Teams trying to revive themselves following some tough seasons meet tonight, with both teams coming in at .500. Two wins in four games should not be cause to pop champagne, but Cleveland hasn’t had a .500 season since 2007, and Buffalo hasn’t been over .500 since 2004.
Clearly, in this case being 2-2 matters.
The game features two young quarterbacks, two new coaches and teams representing two industrial cities on Lake Erie that have been hit hard economically. They also are two cities that take great pride in and have great passion for their football teams. ESPN.com Bills reporter Mike Rodak and Browns reporter Pat McManamon take a look at the matchup.
Mike Rodak: Both of these teams are a surprising 2-2. What has surprised you most about the way the Browns have reached .500?
Pat McManamon: Mike, the most surprising thing about the Browns is the way they've gotten to 2-2. Most teams that promote their third-string quarterback to starter and trade their starting running back don't seem to be pointing to a winning streak. Especially when the starting running back was hailed as a key component/savior when he was drafted just one year before. The Browns somehow have responded, and the main reason they have is good quarterback play has transformed the team to the point that Trent Richardson is barely missed. Brian Hoyer has made fast, smart decisions. He's been accurate, and he's changed a stagnant offense to one that converts 90-yard drives for touchdowns. In the Browns' world, that's significant.
Rodak: The most surprising thing for me about the Bills has been their ability to overcome injuries in the secondary. When a quarterback like Joe Flacco throws five interceptions, it can be tough to decipher whether it’s a problem with the receivers or just good play by the defense. On Sunday, I think it was a combination of both, and that speaks well to what coach Donnie Henderson has done with the secondary this season. Buffalo gave him a game ball after the win, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported. The secondary will need to continue its strong play, though, as Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin and Jairus Byrd may not be ready to return by Thursday.
Pat, we saw Steve Johnson catch just one pass for negative-1 yard last week. On Sunday, he’ll likely draw coverage from one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL, Joe Haden. What have you seen out of Haden so far this season, and how has the Browns defense fared on the whole?
McManamon: Haden has always had the potential to be one of the better cornerbacks in the league. But he's always gotten in his own way. Last season he was suspended for the first four games, and the Browns lost all four, including one to the Bills. In that game Johnson caught a touchdown and had seven catches, as the Browns had no one to cover him. Haden's role is vital in Ray Horton's aggressive blitzing scheme. To do that, Horton must have corners he can trust to cover man-to-man. Last week he had a very good game against A.J. Green. This week he'll no doubt be on Johnson.
Mike, C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson were both injured last Sunday. What is their status for the game, and might the Browns' defense avoid having to face the Bills’ top two rushers?
Rodak: Pat, I think Spiller and Jackson will both be active for the game. Both returned to Sunday’s game after being injured, and given that the Bills will have 10 days' rest before their next game, Buffalo may try to get something out of both of them Thursday night. How much, though? I think we’ll see more of Jackson than Spiller. Through four games, Jackson is seventh in the NFL with 5.33 yards per rush, and second in yards after contact per rush (2.75), behind only Houston’s Ben Tate. Jackson has a sprained MCL so I don’t think he’ll be able to post those same numbers Thursday, but we saw more of him at practice Tuesday than Spiller, who was limping in the locker room afterward. The Browns are likely expecting more of Tashard Choice, who amassed nearly half of his entire yardage last season against the Browns in Week 3, gaining 91 yards on 20 carries.