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Browns' Week 3 X-Factor: The front seven vs CJ Spiller

C.J. Spiller is on a roll behind an impressive Bills' offensive line. Can the Browns' improved front seven bring them to a halt?
C.J. Spiller is on a roll behind an impressive Bills' offensive line. Can the Browns' improved front seven bring them to a halt?

C.J. Spiller is making history. After the Buffalo Bills' 35-17 trouncing of the Kansas City Chiefs, Spiller became the first eligible player (25+ carries) since 1963 to average at least 10 yards per carry in the first two games of the season. The last one? Cleveland's Jim Brown. This week Spiller and the Bills take on the Browns and their improved front seven in what's sure to be a match-up to watch.

Season Stats Rushing Receiving Fumbles
Week Date Opp Score Att Yds Y/A Lng TD Rec Yds Y/R Lng TD Fum FumL
1 Sep 9 @ NYJ L 28-48 14 169 12.1 56 1 2 25 12.5 30 0 1 1
2 Sep 16 KAN W 35-17 15 123 8.2 38 2 3 47 15.7 27 0 0 0

Stats via Yahoo! Sports

C.J. Spiller:

  • Speed - The name C.J. Spiller should be synonymous with speed by now. He's been known for it since high school and made a name for himself with it during his four years in the collegiate level at Clemson. He ran a 4.37 second 40-yard-dash at the combine in 2010. When given the opportunity, he's begun to show those flashes at the NFL level.
  • Elusiveness - Who wants to take Spiller 1-on-1 in open space? No one. Combine speed with agility and you have an elusive runner. Spiller has that runner's knack to elude defenders. Whether it's a stutter step, juke, or spin, he did it against the Jets, he did it against Chiefs, and he'll do against the Browns.
  • Breaking tackles - I think it would be a mistake to assume that as long as you can get a hand on this guy, which is no easy task in and of itself, that he'll go down. Spiller will shake half-hearted arm tackles, something the Browns' secondary had issues with last week.

What to look out for:

  • The HB Draw - This relatively basic running play went for touchdowns against both the New York Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs. I reached out to DBN's own Rufio for some more in-depth analysis on the subject:
The draw play is usually most effective when used as a constraint play to punish the defense for cheating toward the pass. It's usually a simple play with 4 offensive linemen blocking the down defensive line and the fifth leaking up to a LB, though you can block it however you want.
Regardless of how you block it, what makes a draw a draw in my eyes is that the line pass sets for a count or two while receivers run routes and the QB drops back to pass. If the other OC is good (all NFL OCs should be), the passing concept that they fake will be one that they actually run in that down/distance/situation. The pass blocks will be the same, the QB will look in the same place, the route stems will be the same, etc. The play will look exactly the same as the pass until the back gets the ball.
  • Catching out of the backfield - As with a lot of speedy running backs, if you can get Spiller the ball with space, he can make things happen. He doesn't get a ridiculous amount of receptions as some of the backs in pass heavy offenses do, but when he has got them, he's made big plays.
  • The HB Screen - Speaking of catching the ball out of the backfield, the screen play is one way to do it. This is a play that Browns fans should be familiar with. The interesting thing that I noted about the Bills' HB screen is that they've ran it in a package with nine offensive lineman on the field. They ran this from the Kansas City 29-yard-line and Spiller took it 27 yards to set up one of Buffalo's five touchdowns.
  • Bills' Offensive Line - Yes, Spiller has been fantastic, but some of the credit has to go to his offensive line for creating the holes like the one you can see in the play above. Brian Galliford breaks down their o-line's hot start over at Buffalo Rumblings.

Again, I turned to Rufio asking how the Browns' defense under Dick Jauron might look to deal with these things:

On a tactical level, the best thing we could do to beat the play would be to defeat blocks and get to the ball carrier. Strategically, using more zone coverage or putting defenders in underneath zones with man elsewhere (like cover-1 with a rat in the hole) tends to help with draws. If you are cover-2 man, the safeties are off the line away from the play and defenders who don't have the back are going to turn and run with their guy. This means you have 5 guys and they have 5 blockers, which is to their advantage because they can block everyone. If you have that extra guy underneath or all 5 underneath guys in zones, they have eyes in the backfield and you can get a 6th guy there. If we had Haden, I would feel confident doing some cool stuff to let him lock Stevie Johnson down and then getting another safety/LB in there.

Adding to some of the complexity: I don't know what they have run, but we like to run dropback passes with draws off of them, and then we have play action draws. I think I may have even seen Shurmur run a fake dropback pass, then fake the draw, then fake the PA pass off of the draw, then throw a screen back to the back. When you have a set of plays that work off of one another like that, the defense has to play honest (or get lucky).

With both of these tactics it will just be important to play "assignment football," react quickly, and really display the hustle that has been one of our better defensive characteristics for a few years--get people around the ball. Buffalo will probably catch us off-guard with a draw here or there but if we can limit their gains when they do (think 9-15 yards instead of 35+) we can make them take the long, tough road to the endzone and let the chances that we'll get a turnover accrue. And honestly the two guys on their team I see making those big plays are Stevie and Spiller. If they want to try to make a living with Fitzpatrick making tough throws to receivers not named Johnson, we might have to live with that.

Just as Rufio mentioned, if the Browns are able to limit Spiller to a few draw plays for 15 yards or so rather than being gashed for 35+ yard touchdowns, and keep him otherwise contained, I think it can have a sort of trickle-down effect. If they can keep the Bills from establishing the run, not that it's an easy task by any means, it could force Ryan Fitzpatrick to beat them through the air. While that itself may be a threat to this Browns' thin secondary without Joe Haden, Fitzpatrick is known to have some accuracy issues and may be prone to turning the ball over.

I think it's going to come down to the match-up between this excelling Browns' front seven and the Bills' superb offensive line. Even in passing situations, 51 attempts to be exact, Fitzpatrick has yet to be sacked. Meanwhile the Browns are tied for second in the league with eight sacks in the first two weeks. The Browns are going to have to win that battle in the trenches to pull out a victory this Sunday.

Don't sleep on this guy:

  • TE Scott Chandler - Chandler is having a fine early start to the season. He's actually tied with Stevie Johnson and Donald Jones with 6 receptions for the Bills and second in yards with 91. He's also a red zone target for Fitzpatrick and has had a TD catch in each game thus far.