The Buffalo Bills have plenty of reasons to feel better about their red-zone offense after Monday night’s victory against the New York Jets.
But were those three touchdowns they scored in three trips inside the Jets’ 20-yard line the start of a trend or simply a one-game thing? Have they truly fixed the problems that caused them to fail to produce a touchdown in six red-zone trips before Monday night?
Coach Doug Marrone wasn’t ready Friday to buy into the idea that the Bills are ready to have more red-zone success Sunday against the Cleveland Browns and beyond.
“When you have an issue and you play a game and you’ve done better, I would not necessarily be ready to proclaim that is fixed,” Marrone said. “Are we headed in the right direction? That’s the plan.”
Said offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, “We just have to keep challenging our guys to be physical and execute, because that’s what it came down to. The plays didn’t necessarily change much. We were still doing a lot of the same overall concepts. They just executed them flawlessly. And I’m going, ‘Great, guys! That’s what you’re supposed to do! Let’s just don’t stop now!’ ”
The Bills have worked on “a lot of things,” Marrone said, and he did acknowledge that the club ran the ball more effectively inside the Jets’ 20.
“If I say anything that helped us, it was the ability to run the football in that area of the field,” Marrone said. “That opens up more things for us, so from that standpoint, if we do play like that and still have the same amount of opportunities we’ve been getting all year, then I think we have a chance to win some football games.”
One enhancement could come in the form of newly acquired tight end MarQueis Gray, a former Brown who has tremendous speed and exceptional athleticism packed into his 6-foot-4, 242-pound frame. Gray is expected to be active Sunday in place of Chris Gragg, who is listed as out with a knee injury.
By all accounts, Gray has made a strong early impression on Buffalo’s coaches.
“Can he make plays? Yes,” Marrone said. “I really like what I’ve seen in practice. He’s a heck of an athlete, can play multiple positions. Obviously he can run, he has good hands. Now it’s just a matter can he take it from what we’ve seen on the field to the game.”
Hackett said that he and the rest of the Bills’ offensive coaches and players who were part of the team when Browns coach Mike Pettine was Buffalo’s defensive coordinator last season should benefit from their familiarity with his defense.
“It helps a lot of the wide receivers that were here before, some of the line,” Hackett said. “It’s not as daunting, I think, when you’ve gone against it for a whole year. I think that’s one reason, when you’re going against the Jets,” for whom Pettine formerly worked as defensive coordinator, “it’s not as daunting as some other people might think.
Hackett said the Bills are mindful of not having the same terminology for checks, calls, and cadences from season to season, or week to week, so that opponents don’t use it to their advantage. He said that was particularly true for Sunday’s game, because of Pettine’s thorough knowledge of the Bills’ offense.
“Heck, I installed it to him and he installed stuff to us,” Hackett said. “But the thing is, there’s always so much that we do, so much that they do. You can have a good feel for what they’re going to do, but they can still pick out of that huge menu.”
How possible was it that the Bills might use some terminology from last season that could have a different meaning now for the sake of throwing off the Browns?
“You never know,” Hackett said with a smile. “You’re just trying to keep everybody on their toes.”
Besides Gragg, defensive end Jarius Wynn (knee) and safety Bacarri Rambo (hamstring) are listed as out for Sunday’s game.
Wide receiver Robert Woods (ankle) and kicker Dan Carpenter (groin) are probable.
The Browns list linebacker Karlos Dansby (knee), free safety Tashaun Gipson (knee), and kick returner Marlon Moore (hamstring) as out, and tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion), linebacker Jabaal Sheard (foot), and defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin (back) as questionable.