Buffalo Bills vs. Cleveland Browns Game Day Preview
By Lori Chase - Staff Columnist
Published: October 10th, 2009
BROWNS OVERVIEW (2009 RANKINGS)
After barely missing out on a playoff berth two years ago, the Browns lost their final six games last season to tumble to 4-12, sealing head coach Romeo Crennel’s fate. Under his replacement, Eric Mangini, a full-scale rebuilding project is underway.
Crennel’s last win, of course, came in Buffalo.
OFFENSE (#29 total yardage, #27 rushing, #26 passing, #30 scoring):
During the offseason, Mangini anointed Brady Quinn the starting quarterback. That decision lasted until halftime of the Browns’ 34-3 Week 3 beatdown at the hands of the Ravens. Too soon? Considering that this is the same team which once benched Charlie Frye at halftime of their season opener and traded him before the next game ...
Derek Anderson didn’t exactly light up the Baltimore D in the second half, tossing three picks in a futile comeback attempt. However, the 2007 Pro Bowler played reasonably well against Cincinnati last week, and seems to provide the steadier hand at this point.
Now, he just has to figure out who he’s throwing to. With Edwards joining Kellen Winslow and Joe Jurevicius as ex-Browns, there’s nobody left on the roster who caught more than 23 passes in a Cleveland uniform last year. For now, special-teams standout Joshua Cribbs is listed as the starter opposite rookie Mohamed Massaquoi, but the coaching staff would probably prefer to see Massaquoi’s fellow second-round pick, Brian Robiskie, eventually win that job. Chansi Stuckey, who came over from the Jets in the midweek Edwards trade, and Mike Furrey are the most likely candidates for the No. 3 position. Old friend Robert Royal starts at tight end, with Steve Heiden providing his usual steady blocking and occasional goal-line presence.
At running back, Jamal Lewis has been bothered by a hamstring injury, so Jerome Harrison got the start against Cincinnati and responded with a career-best 121-yard performance. More of a dual threat than the aging Lewis, Harrison also leads the team with 14 catches.
Quinn absorbed 10 sacks, one for each quarter he played before departing for the sideline, but there’s some talent on the line. The key building blocks appear to be in place, with No. 21 overall pick Alex Mack at center and Joe Thomas fast becoming one of the league’s elite left tackles in just his third season. Those two, along with left guard Eric Steinbach, should solidify that side of the line for years to come. On the right, Floyd Womack has missed the last two games with an ankle injury and is questionable again this week; veteran Hank Fraley will likely step into that spot again if the former Seahawk is still sidelined. John St. Clair is the right tackle.
DEFENSE (#32 total yardage, #31 rushing, #t21 passing, #31 scoring):
The Browns were already playing a 3-4, but there’s a definite Jets influence on the 2009 version, as four starters followed Mangini west from New Jersey. Left end Kenyon Coleman and safety Abram Elam – yeah, that guy, the one who essentially ended J.P. Losman’s career in Buffalo – arrived in a draft-day trade, while linebackers Eric Barton and David Bowens signed as free agents.
Bills fans have to be hoping that Geoff Hangartner fares better against Pro Bowl NT Shaun Rogers – who actually led the Browns last year with 4.5 sacks – than previous Buffalo centers have. Across from Coleman, Robaire Smith returns to the lineup after an Achilles tendon injury ended his 2008 season in September.
Bowens and Kamerion Wimbley are the outside linebackers, with Barton and D’Qwell Jackson on the inside. Jackson, who led the team in tackles last season, is listed as doubtful on the injury report, and rookies David Veikune and Kaluka Maiava are the only names behind him on the depth chart.
Corners Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald both arrived in the 2007 draft, and combined for eight interceptions and two touchdowns last season. So far this year, though, safety Brodney Pool has the team’s only pick. He and Elam will start, but Mangini is concerned enough about depth to give Furrey time at the position.
Well, at least the Bills don’t have to worry about Phil Dawson beating them again with another 56-yard field goal; he’ll miss his third consecutive game with a calf injury, and the Browns signed journeyman Billy Cundiff to fill in. He’s a perfect 3-for-3 so far, but hasn’t attempted a kick of longer than 40 yards. Punter David Zastudil has already received plenty of work this season, averaging a respectable 45.2 yards on 25 kicks and placing 11 of them inside the 20 versus just four touchbacks.
Josh Cribbs continues to be one of the most dangerous return men in the league. He’s already scored once this year on a 67-yard punt return, bringing his career total to seven return touchdowns. The coverage teams haven’t allowed a score, but are in the middle of the pack in yardage.
Both teams come into this game desperately needing a win, but at least the Browns did manage to take Cincinnati into overtime before dropping their tenth consecutive game. Moving Kawika Mitchell into the middle should theoretically improve the porous Buffalo run defense. (Remarkably, Cleveland’s numbers are even worse, allowing 176.8 yards per outing to the Bills’ 150.5.) If they can bottle up Lewis and Harrison and get some pressure on Anderson, the Bills offense should have more than enough talent to win this game.