Browns and Bills have something in common: a highly aggressive and effective defensive front. The Browns’ offensive line played its best game of the season last Sunday against Cincinnati. It protected Hoyer well for the most part, although it still shows some vulnerability at the guard spots. The Bills have a dominant inside rusher in tackle Marcell Dareus, who usually commands double teams, and a dynamic outside rusher in end Mario Williams, who is probable with an ankle injury. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who is probable with an Achilles injury, is a classic inside plugger.

>>The 12th Man has to come up big. The crowd can be a definite factor in this game. Given that the Browns are on a two-game winning streak and that it has been a long time since there was a prime-time game at FirstEnergy Stadium and that the team will stage a dramatic ceremony honoring Jim Brown, the atmosphere should be electric. And if the Browns are able to get an early lead and keep the fans engaged, that should go a long way toward making things difficult for Manuel, who is getting his first taste of an NFL prime-time game.

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