Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton is impressed with Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel and his ability to run the read-option offense.
And Horton and the Browns will get an up-close-and-personal view of Buffalo’s three-headed running attack when the Bills come to FirstEnergy Stadium for a nationally-televised game on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football this week.
“They’ve been in every game,” Horton said Wednesday. “Manuel’s been showing a lot of poise under pressure, and (New York Jets coach) Rex (Ryan) gave him a ton of looks. The kid is pretty unflappable. We think we’re a little different style defense than he’s faced, so it’ll be a good challenge for us.”
From his ability to engineer drives, eliminate the distractions that come with playing on the road in the NFL and effectively running the read-option offense under the direction of head coach Doug Marrone, Manuel has the Bills out to a 2-2 start with the two losses coming in narrow losses against New England and at the Jets.
“He’s not like an unprepared rookie where he makes a ton of mistakes,” Horton said. “He’s won two games already, which I give him credit for. Coach Marrone is doing a great job of understanding what he can handle, and we’re going to try our best.”
Manuel has completed 74 passes for 856 yards and five touchdowns against three interceptions. He has also accounted for 77 yards on 24 carries. Horton feels the key to neutralizing Manuel’s impact in the running game is hitting him often.
“I think that’s the No. 1 philosophy,” Horton said. “If you want to put a $100 million Ferrari out there, it’s going to get hit. Is that what you want to do? If you do, that’s okay. We’ll hit that Ferrari, try to dent it up and kick the tires a little bit. That’s been my mantra. If they’re going to put the quarterback out there to get hit, we’re going to hit him.”
While Manuel runs the Bills’ offense, he has a two-headed monster at running back to take pressure off of him by rushing the ball effectively.
Fred Jackson leads the team with 256 yards and two touchdowns on 48 carries, while C.J. Spiller has accounted for 230 yards on 66 carries. Jackson is third on the team with 13 catches for 113 yards, while Spiller has turned nine receptions into 29 yards.
And if the Bills elect to go to the ground game against the Browns, they will be matching up strength against strength, as Horton’s charges are fourth in the league in rush yardage allowed (79.0 yards per game).
“We expect them to play, and I’ve told our players, they’re the second-leading rush team in the NFL, but if you take Michael Vick off the field (in Philadelphia), they’re the No. 1 rush team, and on paper, I think we’re No. 4, but per-play, we’re No. 1,” Horton said. “Our mantra all week has been, ‘Good on good, best on best.’ It’s a challenge to stop these guys because they give you two different styles of running, whether it’s inside with Fred or outside.
“We expect them to be playing, but if they don’t, we think Tashard Choice is an excellent backup coming off the bench. It’ll be a challenge for us. They want to run the ball, and they run the ball without the quarterback. It’s not a running quarterback. It’s really impressive what they’ve done running the ball.”