Bills at Browns -- Week 3
Where: Cleveland Browns Stadium, Cleveland (grass, outdoors)
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Spread: Bills by 3
Forecast: 60 degrees, overcast, 40 percent chance of showers
Records: Browns (Overall: 0-2, AFC North 0-1), Bills (Overall: 1-1, AFC East: 0-1)
Past results: Two most recent regular-season meetings -- Dec. 12, 2010: Bills 13, Browns 10; Oct. 11, 2009: Browns 6, Bills 3. Series record: Browns hold 11-6 lead.
What matters: If the Browns' secondary performs at the same level it did in Cincinnati, the team will almost assuredly be 0-3 after falling to Buffalo. The unit, which is in a state of flux with top cornerback Joe Haden (suspension) sidelined for three more games, was simply awful against the Bengals. The good news is the Browns' pass rush has yielded eight sacks in two games and has consistently hurried opposing quarterbacks. Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is more mobile than Cincinnati's Andy Dalton, so that could cause some problems. Perhaps it was a reflection on a Bengals defense that has struggled in all areas, but the Browns ran and threw the ball with great success Sunday. A repeat could be necessary because injuries to DT Phil Taylor (pectoral) and LB Chris Gocong (Achilles), along with the Haden suspension have the defense operating at less than peak efficiency.
Who matters: It appears that second-year CB Buster Skrine is being forced into a starting role. He needs to forget his brutal performance in Cincinnati and avoid giving up the big play. The assumption is that Dimitri Patterson will be responsible for Bills featured WR Steve Johnson. Patterson too must be on top of his game. Browns QB Brandon Weeden threw for 322 yards last week with WRs Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi and RB Chris Ogbonnaya his most effective targets. Rookie wideout Josh Gordon needs to become more involved for the passing game to reach its potential. But if the defense can’t contain Bills RB C.J. Spiller, who is averaging an absurd 10.1 yards per carry, Weeden and RB Trent Richardson will be on the sideline far too often. MLB D’Qwell Jackson and DT Ahtyba Rubin have led an improved run defense that kept Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis at bay last Sunday.
Key matchups: DE Mario Williams vs. RT Mitchell Schwartz. Schwartz, a rookie, took a step forward last week in his run blocking and pass protection, but Williams should provide a great challenge. Though Williams has mustered just three tackles and no sacks in two games, his quickness and length could give Schwartz problems. Schwartz has struggled more against speed rushers than power rushers. He simply must keep Williams off Weeden.
Injuries of note: TE Alex Smith (concussion) is among the team’s top blockers. It appears unlikely he will play, which means that second-year TE Jordan Cameron would be thrust into action. Cameron is a talented receiver, but has yet to prove himself as a blocker and FB Owen Marecic has struggled in all facets of the game. The Browns have done a nice job protecting Weeden and their run blocking was a critical component in Richardson’s 100-yard game last week, but the loss of Smith could certainly be a blow against Buffalo.
Inside stuff: CB Sheldon Brown was benched last week in Cincinnati. Though defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said this week that it was his impression Brown was severely limited with a neck stinger, Brown said on Thursday he was healthy for that game. The terrible performance by the secondary against the Bengals has Brown back on the radar. He will certainly play in three-wide sets and coach Pat Shurmur added that he could get reps in two-wide sets as well.
Connections: Bills coach Chan Gailey said he needed to see film of Schwartz to give an analysis of his talent. The Bills took OT Cordy Glenn four picks later in the second round of the 2012 draft, which indicates that they never considered Schwartz.
Stat you should know: The Browns have eight sacks in two games. The Bills have surrendered none. Shurmur said Buffalo’s success keeping Fitzpatrick upright can be attributed to more than just pass blocking, adding Fitzpatrick’s mobility is a key factor.
“I think their scheme is good,” he said. “They spread the field, they get the ball out of his hands extremely well, they mix up the launch points like we all do. Fitzpatrick does a good job of scrambling and getting yards. Most long drives require the quarterback to do something with his feet, whether it’s gain some yards or move around in the pocket, throw the ball away, you can see in their long drives that he does that.”
Looking ahead: It can be argued that the Browns must beat the Bills to avoid an 0-5 start. They follow with Baltimore on Thursday and the New York Giants the following week, both on the road.
Prediction: Browns 24, Bills 23
Stay dialed in on the Cleveland Browns on Twitter @CBSBrowns throughout the season with on-site updates from CBSSports.com RapidReports correspondent Marty Gitlin.