BEREA—When the season started, Fred Jackson was at the top of the depth chart for the Bills.
However, as happens so often in the NFL, when a player goes down with injury another player explodes on the scene. That is the case with running back C.J. Spiller, who took over when Jackson hurt his knee in the season opener after just six carries. Jackson is not expected to play this week, but is listed as questionable.
Currently, Spiller leads the NFL with 10.1 yards per carry average. No back has done that since Jim Brown did so in 1963 when he averaged 11.3 yards a carry after two games.
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Spiller has 292 yards on 29 carries with three touchdowns, including a long of 56 yards. He also has 5 receptions for 72 yards, including a 30-yard gain. Spiller currently leads the NFL in rushing.
The Browns have to try to figure a way to slow him down.
“You have to be very disciplined in the run game,” defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. “You have to defend the gap and obviously he has great speed because he’s fast to the edges. They’ve done a very good job of getting him (in space). You have to be tuned in and play really fast.”
Pat Shurmur agreed.
“He’s an explosive guy,” Shurmur said. “I’ve got to believe he’s one of the fastest guys on their team and if not in the league. When he gets some space, and they do a good job on offense of giving their runner space, he has a chance to turn good ones into great ones and great ones into touchdowns. Some of it has to do with what they do on offense. They do a very good job coaching their guys and some of it has to do with his skill and ability.”
The Browns have been vulnerable to big plays in the first two games and they have to find a way to prevent as many as they can this week with Spiller.
“When you get stats like that so quickly, that means he’s got a lot of big plays so you have to limit those,” Shurmur said. “He’s going to get yards, but you need to eliminate the big plays.”
Jauron said the Bills have done a good job at utilizing all of Spiller’s talents.
“They’ve done good job scheming and they have taken advantage of his abilities.”
Shurmur likes the strides the Browns have done stopping the run thus far in 2012. After finishing 30th inthe NFL against the run in 2011, the Browns currently are 18th in that department. It’s still not great, but they’ve faced two pretty good backs thus far in LeSean McCoy and Benjarvus Green-Ellis and have been able to keep them out of the end zone..
“I think we’re better at stopping the run this year,” he said. “I think it will reveal itself as the year goes on as we play against a lot of good backs. We have to keep them out of the end zone and that’s the challenge.”
Young DBs Must Step Up: The Browns secondary was burned against the Bengals by big plays without starters CB Joe Haden and CB Sheldon Brown. Haden missed the first of his four games due tosuspension. Brown sat out all but one play with a neck injury.
Shurmur has insisted that the secondary will be much better this week.
“I’m confident we’ll improve on what we did,” Shurmur said. “We’ll find the right combination.”
Brown’s return should help greatly. Jauron said he knew that there was a good chance that Brown wouldn’t play much against the Bengals. Brown isn’t on the injury report this week.
“We entered the week knowing that Sheldon would be very limited and so we took that approach,” he said. “Hopefully, he’s had the week to recover.
“When you lose a starter, you miss them, there’s no doubt.
Jauron said that he is confident that CB Buster Skrine will improve from his first outing.
“Buster is a work in progress, there’s no doubt,” Jauron said. “He’s a competitor and we like him a lot. He had some tough plays but he also made some good plays.”
CB Dimitri Patterson and either Brown or Skrine are expected to start, but the third cornerback will be on the field most of the game as the Bills run a three wide receiver set frequently.
“We obviously gave up too many big plays,” Jauron said. “We just have to keep working and our guys will keep working.”
Jauron said that for Skrine to be outside from the start was a big adjustment.
“It’s very, very different to be out there from the start,” he said. “It’s a lot faster out on the edge.”
Jauron said he works with all the young defensive backs in different ways. Besides Skrine, Trevin Wade and Johnson Bademosi are rookie cornerbacks.
“I’m not sure any two people learn the same way,” he said. “You teach in the meeting room and then take it on to the field and apply in the game on Sunday.”
Big Fan of Jauron: Shurmur said that he has always admired defensive coordinator Dick Jauron and was very glad he was able to get him to join his staff last year. Shurmur said his uncle, Fritz Shurmur, who was defensive coordinator for the Packers under Mike Holmgren always raved about Jauron.
“I’m a big fan of Dick and what he has done,” Shurmur said. “Dick played for my uncle Fritz. I used to ask him and at some point he said Dick was his favorite player and coach in the league. That always stuck with me and fortunately when I got the job here, I was able to talk with him at Philadelphia and bring him here.”
Jauron has been a head coach at two different NFL stops, the Bills and the Bears.
“He’s a highly moral and credible guy,” Shurmur said. He’s a very calming force for me.”
Fujita’s Presence: When the suspension on LB Scott Fujita was lifted, one of the negatives was it limited the playing time for rookie LB L. J. Fort and LB Craig Robertson.
“He’s clearly taken their reps and that’s the way it should be,” Jauron said. “He has all that experience and it helps them to see a really good veteran and how he approaches the game and plays. It will be beneficial in the long run.”
Robertson played in a reserve role against the Bengals, while Fort only played on special teams.
Injury Update: TE Alex Smith (concussion) and LB James-Michael Johnson (ribs/oblique) did not practice Thursday and remain doubtful for Sunday’s game. OL Oniel Cousins (ankle), WR Josh Cribbs (knee), DL Juqua Parker (foot), DB Ray Ventrone (hand) and DL Billy Winn (head) all practiced and are listed as questionable. LB Scott Fujita (knee), WR Greg Little (back) and RB Trent Richardson (knee) are probable.
For the Bills: S Jairus Byrd, DL Marcell Dareus, RB Fred Jackson and WR Ruvell Martin were all listed as questionable.
Ivy League Connection: Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick played his college football at Harvard, while Jauron played at Yale. It is one of the oldest rivalries in college football and Jauron said it is every bit as intense as Ohio State-Michigan between the two Ivy League schools.
“It’s like every other game you’ve ever been to,” he said. “They have loud fans. There’s lot of preparation. The only difference is that it has been around more than most (rivalries). It’s like any other rivalry where teams want to beat each other badly.”
Big Game: The coaching staff knows how important to win this week and not drop to 0-3.
“It’s important to win,” Shurmur said. “I don’t know the statistics of it all, but we have to win. Regardless, there are other teams in our situation in the league trying to get their first victory.”
Jauron said the Browns will not hold back anything this week.
“We’re going to expend all of our energy to win the football game.”
Third Down Trent: Offensive coordinator Brad Childress said he sees a time when RB Trent Richardsonwill be used more and more on third down.
“We’ve used him as we see fit,” he said. “We had Obie (Chris Ogbonnaya) written into the script lastweek and he’s done a good job. I believe many hands make light work. I think you’ll see Trent workmore into those third down situations. We want to use him in the areas that he’s mastered.”
Childress was very impressed with the run Richardson made after the catch on his touchdown reception.
“I don’t know if you can get any better than that,” Childress said. “He can get in the (end zone) a couple of different ways. He can make you miss, but also lower his pads.”
Childress felt Richardson’s poor numbers in his first game against the Eagles was that he was never ableto get loose.
“I don’t think he had too many opportunities,” he said. “It was probably the circumstances.”