(Three points of interest in today’s game)
The Browns have been full of surprises this year — quarterback Brian Hoyer, tight end Jordan Cameron, the Trent Richardson trade — and the run defense ranks among the biggest. After years and years of futility, the Browns have finally proved capable of stopping the run. They rank fourth overall (79.0 yards per game) and first per carry (2.9) and are the only team that hasn’t allowed a rush of 15 yards.
The Bills are no slouch when it comes to pounding it on the ground. They ran for 203 yards on a league-high 55 carries last week against the Ravens and are the NFL’s No. 2 rushing team with 152 yards a game. The key is the tandem of C.J. Spiller (Mr. Outside) and Fred Jackson (Mr. Between the Tackles). Both are less than 100 percent – Spiller with an ankle injury, Jackson with a knee — but the Browns expect to see both.
Spiller tied Adrian Peterson for the league lead last year with 6.0 yards per carry and finished with 1,703 yards from scrimmage. Jackson is third in team history with 4,487 yards, and is averaging 5.3 a rush this year.
“Our mantra all week is good on good, best on best,” Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. “It’s a challenge to stop these guys.”
TACKLING THE CHALLENGE OF SUPER MARIO
One of these weeks, left tackle Joe Thomas and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz will get a break and not face a top-tier defensive line or elite pass rusher. This isn’t the week, and coordinator Norv Turner isn’t sure when it will arrive on the schedule.
“Every week it seems like there’s another challenge for those tackles. First of all, Joe Thomas, I don’t know how you can play any better than he’s playing, the way he played in Minnesota, the way he came back and played last week,” Turner said. “The last two weeks, Mitch is just a lot more comfortable with everything we’re doing. He got off to a (rough) start and he’s rebounded. He had by far his best game last week.”
The protection has been noticeably improved across the front after a disastrous first two weeks and could get a boost from the return of right guard Shawn Lauvao, who was listed as questionable. The massive breakdowns have been rectified, as the five linemen, tight ends and running backs have played better individually and as a group. They can’t relax tonight.
Defensive end Mario Williams is the headliner in Buffalo’s hybrid defense. He has 69 career sacks and 5.5 this year (third in the league), including 4.5 of Carolina’s Cam Newton in Week 2. He had 1.5 last year in the Bills’ win in Cleveland. Williams flops sides, splitting time almost evenly, so Thomas and Schwartz will be on alert.
“Big, fast, strong — that barely describes him,” Thomas said.
RECIPE FOR A HUGE DAY
For the third straight week, the Browns will face a short-handed secondary as Buffalo listed five defensive backs on its injury report. Receiver Josh Gordon took advantage with 10 catches for 146 yards and a touchdown against Minnesota and four for 71 against the Bengals. Tonight should be more of the same, even after the depleted Bills intercepted Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco five times last week.
“They’re probably scheming really well against Flacco and trying to set him up to throw passes he wasn’t normally going to throw,” Gordon said. “But we’ve been watching them and seeing what they’ve been doing. I think we have a very good chance of exposing them and getting open.”
Many of his teammates were visibly excited about the only scheduled primetime game of the season, but Gordon wasn’t impressed.
“To me, it’s another game, honestly,” he said. “You can never see the people watching it past the stadium anyway. To me, it’s just go out there and do the same thing really.
“Yeah, there’ll be more viewers, more people may get the chance to hear about who we have on the team and what-not. Regardless of that I just want to go out there and get the win.”
Jim Brown’s number. The greatest Browns player of all time will be celebrated all night, including during a special halftime ceremony, for his contributions to the city and the franchise on and off the field.
Touchdowns by Browns tight end Jordan Cameron, tying the NFL record for most receiving TDs by a tight end in September. The Browns have scored seven TDs.
Interceptions by Bills rookie middle linebacker Kiko Alonso, a second-round pick out of Oregon. He’s the first Buffalo rookie with interceptions in three straight games.
SCOTT PETRAK’S PICK: Browns do the unthinkable, win three straight, lead AFC North by themselves — for at least two days. Browns 27, Bills 17.