The 2007 meeting between the Browns and Bills was an instant classic. Blizzard conditions and two teams fighting to stay in the wildcard race set the tone. 2008 isn't likely to produce the same blizzard conditions but the weather could once again be a factor as snow is expected for the game. The Browns will need to run the table in their last 7 games and also hope for help to make the playoffs. The Bills are trying to avoid going from first place to last place in the division as they have now lost 4 of their last 5 games. They need a win not only to keep the divisional crown within reach but also to stay near the top of the wildcard race.
There has been a great deal of talk about the 3-4 defense being behind the Bills offensive struggles, but that simply isn't the case. The difference is consistent effort and attitude throughout the Bills' offense. Receivers are guilty of rounding off their routes and not giving the extra effort in their run blocking.
QB Trent Edwards is also taking a lot of heat for the Bills' offensive woes but Trent's play is a mere symptom of the disease that has spread throughout this Bills' offense. This offense doesn't seem willing to do the little stuff for 60 minutes. Trent is at his best when he is dropping, planting and throwing but now he is waiting for things to open and he is also looking for pressure instead of putting his faith in those around him.
The best way to break the young quarterback out of his slump is to give him some designed roll outs and allow his receivers to help him. This isn't the fastest group of receivers in the league but they can be very physical in the passing game. Use the play action and roll out to give them time to use their physical skills to get open.
The Bills offensive line is a terrific line but recently they have lacked finish. This unit is not finishing off blocks the way you expect them to. Earlier in the year when this group had a defender rocked, they were looking to burry him. Now I see a group that is more content to ride the play out than to finish it with authority. Part of the reason is that injuries have taken some of the steam out of this group but another part appears to be a lack of a mean streak.
LT Jason Peters is one of the best tackles in the game and he must become the leader of this line and lead by example. Browns OLB Kamerion Wimbley is a one-trick pony and Peters should own this match up. If Peters sets the tone on the left side, the Bills will have tremendous success against this Browns defense.
RB Marshawn Lynch has struggled thus far but he has the potential to break free at any given moment. Lynch depends upon interior success in order to have those huge runs. He is at his best when he is running between the tackles successfully. That allows him to bounce to the outside with more freedom as the defense buys into the inside run.
The healthy return of safety Sean Jones and OLB Willie McGinest to the lineup should have brought improvement to the Browns defense. That is far from what has taken place with this Browns defense. The once aggressive play calling with OLB Alex Hall in the lineup has been replaced with the same passive approach to defense that has helped the Browns to the basement of the AFC North.
McGinest deflates the team speed when he is in the lineup. ILB D'Qwell Jackson isn't very fast but he is a speed demon compared to ILB Andra Davis and McGinest makes Davis look fast. See the trend here? This linebacker corps is far too slow with McGinest instead of Hall.
Teams can double up on NT Sean Rodgers and watch their quarterback stand in the pocket for 10 seconds without the least bit of harassment. Against the run, the lack of speed is equally devastating. If the Browns are to have success on defense, they must increase that team speed and to do so players like Davis and McGinest must be replaced.
It is time for a look at rookie linebacker Beau Bell as a replacement for Davis. It is also time for Alex Hall to take over full time for the veteran Willie McGinest.
Another veteran should find his way to the bench. S Sean Jones has turned into an embarrassment at the safety position. Recovering from a knee injury is no excuse for the metal mistakes and generally soft play that he is providing. He is slow, hanging the corners out to dry and making half-hearted attempts at tackling the runner. S Mike Adams may not have the talent that Jones possesses but he gives great effort and doesn't make the mistakes.
If the Browns are to have any success against the Bills defense, they must double team WR Lee Evans no matter where he is on the field. CB Brandon McDonald will likely find himself matched up against Evans. McDonald has struggled in recent weeks as he has been caught up eyeballing the backfield. The main thing for the young corner is not to lose confidence. He has done an outstanding job considering this is his first year as a starting corner in the NFL.
(Editor's note: The above was written before The OBR learned that McDonald would be replaced in the starting lineup by Travis Daniels.)
The Bills' defense is in for a stiff challenge this week. The Browns offense under QB Brady Quinn is still an unknown. While Quinn worked the short game against the Broncos, there simply isn't enough tape on Quinn at the pro level to sniff out those tendencies. The tape against the Broncos will only show how effective the young quarterback is at finding the open receiver.
To make matters worse for the Bills, they have shown to be extremely vulnerable to those long sustaining type of drives that Quinn ran to perfection against the Broncos. The Bills lack of experience at linebacker doesn't help in this area as those are the players in the best position to take away the short to mid range pass.
This group of linebackers will also be tested heavily by RB Jamal Lewis. Lewis's bruising style can wear down the smaller Bills linebackers if they are making tackles away from the line of scrimmage when Lewis has a full head of steam. It will be up to LB Paul Posluszny to make those critical stops before Lewis can get going. I have been very impressed with the young linebacker as he possesses those natural instincts for the position.
The Bills' secondary will play a great deal of press type coverage in order to disrupt the timing between Quinn and his intended targets. Disrupting and taking away TE Kellen Winslow will be the most difficult challenge and that will fall on the shoulders of safeties Donte Whitner and KO Simpson. This is one of the best young safety tandems in football.
Quinn gave the Browns offense something they had been lacking and that was a true command presence in the huddle. Watching Quinn lead drive after drive as if he were a 15-year veteran was a thing of beauty. Although the young quarterback may never have the physical skills of QB Derek Anderson, his intangibles such as poise and leadership are second to none.
Many critics wish to see a more vertical offense but Quinn is at his best when he is taking what the defense is giving. Forcing the ball deep, for the sake of throwing it deep, is foolish. The difference between average and great aren't just the throws they make but also the ones they don't make. Thus far I am very impressed with Quinn's ability to avoid the bad throw.
The change in quarterback is not the only change on offense needed. RB Jerome Harrison deserves the opportunity to show what he can do. Lewis is a team leader and he is still capable of playing at this level but his role should be reduced. Lewis should become more of the short yardage and 4th quarter pound it out back, similar to what we saw with Jerome Bettis during the latter stages of his career.
Harrison has the talent to be a high quality starter in this league. He has decent speed but he is also incredibly quick while maintaining terrific balance and vision. He also possesses solid hands receiving the ball. His blocking has improved dramatically. The only thing holding this young man back is a coaching staff that fears change.