This Sunday,the Cleveland Browns will host the Buffalo Bills. Each week, we take a look at five key points about our upcoming opponent. Let's start this week's preview by discussing the guy that you can't ignore when describing the Bills heading into Week 3: running back C.J. Spiller.
#1 - Tough to Contain C.J. Spiller: Speed. Elusiveness. Breaking tackles. Those are three assets that Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller has, as Jon did a great job detailing in this post that called him an X-Factor for this week's game. Up until Fred Jackson's injury near the start of the game in Week 1, it looked like the 9th overall pick in the 2010 draft would take a backseat to Jackson for the third consecutive season. Now, Spiller has a golden chance to seize the opportunity and be an elite-level back in the NFL.
It certainly helps that Buffalo has some good run blocking -- last year, both Spiller and Jackson averaged over 5 yards a carry. This year, through two games, Spiller is averaging an unbelievable 10+ yards per carry. He has only received 14 and 15 carries over the first two weeks, but he has definitely made the most out of his playing time. Cleveland's defense will have a tough task trying to contain him. Not that it means much, since it came under a previous regime and a different defensive lineup, but Spiller had 8 carries for 31 yards against Cleveland during his rookie season.
#2 - Night and Day for Ryan Fitzpatrick: There is a reason why having Spiller on your roster, even at his current level of producitivity, is not a sign of a dominant offense: the "Jekyll-Hyde" (h/t ESPN) behavior of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. After a great start to the season in 2011, Fitzpatrick really struggled the second half of the season. Last week, Fitzpatrick wisely played the role of caretaker, throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions. Back in Week 1, though, Fitzpatrick threw for two first-half interceptions against the Jets, which took his team out of the game early on.
For a guy who was rewarded with a huge contract when he was playing well last season, his level of inconsistency is starting to parallel the Jay Cutler's of the world. Which version of Fitzpatrick will the Browns' secondary face this Sunday? For a unit that could mix things up schematically after seeing the holes they had without Joe Haden last week, maybe Cleveland's secondary logs a few interceptions.
#3 - $100 Million Dollar Difference? The Bills were big spenders on the defensive line this offseason. They signed Mario Williams to a 6-year, $100 million deal, $50 million of which was guaranteed. They also added pass-rushing specialist Mark Anderson at defensive end. On the interior, they are pretty solid with Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. In Week 1, the defensive line had no sacks and just one tackle for a loss. Last week against the Chiefs, they strung together five sacks, three turnovers, and were a big reason Buffalo held a 35-3 lead at one point.
It'll be interesting to see what happens with the Bills' defensive line against Cleveland, though. Through two games, Williams hasn't really delivered a dominant performance. He will be going up against rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, but Cleveland's offensive line held their own a week ago. If the Bills' defensive line couldn't generate pressure on the road against the Jets in Week 1, could that happen again on the road, leading to more criticism for Williams? Either way, let's just hope Brandon Weeden doesn't go down like Matt Cassel did:
#4 - Thin at the Receiver Position: Everyone knows who the Bills' No. 1 receiver is, and that is Stevie Johnson. Do you know who their receivers are after that? Their No. 2 receiver, David Nelson, tore his ACL in Week 1. Even though he hasn't played much receiver, Ruvell Martin, their fourth receiver, has been ruled out with an ankle injury. That means Donald Jones and T.J. Graham will be expected to step up.
Jones will probably be the No. 2 receiver, as he has 6 catches for 40 yards and 1 touchdown through two games. He went undrafted in 2010, and has been a reserve receiver for the Bills since. Graham was a third-round pick back in April and has one catch on the year. Another option for Buffalo is to run the Wildcat with Brad Smith, who has run twice for five yards this season. If you're counting all eligible receivers/non-running backs, then tight end Scott Chandler is definitely the team's next big threat after Johnson. Chandler has 6 catches for 91 yards and 2 touchdowns. Overall, Buffalo is not as strong as the Bengals were last week, which could play to the advantage of Cleveland's secondary.
#5 - Looking Past the Front Four: The Bills drafted cornerback Stephon Gilmore back in April. Besides the potential he has, Buffalo's secondary is pretty young without a lot of difference-making games behind them. They aren't very stout at linebacker either. Their starting unit consists of Arthur Moats (6th round draft pick in 2010), Kelvin Sheppard (3rd round pick in 2011), and veteran Nick Barnett. If Cleveland's offensive line can hold up, Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson could find the same type of success they did a week ago.