Browns-Bills: Greg's Game Preview

Greg Hensley takes a look at the stakes involved in tonight's Browns-Bills game...

The NFL is often considered a small world and that is indeed the case when the Browns take on the Bills Saturday. There are many familiar faces on the Bills roster, which Browns fans are sure to recognize. The Bills have four former Ohio St. Buckeyes on their roster, including rookie defensive backs, Dante Whitner and Ashton Youboty and also veteran corner, Nate Clements and defensive tackle Tim Anderson. Three former starters for the Browns have also made their way to Buffalo. Quarterback Kelly Holcomb is knee deep in yet another quarterback controversy. Melvin Fowler has taken on the role of starting center and the Browns former number one receiver Andre Davis is battling to make the roster.

The third preseason game is by all intensive purposes the measuring stick for what to expect during the regular season. The starters will normally play into the third quarter. Teams add more to their offensive and defensive playbooks. They will also look to improve upon mistakes made during the first two preseason games. With roster cuts also just around the corner, those bubble player must make the most of their limited opportunity in this game.

Bills Offense

The Buffalo Bills new head coach, Dick Jauron, is giving former first round pick JP Losman every opportunity to become the general of his offense. Losman has shown flashes of brilliance in preseason with his speed and mobility and also a propensity to stretch the defense with good arm strength and accuracy. JP has struggled however. JP has a tendency to under throw the short to mid-range pass and also fails to secure the ball when pressured by the defense. JP does possess numerous weapons that should aide him, through his growing pains at quarterback.

One of those weapons is running back Willis McGahee. Willis looks poised to have a breakout year. He is faster than at any time during his career. He is quicker into his cuts and he looks even more powerful especially in the lower body. He is simply punishing defenders with his power and also leaving them grasping at air as he has shown the speed to take it the distance. Willis will provide an excellent test for the Browns defense.

The transition from college receiver to NFL receiver takes time and it is often frustrating as receivers learn the complicated schemes, adjust to the size and speed of NFL defensive backs. This has been especially true for Lee Evans, as he has improved each year but has yet to take that final step to becoming an elite receiver. Lee is showing better hand usage at defeating the jam and he appears more fluent in his route running. Lee is showing excellent separation and is a threat to take it the distance anytime he touches the ball.

The Bills offensive line is opening lanes for the running game but their pass protection simply is not there yet. This group is a physical line that is made for running the ball. They will look to wear opponents down over the course of the game by doing just that. The question mark of this group is left tackle Mike Gandy. Mike will often become to vertical in his stance which will allow the quick defender to get beneath his pad level and can force him off balance.

Bills Defense

The Bills have made the switch in scheme to a variation of the Tampa 2. They rely on quick penetration from their front 4, while everyone else is placed into zone coverage. This will be the second straight week the Browns will have seen the Tampa 2 cover scheme.

The front 4 is vital for the scheme to work. They must get enough pressure to make the quarterback throw to the hot route. This however is a two sided coin as the Bills have gone to smaller, quick defenders that play the gaps but now they also lack the size in the middle to physically dominate with power and strength. This has been the key to the potent Bills defense of the past. Look for rookie defensive tackle, John McCargo to receive a great deal of playing time, as he is a perfect fit for this defense.

The Bills linebackers are built for speed, as they run to the ball and become very dependent upon the quick read and react. They are led by pro bowl linebacker Takeo Spikes. He is recovering from injury but should play in Saturday's game.

The bills secondary is loaded in talent. Corner Nate Clements is emerging as one of the leagues best young corners. He has tremendous one on one cover skills and he has also shown improvement each year in both zone coverage and making the open field tackle. Terrence McGee is the penciled in starter opposite of Clements but rookie Ashton Youboty could move into a starting role sooner rather than later.

At safety, rookie Donte Whitner is emerging as one of those hard hitting safeties that will punish any receiver. Donte remains number two at the strong safety position but expect Donte to receive a tremendous amount of playing time as he is being groomed for a starting role.

At free safety Troy Vincent is solid as always. He fits well into this type of defense. Troy is excellent in deep over the top coverage. He is also one of those thinking safeties that can quickly decipher the offense.

Browns offense

The Browns passing attack has been virtually nonexistent in their first two outings. Uncertainty with the offensive line is a major reason for the limited play calling with the starters, but at some point, you simply have to find out what you have. This may be the week to answer that very question.

As for the backup quarterback position, none of the Browns backup quarterbacks have shown enough in camp and preseason to secure a spot with an NFLE team. Vinny Testaverde must remain an option. Recent Cowboys' castoff, Drew Henson would be an upgrade at this point.

Charlie Frye must be given an opportunity to showcase his skills and become comfortable with his new receivers in a game atmosphere. Joe Jurevicius and Kellen Winslow Jr. are two huge weapons for this offense but neither weapon has been showcased with this starting unit. The league is full of small defensive backs and the size and hands of this duo can be a vital weapon but only if the ball is thrown their way. Charlie must learn to locate those weapons quickly and trust them to break the tackle. He also must improve in feeling the pressure from the outside. Charlie has the mobility to escape but that fine art of knowing when to step up isn't quiet there yet.

Receiver Braylon Edwards remains a possibility for Saturday's game. Edwards is progressing at a rapid rate but don't expect more than one or two token plays for the former number three overall pick. Even in those plays, it isn't likely that his number will be called as a true receiving option.

The one positive, amongst all the uncertainty on offense, is the running game. Reuben Droughns has simply been sensational. Reuben appears to be faster than at any time in his career. He is fluid in his cuts, showing much improved balance. Reuben still possesses the ability to run over opponents but now he has the ability to make them miss. This will go a long way in keeping Reuben fresh as will the emergence of rookie backs Jerome Harrison Lawrence Vickers.

Jerome has been special this preseason showing tremendous speed and balance. He is also becoming a dynamic threat in the passing game. Lawrence may be a full back but all signs point to him developing into the team's short yardage back. Lawrence is also showing excellent hands as a receiving threat. These two rookies could have a greater impact than anyone imagined.

Browns Defense

The Browns starters have simply been amazing, thus far in preseason. In fact the only liability to be found out of the starting unit is the play of the corner position opposite Leigh Bodden. This should improve once Gary Baxter and Daylon McCutheon recovery from their injuries.

The one positive from this injury it has given the backup corners a chance to showcase their skills or lack there of. None of these backup corners have shown enough to earn a roster spot. In fact expect the Browns to hit the waiver wire hard next week, as they look to bolster the depth at corner. Aug. 29 rosters are reduced to 75 and Sept. 3rd rosters are cut to the final 53.

The Browns front seven has been stellar, thanks in large part to veterans Ted Washington and Orpheus Roye. Ted is completely sealing the middle and allowing the linebackers to make plays, while Roye has taken off right where he left off last year. He is outworking everyone on the field and setting a high standard for the young players on this defense.

The linebackers seem to improve with each passing day. This becomes even more remarkable when you consider Willie McGinnest has been recovering from elbow surgery. In his place, the Browns have found two emerging talents. Nate McMillan and rookie Kamerion Wimbley are providing a solid pass rush. Kamerion was expected to bring that pass rush talent but it's his transition from defensive end to linebacker, that has been most impressive. His play versus the run and his ability to drop into coverage has shown significant improvement. Nate has also shown much improvement in those areas.

The inside backers have been equally impressive. Andra Davis showed the most improvement from week 1 to week 2. He was both aggressive in filling the gaps and also more disciplined in not abandoning those gaps. This may be due to the trust factor developing with rookie D'Qwell Jackson. Jackson has completely shut down the run to his side of the field, which is allowing Andra the luxury of not cheating over in run support. Jackson now must improve upon his pass coverage.

Overview

The Browns will be looking to iron out the wrinkles during this game. This is the game where penalties should be few and far between. Look for the Browns to test their offensive passing attack as well as their defensive pass rush this week. Special teams play should be the deciding factor. Both teams are excellent in this area but the team with the fewest penalties on special teams will have a decisive advantage.


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