Here are how my five pregame takes worked out in what would be a 26-10 Buffalo Bills victory against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium:
1. Stop the Browns’ running game before it can get started. Check! The Bills’ defense never allowed Cleveland’s offense to get anything going in any phase, but its dominance started with the fact it didn’t allow the Browns to run the ball effectively. Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell combined for a mere 61 yards on 24 carries, an average of 2.5 yards per rush. In addition, West was involved in the turning-point play of the game midway through the third quarter when defensive end Jerry Hughes forced him to fumble and returned the recovery for a touchdown 10 seconds after Buffalo scored its first TD of the game. The Bills did exactly what they wanted to do by forcing the Browns to put the game in the shaky hands of quarterback Brian Hoyer.
2. Prevent Brian Hoyer from finding comfort in the pocket. Triple check this one! Although the Bills sacked Hoyer only twice, they generated enough pressure to make the Browns’ quarterback skittish. When Hoyer is forced off his mark, he tends to be inaccurate and reckless with his throws. He threw a pair of interceptions to safety Da’Norris Searcy. He never could find anything approaching a groove. And he finally was yanked in favor of rookie Johnny Manziel with 12:01 left in the fourth quarter. In all likelihood, the Bills’ defense is going to be largely responsible for launching the much-anticipated Johnny Football Era in Cleveland because there is no way the Browns are going back to Hoyer for the rest of the season – or beyond.
3. Find a way to get the ball to Sammy Watkins. Nope. The Bills made a clear effort to throw to the rookie wide receiver, targeting him nine times. But he made only three receptions for 11 yards, with his longest catch covering 5 yards. This marked the fourth consecutive game in which Watkins was a non-factor, which is a serious problem for Buffalo’s offense. For the second game in a row, Robert Woods led the Bills’ pass-catchers (four catches for 71 yards, an average of 17.8 yards per catch), but the Bills must get far better production from their No. 1 receiver, especially as they take on some of the NFL’s more explosive offenses. Some of the burden falls on Watkins to gain better separation from coverage. Some falls on quarterback Kyle Orton to make better throws. Some falls on the Bills’ offensive coaches to design routes to help Watkins get open.
4. Build upon their red-zone breakthrough against the Jets. Another miss here. After going 3 for 3 with touchdowns inside the Jets’ 20-yard line, the Bills had only one touchdown – a 3-yard Orton pass to Chris Hogan – in five red-zone trips Sunday. Orton threw an interception on one and three others produced field goals. Apparently, Doug Marrone knew what he was talking about when he said Friday that he wasn’t necessarily ready to proclaim that the performance against the Jets meant his team’s red-zone problems were fixed.
5. Take advantage of what they know about Mike Pettine’s defense. Not so much. The Bills’ offense was shut out in the first half and produced only one touchdown for the day. Where the Bills clearly had a strategic edge on the Browns was on defense. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and the rest of the staff on that side of the ball did a superb job of preparing a game plan that had Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and the rest of Cleveland’s offense coming up empty in their search for answers. On many occasions, the Bills’ defense was able to correctly anticipate Browns pass plays, which had something to do with Searcy intercepting Hoyer twice and Buffalo’s defense limiting Cleveland to a field goal until nearly the middle of the fourth quarter.