What in the world is going on in Buffalo? The wolves are sniping at Bills coach Rex Ryan, suggesting his stay in western New York might should be limited to two seasons..
The voluble Ryan boasted at the beginning of his coaching tenure in his new home that his defense would be the best in the National Football League, but has seen his team perform exactly the opposite and is suddenly sitting on a hot seat.
The Browns invade Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday against a team embarrassed last Sunday by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now being embarrassed by the Steelers is nothing new around the NFL. But when it occurs at home, that’s an entirely different matter.
The Steelers mauled the Buffalo defense for 460 yards and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell made the game his own personal tour de force with 298 yards from scrimmage in a 27-20 victory in a snowstorm.
The annoyingly boastful Ryan, whose twin brother Rob runs the Buffalo defense, took over the Bills last season after being unceremoniously cashiered by the New York Jets and rang up an 8-8 record.
Buffalo fans obviously expected improvement this season, but have been rewarded with a 6-7 mark thus far by the streaky Bills, who boasted a four-game winning streak earlier this season (including a 16-0 shocker over New England) but who enter Sunday’s game on a two-game skid.
In the last seven games, they are 2-5, the victories coming against the one-win San Francisco 49ers and two-win Jacksonville Jaguars. And the way the Browns have played this season, odds are pretty good the Bills will add the no-win Browns to their victims list.
Now if the Browns somehow manage to pull off the biggest upset of the NFL season, the seat on which Ryan sits becomes scalding hot. But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here.
The Bills have gone 16 straight seasons without a postseason appearance and the front office pinned its hopes on a coach who is now on the verge of personally missing the postseason for the sixth straight season, the first four with the Jets.
The Browns enter the game double-digit underdogs, a justifiable spread considering how poorly the offense has played for most of the winless, humorless, shameful season.
And with Robert Griffin III back again in charge of the huddle after last Sunday’s debacle in the Cincinnati loss and having all kinds of problems shedding the rust accumulated by a three-month recuperation from a broken shoulder, look for more struggles.
Weather in the Buffalo area probably will be a factor again. Similar conditions that showed up for the Pittsburgh game are in the forecast with a 90% chance of snow showers and a game high of around 30 degrees. The big difference is the Browns have no one who can come close to duplicating what the Steelers’ Bell did.
The Cleveland defense, which has recently shown glimpses of actually being decent (unfortunately not nearly enough), will be challenged by a fairly predictable Buffalo offense. The Bills run the ball as much as they throw it and run it much better than they throw it.
When you have a running back like LeSean McCoy, that’s what you do. McCoy, who missed one game earlier this season with a thumb injury, is 24 yards shy of another 1,000-yard season, his fifth in eight seasons.
The versatile McCoy is just as dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield, ranking second on the team with 41 receptions and a touchdown in addition to his 10 infantry style. And when the Bills get close to the goal line, Mike Gillislee, who has scored six touchdowns, takes over.
The Buffalo air attack got much better recently with the return of wide receiver Sammy Watkins, the club’s top draft pick a couple of years ago. Watkins, who missed eight games with a foot injury, scored his first touchdown of the season in the Pittsburgh loss. One more worry for the beleaguered Cleveland secondary.
But that secondary might get some help from the defensive line if last week’s four-sack game against Cincinnati is any indication. The Bills’ offensive line is nearly as bad as Cleveland’s at protecting its quarterback, surrendering 40 sacks.
The key to this one for the Browns – talking vicariously here as though they really have a shot at ending two long losing streaks – is simple. Shut down the Buffalo running game and force quarterback Tyrod Taylor to throw the football.
The Bills, who have the NFL’s best ground attack with 155 yards a game, rank 31st in passing (the Browns are 28th). Taylor has thrown only 13 scoring passes (and six picks) and averages just 194 yards a game passing, but has picked up nearly 500 yards with his legs and has scored six times.
If the Bills had a decent quarterback, the offense would be that much more dangerous. It has been suggested that Cardale Jones, the big Ohio State quarterback drafted in the fourth round last May, is being groomed to be the starter down the road.
On the other side of the ball, the one Rex Ryan boasted of when he arrived in Buffalo, the defense surrenders nearly 22 first downs a game, yielding 371 yards, 126 a game on the ground.
It has registered 33 sacks and tends to funnel the opposition’s ground game toward the middle, where inside linebackers Zach Brown and Preston Brown are 1-2 in tackles. Zach Brown’s 123 tackles rank third in he NFL. Outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander provides most of the quarterback pressure with 10 of the club’s 33 sacks.
If the Browns have any chance to at least give the Bills a representative game, the offense will have to doing something it hasn’t done all season: Step up.
The Dawg Pound Update on the team’s Web site points out the main problem in a story leading up to the game. “Browns still searching for offensive identity” blares the headline. Bulletin: Water is wet.
This one will be decided fairly early and save Ryan’s job for at least one more week. McCoy shreds the Cleveland defense for another 100-yard game and score twice; Watkins catches a scoring pass for the second straight week; the Buffalo pass rush sacks The Third four times and knocks him out of the game; and the Cleveland losing streaks reach 14 and 17, respectively. Make it:
Bills 31, Browns 10