It seems like the Buffalo Bills played only a few days ago. Oh, they did? Three and half days seems like a short time to recover and play another game (ahem, Mr. Goodell). Anyways, this Thursday night, the Bills (2-2) will face off against the Cleveland Browns (2-2) at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, kicking off at 8:25 on the NFL Network. Here are some keys to the game for Buffalo.
E.J. Manuel needs to continue his growth as a passer. So far this season, Manuel has been good at limiting his mistakes, only throwing 3 picks. He has been doing so by checking down to his running backs and tight ends. With both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller playing at less than 100% (both expected to play Thursday), I would like to see coach Doug Marrone let Manuel spread the ball out to his receivers a little bit.
Last week against the Ravens, one of the Bills’ strong points was the running game. But, with both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller a little banged up, expect to see Tashard Choice more this week than in the previous 4. Choice hasn’t seen much playing time this season behind dynamic duo of Spiller and Jackson, so he’s going to have to step up to pick up some of the slack in the running game.
This week, I would like to see the Bills continue to control the clock. After the 1st 3 weeks of the season, the Bills were ranked 31st in the league in time of possession, behind only the lightning fast Philadelphia Eagles. Against the Ravens, Buffalo did a much better job controlling the ball and giving the defense some rest and I would like to see them continue to grow in that area.
The biggest question mark for the Bills defensively is the secondary. Buffalo’s defensive backs have been dropping at an alarming pace. Luckily, cornerback Aaron Williams, who tweaked his shoulder in the 1st quarter last week is expected to play. Also on a positive note, cornerback Leodis McKelvin is a game-time decision for Thursday after missing last week’s game with a hamstring injury. Even with these two coming back, the rest of the rag-tag secondary is going to have to pick up where they left off against the Ravens to stop Brian Hoyer and the Cleveland offense.
Until last week, Buffalo had been struggling to stop the run, but took a step in the right direction, only allowing Baltimore 24 rushing yards. I know this stat is a little tainted because the Ravens only ran the ball 9 times with only 1 of them coming in the 2nd half, but when they did rush, Buffalo didn’t allow them much. Cleveland hasn’t been running the ball very much lately due to them inexplicably trading away arguably their best offensive weapon in Trent Richardson, so I expect to see some low numbers in the rushing yards category.
Something the whole team needs to work on is the penalties. The penalty bug bit the Bills heavily again last week, as they were flagged 11 times for 99 yards. They need to stay disciplined and limit the damage that they inflict on themselves.
Prediction time. Vegas has the Browns favored by 4 points at home. These Thursday night game have generally been disjointed due to both teams playing on only 3 and half days rest. The Browns have been playing well since the switch at quarterback from Brandon Weeden to Brian Hoyer. Unfortunately for Mr. Hoyer, the Cleveland Browns’ quarterback curse is a lot to overcome. My prediction is Buffalo 31, Cleveland 20.