This is the first NFL head coaching gig for both Rob Chudzinski and Doug Marrone. Brian Hoyer is a rookie starter, having only started one game before taking over the Browns offense in Week 3. But the one rookie who will decide the game is EJ Manuel.
The lone first-round quarterback from the 2013 NFL draft has played very well so far. He’s demonstrated poise and given the Bills fanbase hope that they have found their franchise quarterback.
But he is still a rookie who is facing a tough test.
The Browns are the stingiest run defense in the league, allowing only 2.9 yards per attempt. Their front seven is excellent, and the Bills will have a difficult time establishing the run, especially if they have to play without C.J. Spiller, who will be a game-time decision, according to CBS Sports.
Even if Spiller does play, the matchup of the best run defense against what Pro Football Focus rates as the league’s worst run-blocking offensive line (subscription required) probably won’t go Buffalo’s way.
If the Bills can’t run the football, the offense will rest on the shoulder pads of Manuel.
On the other sideline, Brian Hoyer faces a decimated Buffalo secondary—albeit one that picked off Joe Flacco five times in Week 4.
Stephon Gilmore is ruled out, Jairus Byrd and Leodis McKelvin are game-time decisions, and even Aaron Williams—the hero of the win against Baltimore—is ailing with back and shoulder injuries, although he is probable.
Manuel won't have the same luxury.
Cleveland’s defense isn’t only one of the best in the league against the run—it's a top-10 unit against the pass too.
Joe Haden is one of the best cornerbacks in the game, and he will spend the day draped all over Buffalo’s No. 1 receiver, Stevie Johnson—Manuel’s most targeted receiver.
Manuel is sure to make some big plays, either with his arm or his legs, but will he avoid making mistakes?
In what figures to be a close contest, the game will come down to whether Manuel can move the chains in the important moments against one of the best defenses in the NFL.