Is 3-2 possible?
When Browns fans looked at the 2013 season schedule and saw the Buffalo Bills as the Game 5 opponent, they almost automatically thought victory.
After all, the Browns and Bills have slogged along the depths of their respective divisions for several seasons and the game is in Cleveland. So why not a victory? There’s something to be said for home-field advantage.
But then the Bills last Sunday went out and did something the Browns have never done. They knocked off Joe Flacco and Baltimore Ravens, 23-20, at home, pilfering five Flacco passes.
The Browns haven’t been able to beat Flacco and the Ravens anywhere in the last 11 games. So you can believe the Bills will arrive in Cleveland for Thursday night’s nationally televised game in a highly confident mood.
Each club is 2-2, but has arrived at that record in different ways. The Browns, of course, have won their last two games. The Bills, meanwhile have maintained a pace of lose one, win one, lose one, win one. If that pattern continues, that makes the Browns game a lose one, right?
Yes if you believe strongly in winning and losing patterns for teams. And no if you believe every game has its own personality and winning and losing depends more on how well or poorly you play.
The Browns are on a highly unexpected high following victories over Minnesota and Cincinnati. The confidence quotient couldn’t be higher. Effusive praise for the quarterbacking of Brian Hoyer is on an unabated roll.
And the Cleveland defense? There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to adequately describe how well it has played, even in the two losses. Fans are not used to seeing such outstanding play on that side of the ball.
The matchups in this one clearly favor the Browns. For example, the Buffalo defense has surrendered only one touchdown on the ground, but eight through the air. The Cleveland offense has scored seven touchdowns this season. All through the air.
The Bills defense yields 278 passing yards a game and 122 on the ground. The Browns’ offense is clearly passing centric with 991 yards and just 304 via the run. It wouldn’t surprise, though, to see offensive coordinator Norv Turner feature the run more against the Bills.
The unexpected strong running by Willis McGahee in the latter stages of the Cincinnati victory, plus the return of right guard Shawn Lauvao (a stronger run blocker than Oneil Cousins), might be enough to convince Turner that running the ball more might take some pressure off a strong Buffalo pass rush.
If the Browns become predictable, Bills defenders will disdain the threat of the run and fix their bull’s-eye on Hoyer. And with defensive linemen like Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus targeting the young Cleveland quarterback, slowing them down might not be a bad idea.
Williams and Dareus have combined for 8½ of the team’s 13 sacks and been extremely helpful in creating nine interceptions, which contribute largely to the team's +4 turnover ratio. Rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso has made four of those picks.
The Bills’ strong suit on offense is the run, which takes some of the pressure off rookie quarterback E. J. Manuel, who has thrown five scoring passes and been picked off just three times.
But running backs C. J. Spiller (ankle) and Frank Jackson (knee), who have combined for 456 yards, went down in the Baltimore loss and are listed as questionable, but with the national television spotlight shining brightly, look for at least one of them to play regularly. It’ll be a classic case of the irresistible force (Spiller and Jackson) against the immovable object (a Cleveland run defense that allows 79 yards a game).
Where the Bills have problems is in the passing game, where they average less than 200 yards a game. Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods and tight end Scott Chandler are Manuel’s favorite targets. Johnson most likely will see a lot of Joe Haden, so Woods and Chandler could get a lot of looks.
One of these games, the Browns’ lack of a running attack could come back and haunt them. They got lucky against Minnesota and Cincinnati when Hoyer bailed them out. But that won’t last much longer. They must get the running game untracked or else risk getting Hoyer hurt.
Guessing that Turner will ramp up the infantry game and Hoyer will incorporate the play-action pass quite liberally to confuse the Bills' defense and keep it off balance. And defensive coordinator Ray Horton will throw numerous exotic looks at Manuel to throw the rookie off all evening.
As improbable as this reads, especially after the first two weeks of the season, the Browns make it three in a row as they impress the national audience. Make it:
Browns 27, Bills 13
~ But wait. There’s a little more this week.
There’s more to Fozzy Whittaker than the agate line in transactions that announced the Browns had claimed the running back off waivers from the San Diego Chargers. Here’s the lowdown on how the new kick returner got his name.
Fozzy is a nickname. His real name is Foswhitt. That’s right, Foswhitt Whittaker.
While a member of the Chargers, the 5-10, 202-pounder from the University of Texas wrote a blog piece for Chargers.com explaining just how he got the nickname of Fozzy.
In it, he revealed his father, Foster, wanted to name him Foster Jr. His mother said no. So they compromised. They took the Fos from Foster and the whitt from Whittaker and combined them.
Fozzy is short for Foswhitt.
And now you know the rest of the story.