When the Cleveland Browns play the Buffalo Bills tonight at FirstEnergy Stadium, the team’s defense will have to contend with dual-threat rookie quarterback in E.J. Manuel, who is able to both pass and rush the football.
Manuel has completed 74 of his 130 pass attempts for 856 yards and five touchdowns against three interceptions. He has spread the ball out to 10 different receivers, and also rushed for 77 yards on 24 carries.
“He’s extremely dangerous,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said of Manuel. “He can run and make plays, extend plays. He’s accurate. He was an intriguing, impressive guy coming out. All of the things off the field from a leadership standpoint and the type of person he is were very impressive. In terms of his skill set, he can really throw the ball well, has a strong arm, and the mobility and things he brings to the table from that standpoint.
“They’re doing things that they need to do to win, and they’re doing a good job of that. They have an outstanding running game, a versatile, young quarterback that can make plays, and an aggressive, opportunistic defense.”
“A lot of the time, our pass rush gets in there and our defense has good coverage, but we have to work on containing the quarterbacks a little bit,” Haden said. “A lot of times, it’s not the running backs that hurt us. It’s the quarterbacks scrambling for first downs. It’s up to everybody to make sure he doesn’t get out of the pocket.”
While Manuel has been able to spread the ball out to 10 of his teammates, wide receiver Steve Johnson has been his go-to target. Johnson has gained 235 yards and scored two touchdowns on 18 receptions.
“He’s good; he’s special,” Haden said of Johnson. “He has really good releases and we’ve just got to make sure we stay on top of them. Their main thing is their run game, and with our front seven, that’s the best part of our defense. That’s going to be a really good challenge.
“He’s a special receiver who can get open. He runs really good routes. He’s quick, but he’s different than the other guys. We’ve got to stay locked in because they run the ball, and then, they’ll play-action it. We’ve got to make sure we stay on the receivers and let our front seven control the run.”
While the Browns prepare to defend Manuel, Johnson and running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, who have combined to rush for 486 yards and two touchdowns on 114 carries, the Bills will contend with quarterback
During those two victories, Hoyer led a last-minute touchdown drive to seal the come-from-behind victory at Minnesota, and engineered two 90-plus-yard drives in the victory over Cincinnati.
“We’re a team that always fights to the end,” Hoyer said. “We pride ourselves on it. We talk about it in practice; it’s going to take all four quarters. We’re a second-half team. Coach Chud always comes up before a team period and says, ‘Look, we’re down 24-17 at the start of the third quarter. What are we going to do?’
“I think that really gets the mindset going that it’s going to come down to the end. There’s not many games in this league where it’s decided by the fourth quarter. You know it’s going to take all your mental capacity, and all it’s going to take physically to go out there and finish the job.”
While Hoyer credits Chudzinski’s challenges in practice to helping with game day performance, the head coach believes the Browns are winning because of their day-to-day commitment to getting better.
“Nothing has changed from our standpoint,” Chudzinski said. “Our approach has been one week at a time, improving from one game to the next, and focusing on the week and the task at hand. This is a process, and we want to take it step-by-step. Consistency is something that we’re looking for, but our sole focus is on the week-to-week, day-to-day thoughts of trying to get better.
“I’ve seen it on both sides of the ball. I think our secondary is playing better and better, and has really improved and tightening up some of the things that, early on, hurt us. I think we’re improving on third downs, defensively and offensively. I think our protection is improving as well.”
The Browns-Bills game is presented by Cleveland Clinic.