This week the Buffalo Bills head to Cleveland to try and increase their record to 2-1. What will they have to do in order to stay atop the AFC East?
1- Must win on the road.
If the Bills want to make a run at the playoffs this year, they need to find a way to win on the road. Buffalo hasn’t won a road game since their season opener in 2011 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Ouch. After winning in Kansas City, they couldn’t muster a win when traveling and eventually dropped out of the playoff hunt. In their last 7 away games, they not only lost but they were outplayed in all areas of the game.
Teams playing against the Bills on the road were able to score a combined 291 points, including their season opener against the New York Jets this season. On the other side, the Bills were only able to score 142 total points. After their game against the Cleveland Browns, the Bills return to Ralph Wilson stadium to play the New England Patriots but then spend two weeks out West playing both the San Francisco 49er’s and the Arizona Cardinals who have surprisely started off 2-0. The Bills already fell flat on the road once this season and can’t afford to do it again.
2- Don’t expect too much from Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Last week against the Chiefs, the Bills ran the ball effectively and were able to chalk up 292 yards from C.J. Spiller. In order for Buffalo to have success against the Browns, they have to keep pounding the ball on the ground and not get too pass happy. This week, in Chan Gailey’spress conferences, he seemed content with continuing to run the ball and hopefully he keeps Fitzpatrick from having too much control behind center. Last week, Fitzpatrick only completed nineteen passes but had no interceptions, compared to the three he threw in week one when Buffalo had to resort to the air to try and comeback from an early deficit.
Cleveland’s run defense has been weak to start the 2012 season allowing LeSean McCoyto gain 110 yards in week one and, improving slightly, allowing BenJarvus Green-Ellisto gain 75 yards. With the Browns’ trouble at the corner position, it is important for Gailey to not get too greedy and rely on Fitzpatrick only when necessary. Until Fitzpatrick can prove he has an accurate arm, he is better suited to be a game manager.
3- Stop Trent Richardson on the ground.
Last week, Richardson showed up to play and tore up the Cincinnati Bengals gaining 109 yards and a earning a touchdown. Luckily for Buffalo, the bright spot of the defense has been their improvement on stopping the run. Jamal Charles was hurt early and Peyton Hillisalso struggled, and was kept quiet last week and the defense forced a goal line fumble from Hillis. Between three running backs, the Bills were able to hold the Chiefs to a total of 150 yards combined. This week, the defensive line is licking their chops going up against rookie quarterback, Brandon Weeden, so it is expected that the Browns will have a running game plan. It looks to be a battle on the ground this week in Cleveland.
4- Justin Rogers as nickel CB
It still remains to be seen whether Rogers will continue to succeed in the nickel cornerback position beyond this season, but one thing is for sure, and that is that he did perform better than Leodis McKelvin last week, even with a sore hamstring. Rogers was able to hold Dexter McClusterto 32 yards and no touchdowns. In the past, the defense has struggled to cover the slot receiver, and while I think there is a lot of room for improvement for Rogers, the Browns’ receivers are at a similar skill level compared to the Bills. If Rogers struggles this week, it will be a major weakness moving forward as the schedule becomes more difficult.
5- Don’t fall to the level of the opponent.
Similar to last week, the Bills need to approach this game as a very winnable game and they need to go out and just win when they are suppose to. Many times, the Bills lower themselves to the opponent’s level and allow them to stay in the game. Cleveland is a perfect example of this. Of the last three games against the Browns, the Browns combined record in those three years was 14-34. Buffalo only won once by a score of 13-6.
There is no reason that Bills fans should be worried about Buffalo going in and laying an egg, but then again, it is Buffalo, and it is an away game. On the upside, of those three games, the only win came under Chan. An even bigger upside, the Bills defense goes up against past coach and offensive coordinator in Cleveland, Dick Jauron.
What other areas do you think the Bills need to focus on this week? I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can also find my articles on twitter @christynepolle.