I was pleased to be joined by Brian Galliford of Buffalo Rumblings this week to help preview this Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills. You can put it any way you want it, but in general the season hangs in the balance based on the result of this game for both teams.
Chris Pokorny: The Bills made a few big defensive subtractions in the offseason, especially with the loss of Nate Clements in the secondary. How has Buffalo been able to survive without him, and will the season-ending injury to safety George Wilson hurt the Bills this Sunday?
Brian Galliford: If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: upper-tier cornerbacks are not as important to a Cover-2 defense as a consistent pass rush, an athletic front seven and a playmaking safety are. Clements wasn't worth his huge contract in Buffalo - and there may even be a few 49ers fans who agree with that sentiment as well. That's not to say that cornerback play is unimportant to this scheme; the stellar, consistent play of Terrence McGee and Jabari Greer has been a huge stabilizing influence for this defense. Simply put, the scheme itself has more than made up for the loss of Clements.
I mentioned the need for a playmaking safety, and of the entire group of safeties on Buffalo's roster, George Wilson has been it. He's a converted wideout, so he's not a particularly strong tackler - in fact, he's downright weak against the run. But his offensive experience give him skills that a lot of defensive backs don't have; the fact that he's scored two defensive touchdowns this season speak volumes to his abilities in that department. His loss will hurt, to be sure; we're confident, once again, that the scheme - plus the presence of Donte Whitner and Jim Leonhard, who actually was ahead of Wilson on the depth chart to start the season - will let us get by during our playoff chase.
Chris Pokorny: Lee Evans is native to the Northeastern Ohio area in a way. Has he been a fan favorite to Bills fans since the team drafted him? What is the best asset to his game?
Brian Galliford: Most Bills fans feel that Evans is either already an elite NFL receiver, or he's at least on his way there. Personally, I don't see it. Elite receivers make plays more often than not, yet Evans has just 47 receptions and four scores this season. (Granted, when you factor in that the Bills have only 10 aerial scores this season, those stats don't seem so horrible.) Too often Evans is completely erased from being a factor in the outcome of the game; I believe he has elite tools, but he needs more help around him in order for those talents to be fully exploited.
By far, Evans' best asset is his speed. Of the group of receivers in the NFL that aren't freaks of nature like Moss, Owens, Andre Johnson or Braylon Edwards (no ass kissing here, just straight up respect), I would put Evans in the top three in terms of deep threats, with Steve Smith and Santonio Holmes ranking near the top as well. He is the type of receiver who stretches any type of defense, and it's helped Buffalo's offense to a certain extent (Josh Reed is having a career year, and the TE position has finally factored back into the offensive attack). There are benefits to having Evans on the field at all times, but we need bigger plays more frequently from our top target.
Chris Pokorny: Backup Fred Jackson has taken advantage of his opportunities the past two weeks, despite the fact that Marshawn Lynch returned last week. Will Jackson's emergence continue to provide him with playing time, or will Lynch be getting more of his carries in a game such as the one this week against the Browns?
Brian Galliford: Dick Jauron made it pretty clear after both Lynch and Jackson rushed for over 100 yards against Miami that both backs will be used often from this point forward. Lynch will still be getting most of the carries - my gut tells me that the coaching staff wants to get him around 20 touches per game - but the run game is such a huge emphasis in this offense that there's room to give Jackson 8-15 carries per game as well. So many of the league's best teams feature two running backs; this is a feature that Jauron has wanted in his offense for quite some time, but we just didn't have a Fred Jackson to utilize (well, I guess technically we did).
It's not a big secret that the Bills are going to try to sustain drives, move the chains and eat clock to keep your potent Browns offense off the field. Expect to see a lot of both Lynch and Jackson on Sunday - and have fun shutting them both down!
Chris Pokorny: His stats weren't flashy before the Dolphins game, but Trent Edwards is 5-1 as the Bills' starting quarterback. How has he done it without posting Brady-like numbers?
Brian Galliford: Playing the Jets twice, the Dolphins and the Ravens helps, to be sure. To be honest, Edwards has won ballgames simply because he's done what the coaches asked him to do. Edwards is a guy who, at this point in his career at least, isn't going to wow you with stats. What he will do, however, is execute a game plan down to the most minuscule of details at a nearly perfect clip. The coaching staff has done a good job letting him get a feel for the game, the offense and reading defenses while simultaneously putting the Bills in a position to win. I give the coaches most of the credit for Edwards' success, but Trent has made some big plays - and won over teammates and fans - to help his cause as well.
Chris Pokorny: Buffalo, as a lot of teams do in the NFL, have had some road deficiencies this season. Also, they have not defeated a team with a winning record. In general, how do you address these two statements, as I have strongly made points about them on Dawgs By Nature during the week regarding the Browns' chances of winning.
Brian Galliford: Sure, the Bills haven't defeated an opponent with a winning record this season; the Browns, however, have only defeated one team with a winning record, and that was a Seahawks team that at that point in the season was struggling at 4-3 and playing on the road. It's a nice win, but it's not as impressive as it first seems to be on paper.
The Bills are actually 3-3 on the road this season - I find it pretty impressive that a team as devastated by injury as the Bills has managed to play at a .500 clip away from Ralph Wilson Stadium. That record is actually better than Cleveland's 3-4 road mark this season (though obviously, that could change this weekend). To boot, the Bills are 2-0 in road games that Trent Edwards started in; just 1-3 in road games started by J.P. Losman. It's no secret that the Browns are a much, much better team at home than on the road; I wouldn't necessarily call Buffalo a bad road team, however. Their latest road win came in an emotional game at Washington; that should be evidence enough that the team isn't a pushover when they're away.
Chris Pokorny: How about a final prediction for the game too? :)
Brian Galliford: You know, every realistic cell in my body is telling me that the Browns are going to win this game. But I can't pick them - not because I don't think they have a very good shot at winning this game; I think that's too obvious to ignore. But I've got a feeling about this Edwards kid. I've got a more defined feeling about what the Lynch/Jackson backfield combo and our resurgent offensive line can do to the Browns' defense. I like the playmaking ability of our defense. I just have a feeling.
Bills 27, Browns 24. Homer alert!