September 23, 2014

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Who’ll stop the run? Talented running backs on Browns and Bills should put plenty of pressure on defenses

The lakefront has always been the spot to see special running backs on Sunday afternoons. The tradition will continue today with the confluence of three ball carriers who made headlines in the last couple of weeks.

Cleveland rookie Trent Richardson will meet Browns legend Jim Brown before the game at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The possible topics of conversation include: What it’s like to be a superstar in Cleveland. How to fulfill your potential. Why I called you ordinary.

“Just to meet him is an honor,” Richardson said. “He’s always been an icon. He’s somebody I want to have a season like and a career like. Just to meet him and be on the same field means a lot.

“He played with the old Browns. This is the new Browns. It’s not the same field, but it’s the same stuff that he did, so I’m trying to do just as good as him.”

The third part of the equation may have the biggest impact on the outcome of the game. Buffalo speedster C.J. Spiller leads the NFL in rushing with 292 yards, and is the only back to average more than 10 yards a carry (10.1) through two games besides Brown in 1963 with 11.3.

He has three touchdowns, including a 56-yarder.

Since their return in 1999, the Browns’ tradition has been as a rotten run defense. They ranked 30th in 2011, allowing 147.4 yards a game, and will be severely tested by the No. 1-ranked run offense that averages 198 a game and 6.4 per rush. Buffalo ranks fourth with 31.5 points a game.

“It’s great to be mentioned in the same breath as one of the greatest ever to play the position,” Spiller said of Brown. “But that means nothing to me. I don’t get caught up with who’s in the stands or who’s not in the stands. None of that stuff really matters.”

Richardson has been linked with the Hall of Famer since before he became a Brown. On the day of the draft, Brown called Richardson “ordinary,” thrusting negativity into what should’ve been a perfect day. Brown backpedaled Friday in his reunion with the organization after a two-year absence, saying part of his reason was to motivate Richardson.

Even if it’s revisionist history, it worked.

“I had a coach like that in high school,” Richardson said. “He told me I was going to be a safety.
“I’m pretty sure that (Brown) said that for a certain reason and, trust me, it has pushed me to where I’m at to this point. I was hurt and I had to fight back and I thought about that every day.

“He’s going to be out there watching me and hopefully he’ll give me a few words of wisdom while I’m out there.”

Richardson’s start to 2012 hasn’t matched Spiller’s, but his Week 2 breakthrough in Cincinnati was more than enough to excite a fan base that has woken up on the wrong side of the bed for a decade. He carried 19 times for 109 yards and more importantly showed burst and power on his 23- and 32-yard touchdowns.

“They don’t want to tackle him,” receiver Greg Little said. “He runs harder as the game goes on and everybody could see it.”

Richardson became the first Browns rookie since Eric Metcalf in 1989 with 100 yards rushing and can join Earnest Byner and Bobby Mitchell as the only ones to go back-to-back.

Richardson received a confidence boost from his first big day in the NFL, but he was far from satisfied. The Browns lost to fall to 0-2.

Richardson may not know the stats that demonstrate how difficult it is to make the playoffs after an 0-3 start — since 1990, only three teams — but he understands losing is unacceptable. So before practice Wednesday he asked captain D’Qwell Jackson for permission, then addressed the entire team about the importance of practicing with great intensity and finding a way to win.

“You don’t want to say it too late,” Richardson said. “I had a lot on my chest. It’s a role I kinda got to take on. I’m young but, hey, if that’s what’s going to motivate us, had practice going like it was the last three days — practice has been going good.

“I stepped up to the plate and said something and everybody responded well to it.”

The early display of leadership was appreciated by the veterans. They are painfully aware what terrible starts can do to a season, and want to avoid the possibility of 0-5 or worse.

“It’s real important, it gets the monkey off your back,” receiver Mohamed Massaquoi said. “Once we get the first win and we understand how to win, it’ll be a little bit easier to continue to get more wins.”

In order to remove the monkey and exhale, the Browns must handle Spiller. He took over as the starter in Week 13 last year, and his 927 yards from scrimmage in the last seven games rank second behind Baltimore’s Ray Rice.

“All I know is when they hand him the football, he can get in the end zone,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “He can make you miss, but I think the thing that stands out is that he is just fast, fast. He can run by angles and when he gets in space, he’s very dangerous.”

The Bills, who are 0-8 on the road since winning the opener in Kansas City last year, use a spread formation and plenty of three-receiver sets to stretch the defense and get Spiller in space. That puts him one-on-one with defenders and forces them to tackle well, an area that plagued the Browns last week.

“He’s able to find that open window,” Jackson said. “Once he makes his mind up, he makes one cut and he’s downhill in a hurry and before you know it, he’s 60 yards down the field. He has great vision.”

The Bills’ run defense has been a sore spot, ranking 28th last season and among the bottom 11 for seven straight years. It appears improved this season but will get a test from Richardson.

The same can be said of the Browns and Spiller. The defense that overcomes its history and stands strong should lead its team to the win. If neither steps up, there will be two backs running wild on the lakefront.

Perhaps that’s the way it’s supposed to be with Brown on hand to watch every step.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

TODAY

• WHO: Cleveland vs. Buffalo
• TIME: 1 p.m.
• WHERE: Cleveland Browns Stadium

JUST THE FACTS

• RECORDS: Browns 0-2; Bills 1-1
• LAST WEEK: Browns lost 34-27 at Cincinnati; Bills beat Chiefs at home 35-17
• SERIES: Browns lead 11-6, including 1-0 in playoffs
• SERIES IN CLEVELAND: Browns lead 5-3
• LAST MEETING: Bills won 13-6 on Dec. 12, 2010, in Buffalo
• COACHES: Pat Shurmur is 4-14 with Browns and overall; Chan Gailey is 11-23 with Bills and 29-39 overall
• TV/RADIO: Channel 19, with Spero Dedes and Steve Beuerlein; WMMS-FM 100.7
NFL RANKINGS: Browns — offense 22nd (11th rushing, 23rd passing), defense 29th (18th rushing, 28th passing); Bills — offense 7th (1st rushing, 28th passing), defense T-25th (24th rushing, 23rd passing)
• BROWNS UPDATE: Former defensive back Clarence Scott (1971-83) and running back Ernie Green (1962-68) will be inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends at halftime.
• The Browns had six sacks against Cincinnati, the most since 2009. The eight sacks on the season are tied for second in the NFL.
• The Browns are tied for the NFL lead with five interceptions and tied for second with six takeaways.
• K Phil Dawson made a 50-yard field goal last week and is 5-for-5 on the season. He will play his 202nd game, tying Gene Hickerson for fourth in franchise history.
• Defensive assistant Chuck Bullough’s father, Hank, served as Buffalo’s head coach for parts of the 1985 and ’86 seasons.
• WR Mohamed Massaquoi leads the club with eight catches and 131 receiving yards, a 16.4 average.
• RB Chris Ogbonnaya set career highs with six catches for 73 yards last week.
• S T.J. Ward leads the team with 17 tackles. He also has a sack and forced fumble.
• LB Scott Fujita set a career high against Buffalo in 2003 with 18 tackles as a member of the Chiefs.
• CB Sheldon Brown has played in 162 straight games.
• WR/KR Cribbs needs 18 kickoff return yards to move into sixth place on the NFL’s all-time list.
• BILLS UPDATE: Have scored touchdowns on all five red zone trips this year.
• DT Kyle Williams had two sacks last week, his fourth career multisack game. He ranks sixth among NFL DTs with 306 tackles since 2006.
• WR Steve Johnson has started 28 straight games, second among active receivers. He has 57 catches (second in the league) for 830 yards and five TDs on third down since 2010. Last year he became the first Bills WR to record consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. His 19 TDs since 2010 are tied for sixth in the NFL.
• Buffalo’s defense has allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a 99.1 rating through two games.
• FS Jairus Byrd leads the team with 17 tackles. He got his 14th interception Sunday, which ranks fifth in the NFL since 2009.
• DT Marcell Dareus and Browns RB Trent Richardson were teammates at Alabama for two years. Dareus led Buffalo with 5½ sacks as a rookie in 2011.
• BROWNS INJURY REPORT: Out: LB James-Michael Johnson (ribs, oblique), TE Alex Smith (concussion); Questionable: WR Joshua Cribbs (knee), DE Juqua Parker (foot), S Bubba Ventrone (hand); Probable: OL Oniel Cousins (ankle), LB Scott Fujita (knee), WR Greg Little (back), RB Trent Richardson (knee), DT Billy Winn (head)
• BILLS INJURY REPORT: Out: RB Fred Jackson (knee), WR Ruvell Martin (ankle); Questionable: FS Jairus Byrd (ankle); Probable: LB Nick Barnett (knee)
• THE PICK: Desperation turns into a much-needed victory. Browns 24, Bills 23.