The Buffalo Bills (1-1) are set to take on the Cleveland Browns (0-2) in Week 3 of the 2012 NFL season in a huge matchup for both teams. To come out victorious, there are some keys to the game that the Bills will need to achieve.
Don’t worry, Bills fans, this game shouldn’t be anything like the “Blizzard Game” that ended in an 8-0 loss in 2007.
Nevertheless, these two teams do have some recent history, and the Bills will look to notch their second straight win of the season by adding to that history on the road in Cleveland.
The Bills are coming off two completely different weeks. In Week 1, they were embarrassed by the New York Jets. But in Week 2, they bounced back and trounced the Kansas City Chiefs at home. They’ll do everything they can to build off last week’s win and get to 2-1.
Buffalo needs this win. With two upcoming brutal matchups with the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers, the Bills need all the confidence they can get. Beating the Browns would be a great place to start.
And if Buffalo can do these five key things, they should have no problem earning a victory on Sunday.
This one might go without saying, but for these two teams going head-to-head, it’s especially critical.
The Browns nearly shocked the NFL in Week 1, but they ultimately came up just a bit short against the Philadelphia Eagles. One of the main reasons the Browns hung around in that game was because they forced five turnovers.
Unfortunately for them, they wasted those opportunities by turning the ball over four times themselves, thus negating any advantage they might have had against Vick and the Birds.
Similarly, the Bills never gave themselves a chance in their Week 1 loss to the Jets. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw two first-half interceptions and then threw another that was returned for a touchdown on the opening drive in the third quarter. Buffalo ended the day with four turnovers and got crushed.
Fast forward to Week 2, and the results look much different for both teams. Cleveland gave the ball up just once in a shootout loss to Cincinnati. Meanwhile, Buffalo did not turn the ball over at all in a dominating victory over Kansas City, winning the turnover battle 3-0.
In Week 3, the Bills will need to be opportunistic by forcing turnovers and taking care of the ball. This will enable them to control the clock and set the tempo for the game.
Fitzpatrick started settling in last week and managed the game well, even though he still didn’t look his best. But winning the turnover battle helped.
Head coach Chan Gailey would love to see more of the same on the road this week.
Bills running back C.J. Spiller the Thriller has been fantastic thus far. The numbers he’s producing through two weeks are incredible, and it’s no secret he was a huge part of the offense’s success in each game.
In order to notch a tally in the win column against the Browns, the Bills will need to keep feeding him the ball.
Spiller has 29 carries for 292 yards (10.1 yards per carry) and three touchdowns along with five catches for 72 yards through the first two games. Last week, Tashard Choice added eight carries for 37 yards as well. Buffalo clearly was clicking in the power-running game, and they stuck with it.
As a result, Fitzpatrick only attempted 19 passes against the Chiefs, and that was fine. In what was expected to be an exciting spread offense this year, fewer passing attempts for Fitz may not be a terrible idea right now, since he hasn’t looked his best.
Cleveland’s defense did a pretty good job of shutting down BenJarvus Green-Ellis last week, holding the running back to 75 yards on 21 carries. On the other hand, Andy Dalton picked apart the secondary.
Nevertheless, Spiller is a much more dynamic runner than Green-Ellis. If the Bills can establish the run, it should open up an already vulnerable pass defense for Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Speaking of running backs, the Browns have a pretty good one themselves in Trent Richardson. Buffalo’s top priority on defense will be corralling him all afternoon.
Richardson didn’t look great in Week 1, but he sure looked like the No. 3 overall pick of the draft in Week 2 against the Bengals. The rookie totaled 109 yards rushing and a touchdown on 19 carries (5.7 average). He also added 36 receiving yards and another touchdown on four catches.
His strong performance helped open up the passing game for fellow rookie Brandon Weeden. Although Cincinnati’s secondary has looked terrible so far in 2012, T. Rich’s performance certainly helped the Browns move the ball through the air.
Buffalo’s run defense has been quietly sturdy so far, thanks to an improved front four. With both Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus at tackle, the Bills can plug the middle while still establishing a real presence off the edge.
And even though Mario Williams made headlines for recording just one tackle against the Jets in his Bills debut, he and Mark Anderson played very well against the Chiefs last week. They sealed off the edge, got pressure and allowed their teammates to make plays.
The Bills will need to shut down Richardson first and foremost. Doing so should put the Browns in more difficult down-and-distances, which should, in turn, help Buffalo get more creative on passing downs.
While the season is still young, the Bills are the only team in the NFL that is still perfect in red-zone touchdown efficiency, having converted all five of their red-zone opportunities for pay dirt. That’s impressive.
Tight end Scott Chandler and star running back C.J. Spiller have been major factors in this regard. Between the two of them, they have five touchdowns already.
Turning drives into seven points instead of three (or in some cases zero) is a huge advantage for any team in any game. It won’t be any different this week.
The Bills will try to keep their perfect streak going against Cleveland, who gave up just one touchdown on three red-zone attempts to Cincy last week. In Week 1, Philly went 2-for-2 in the red zone against the Browns, and it was the difference in the game.
Without Fred Jackson and David Nelson in the lineup, the Bills will continue to rely on Chandler and Spiller, but don’t be surprised if this is the week Donald Jones finally breaks out. His targets should see an increase this year in the slot, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him cross the plane in this one.
But ultimately, it will be Ryan Fitzpatrick as the player to watch inside the 20. He'll need to make good decisions near the goal line to help his team light up the scoreboard.
If Buffalo can do all these things from the opening kickoff, it should help them do one last critical thing in this matchup, and that is get out to an early lead.
Though thrilling comebacks are exciting when they work out in a team’s favor—and last year, the Bills had a few of those wins—no team wants to have to rely on that.
More importantly, with a young and inexperienced offense like Cleveland's, Buffalo can take advantage of an early cushion and capitalize on potential mistakes.
Against the Jets, Buffalo was down 27-7 at halftime. Against the Chiefs, Buffalo was ahead 21-0 at halftime.
Needless to say, those two scores drastically affected the play-calling on both sides of the ball for the Bills.
It will be important for them to get out to an early lead so they don’t have to abandon their game plan. They’ll look to put pressure on Brandon Weeden early and force him to make throws coming from behind.
The result should be a lot of C.J. Spiller on offense and an unleashed pass rush on defense. And with those things, hopefully a Bills victory will ensue.