3TFO: Bills @ Browns, Week 5
Ben Stockwell points out three key battles that could decide whether its the Browns or the Bills which gets to post an encouraging 3-2 start.
3TFO: Bills @ Browns, Week 5
When the schedule was released I’m sure this game would have drawn groans from many quarters — that a game between two franchises on such a long downswing was the opener to Week 5. It still might draw groans from some quarters, but there is plenty to be excited and intrigued about in this game, with recent form offering hope that there are brighter times ahead for both the Buffalo Bills and the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns enter a home primetime game riding a two-game winning streak and know that a third victory would take them to the summit of the AFC North, at least until Sunday. Meanwhile, the Bills know they need a victory to keep pace early in the season with the Dolphins in the AFC East chasing pack. For the Browns, an enforced change at quarterback has worked to the tune of victories over the Vikings and the Bengals, and they have an emerging star in Jordan Cameron to offer a different dimension to their offensive threat. The Bills have scored and conceded at least 20 points in each game this season, so expect to see a close game as the opener to another week of NFL football. Here are three matchups to keep an eye out for tonight.
Jordan Cameron vs Kiko Alonso and co.
Two of the league’s breakout performers so far this season are sure to go head-to-head at some point during this game, but this is more than just an individual performance. Cameron’s passing map for the first month of the season shows him as a threat to hurt a defense all over the field, and he has made his catches against at least four different defenders in each of the Browns games this season.
Despite his impressive start to the season, Alonso has been targeted only once in primary coverage against a tight end (an interception of a pass intended for Dallas Clark on Sunday) thus far. For the rest of the Bills’ defense, their biggest test against at tight end came against Greg Olsen in Week 2 when their linebackers and safeties were found wanting to the tune of seven catches on as many targets for 84 yards and a touchdown.
Olsen worked almost exclusively outside the numbers in that game, but with Cameron’s most targeted area being between the numbers on short targets (12/15, 93 yards with 51 YAC) we’re sure to see the league’s emerging receiving tight end matchup with the league’s emerging coverage linebacker in a potentially pivotal matchup.
Cordy Glenn vs Barkevious Mingo
With the Browns listing Jabaal Sheard as doubtful on their injury report ahead of tonight’s game, it would seem that rookie Barkevious Mingo will get his second straight start opposite Paul Kruger in the Browns’ 3-4 defense. Mingo came up with a couple of big plays last week — as he has in each game this season — with a sack and a batted pass, but struggled to make a consistent impact playing all 68 snaps against Andrew Whitworth, one of the league’s better pass protecting left tackles.
Things won’t get much easier for Mingo this week going up against Cordy Glenn, who is one of the league’s best pass protecting tackles. The stats make daunting reading for Mingo, with Glenn having surrendered only one pressure thus far in the regular season. However, that belies the fact that he has had five others negated by penalties, two of which were his own holding penalties. Even so, Glenn is off to a strong start in pass protection and will test Mingo’s run defense as well.
Mingo’s start to the season would suggest he will get the better of Glenn a couple of times, but, crucially, can he make those plays count? If he can that could be a difference-making performance even if the whole body of work is again lacking as it was against the Vikings and Bengals. However, if Glenn can maintain his fine start to the season and limit the damage when Mingo does get the better of him, then Mingo could be neutralized as a threat on E.J. Manuel’s blindside.
Stevie Johnson vs Joe Haden
With C.J. Spiller listed as questionable due to an ankle injury, and struggling to hold onto the football when he is on the field (three fumbles), Stevie Johnson takes on an even more important role in the Bills’ offense as their difference-maker. As the Bills’ No. 1 receiver he is likely to draw coverage from Joe Haden in a one-on-one matchup that we haven’t seen since Week 14 of the 2010 season. On that day Johnson went 1 of 3 for only 2 yards when targeted into Haden’s coverage, but last year during the Bills last visit to Cleveland, he snagged seven passes for 61 yards in a 10-point Bills win, targeted most against Sheldon Brown.
Johnson’s biggest game thus far this season came against the Panthers with 111 yards and a score on eight catches, doing his damage against a trio of defenders. If he draws coverage from Haden he’ll be in for a much tougher outing, with Haden surrendering only 15 catches on 33 targets so far this season (56.4 passer rating allowed on targeted passes). Those target numbers do show, however, that teams haven’t been shy of targeting Haden, and with Manuel not shy of targeting Johnson (also 33 targets) we should get to see these two lock horns when the Bills have the ball.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.