Bills vs. Browns: Sketching out a Game Plan for Cleveland

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 20, 2012

The Browns have a very clear path to victory against the Bills if they follow these three steps.
The Browns have a very clear path to victory against the Bills if they follow these three steps.Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns have yet to win a game this season, but when they host the Buffalo Bills this Sunday, it presents them with a great opportunity for victory.

The Bills, who are 1-1 heading into this game, have the perfect weaknesses for the Browns to exploit as long as they can minimize their own shortcomings. This can be accomplished by executing the perfect game plan—and no, that's not as daunting as it sounds. 

Here are three ways the Browns can attack Buffalo on Sunday and emerge with their first win of the year.


Maintain Last Week's Offensive Approach

A combination of better offensive play-calling out of head coach Pat Shurmur and coordinator Brad Childress, and smarter decision-making by rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden resulted in more successful offensive production last week. 

Weeden went from completing 12 of his 35 attempts for 118 yards, four interceptions and two fumbles against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1 to going 26-of-37 for 322 yards and two touchdown passes with zero turnovers last week against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Some of this is a result of facing a Bengals defense that was much less fierce than the Eagles, but even so, Weeden's pocket awareness, his reaction to pressure and his ability to get the ball out quickly were much improved from his debut appearance.

The Bills' front seven will be bringing pressure more akin to what Weeden saw against the Eagles than what the Bengals brought last week. Weeden faced the pass rush or a blitz for 19 of his 38 drop-backs against Philadelphia, completing just four passes in 17 attempts.

Though the Bengals tried to get to Weeden slightly more often than Philadelphia, with 22 pressures on 40 drop-backs, Weeden's 18 pass attempts yielded 10 completions. The difference was both in type of pressure (the Eagles and Bengals have a far different approach to their defensive alignment) and in Weeden's reaction to it.

Clearly, Buffalo will be hoping to get a performance out of Weeden more akin to what he did in Week 1. They'll be doing this via a traditional pass rush more than via the blitz, if their stats are any indication.

The Bills have sent defensive backs in a pass rush (and thus blitz) situation just five times. Instead, it appears that their defensive line is required to spend nearly half of their overall snaps in a pass-rushing situation.

That makes things both difficult and simple for the Browns. They know, from the Bills' tendencies, that the pressure will be coming up front. And Cleveland does have an offensive line capable of keeping Weeden protected, though that protection may suffer if blocking tight end Alex Smith cannot play after suffering a concussion last week.

But if Weeden can get out more of those quickly thrown passes from last week, and the pass calls are augmented by a heavy dose of Trent Richardson carrying the ball, this will produce excellent results for the Browns offense this week.

As long as Weeden is smart when dealing with pressure and his offensive line creates a reliable pocket, Weeden should have little trouble attacking the Bills' struggling secondary. Add in Richardson getting enough runs to keep the Bills in check, and they could easily put up enough points to win.


Stop the Run

"Stopping the run" has become a familiar mantra for the Browns defense so far this year, and though they were more successful at this endeavor last week against Cincinnati, it still stands to reason that it's something they'll need to focus on this week against the Bills' C.J. Spiller.

Against the Bengals, the Browns allowed just 80 rushing yards on 25 carries—a far cry from the 150 they gave up to the Eagles in Week 1, on just five carries more. But Spiller is on fire right now, and the Bills know this. And they know how the Browns allowed an average of 147 rushing yards per game last year. The result of this knowledge will be a heavy reliance on Spiller this Sunday.

In the Bills' Week 1 48-28 drubbing at the hands of the Jets, Spiller still managed 169 yards on 14 carries, with a touchdown. Last week, the Bills bested the Kansas City Chiefs 35-17, and Spiller did not relent, with 15 carries, 123 yards and two scores.

For two straight weeks, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown for fewer than 200 yards. The pass game is simply not friendly for Buffalo right now—beyond Stevie Johnson, Fitzpatrick doesn't have any reliable playmakers to throw to, and that has turned Buffalo into a run-heavy team.

Was last week's defensive success against the Bengals a sign that the Browns have finally cured what ails them against the run, or does it simply indicate that they're better at stopping a north-south power back like BenJarvus Green-Ellis than someone as shifty and fast as Spiller? 

They'll need to stop Spiller regardless, and one way to do this is to force the Bills into being a one-dimensional team. If you cut off the pass as an option almost entirely, Spiller will be easier to corral. And how do you do this?


Pressure Ryan Fitzpatrick into Irrelevancy

Part of the reason why Ryan Fitzpatrick has struggled these past two weeks is his response to pressure. He problems similar to Weeden's, but he clearly hasn't adjusted as quickly despite having more experience under center.

Out of his 55 drop-backs through two games, 39 of those came while under pressure or blitzed. He threw 36 times in those situations, with 25 completions. Further, and more interestingly, while not blitzed (though not necessarily under no pressure), he's dropped back 34 times with 31 pass attempts and just 14 completions.

Fitzpatrick is particularly shaky when throwing outside the numbers, especially to the right side. In his 50 aimed passes, 27 have come outside of the numbers, with 12 completions for 95 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions as a result. To the right, he's thrown 17 times, with just eight completions for 41 yards and two picks. 

Clearly, the Browns need to cut off the middle of the field, cover Stevie Johnson completely and bring pressure as often as possible (without giving up an "out" for Fitzpatrick, as they did last week in the touchdown they gave up to the Bengals' Andrew Hawkins).

The Browns were great in both Weeks 1 and 2 in bringing pressure to Dalton and Michael Vick. Considering that Fitzpatrick is even more susceptible to pressure than either of these two quarterbacks (which is saying a lot), the Browns should be able to effectively cut off the Bills' ability to make big gains from the passing game.

If Cleveland neutralizes Spiller and doesn't allow Fitzpatrick to move the ball with his arm, there's little chance that Buffalo can score enough points—let alone put together a cohesive, long-lasting drive—to win on Sunday.