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Joe B: 5 things to watch for in Bills - Browns (12/17/16)

Joe B: 5 things to watch for in Bills - Browns (12/17/16)
Posted at 4:34 PM, Dec 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-17 16:39:44-05

The Buffalo Bills have only three weeks remaining in the 2016 season, with only a glimmer of hope remaining of making the playoffs. And up next is a date with the worst team in the National Football League: the Cleveland Browns.

This season, the Browns have the type of team that’s worthy of an 0-13 record — a clear indication that the franchise has done everything in its power to bottom out in the effort to rebuild it from the ground up.

How do the Bills matchup against the Browns? Five things to watch in the upcoming contest:

1) McCoy might set his single-game season high
- Bills running back LeSean McCoy has had his fair share of success in the 2016 season, and that should only continue on Sunday — this time, perhaps with an exclamation point. The Browns have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, only matched by the run defense we saw when the San Francisco 49ers came to town earlier in the season. That resulted in McCoy’s second-highest rushing total of 2016: 140 yards on only 19 carries and also had three touchdowns to go along with it. Several pieces of the front seven, with the exception of nose tackle Danny Shelton, outside linebacker Jamie Collins, and linebacker Christian Kirksey, will be able to be controlled by the Bills offensive line. Even without the likes of Cordy Glenn in the lineup, McCoy and backup Mike Gillislee should be able to win those battles all game long. Given the weather, and the likelihood that the Bills will be winning for much of the game, the Bills getting to 250-300 total yards on the ground isn’t that far out of the question.

2) An underestimated Browns run game
- The last two weeks, the Bills have gotten gashed on the ground by Oakland and Pittsburgh respectively. The troubling part, is that it was done when the Bills were missing only one major piece of the their defensive front seven in only one of those two contests. Preston Brown has regressed into his form from 2015, Leger Douzable and Adolphus Washington showed last week that their roles were too much for them to handle, and Zach Brown has come back down to Earth after a great start to the season. With the Bills inability to stop the run recently, a Browns offensive line that has actually performed well in some spots, and a running back in Isaiah Crowell that has a little pep in his step when running the ball, I think the Browns will actually be able to have some success on the ground early on against the Bills. It will all be determined by how well they get to the second level and cover up Preston Brown, who is a clear weakness against the run time and time again. The trouble is, with the Browns defense being as bad as it is, they’ll likely have to abandon it in the hopes for more points.

3) Dareus should dominate up the middle
- While I did point out that the Browns have played relatively well along the offensive line, that is only for the majority of it. That does not include starting center Cameron Erving, who Bills fans might be remotely familiar with, seeing as how he was the player Cleveland selected with the additional first round pick that Buffalo provided in the Sammy Watkins trade on draft day. Erving has been one of the weakest interior offensive linemen in the league, and going up against a player with Marcell Dareus’ talents, he could completely wreck the Browns’ passing attack and designed interior runs. If Kyle Williams is actually able to play, I’ll be interested in watching how right guard Jonathan Cooper stacks up to the challenge. The former first-round pick is trying to revive his career in Cleveland and played in his first game this past week — and actually performed fairly well. Those two spots are likely the weakness of this offensive line, which could turn the passing game on its head.

4) Robert Griffin III is not the same RG3 we all once knew
- The Browns finally got quarterback Robert Griffin III on the field, and my oh my, it was not pretty. The quarterback is the shell of the exciting young player we saw in Washington early on in his career. When he drops back to pass, he doesn’t see the whole field and dawdles in the pocket to the point where he then has to move all around. He’s completely inaccurate, and when he throws the deep ball, he just wings it up into double, or sometimes triple coverage with a reckless abandon. Turnovers, and not just in the singular sense feel like they’re likely with quarterbacking like that and the starting cornerbacks that the Bills have, and how well they’ve been playing recently.

5) A winnable matchup for Kouandjio, Mills
- The Browns pass rush has been uninspiring to say the least, and they’ll be using a pair of rookie edge rushers in Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib to try and get after Tyrod Taylor. Likely without Cordy Glenn due to a back injury, Cyrus Kouandjio will get the start at left tackle and go up against Ogbah. Kouandjio has had his struggles this season, but has looked more comfortable on the left side than the right. This will be a good gauge game for the Bills front office, nearly at the end of his third season, to see the progress he’s made as a player. If he wins the matchup as he probably should against a rookie player, then it should bode well for his status to be on the team in 2017. If he struggles, that could be further affirmation of just how far he is from being a starting caliber player. On the right side, the Bills should already be thinking about life after Jordan Mills. However, Mills has a matchup that won’t completely turn the game on its head, so he should be able to hold his own.

Injuries:

Buffalo
OUT: OLB Lerentee McCray (concussion)
DOUBTFUL: LT Cordy Glenn (back)
QUESTIONABLE: DL Kyle Williams (back), WR Sammy Watkins (foot), TE Charles Clay (knee), ILB Zach Brown (ankle)

Cleveland
QUESTIONABLE: LB Dominique Alexander (abdominal/groin)

Prediction: Bills over Browns
- The Bills have the advantage at almost every single position on the field. If they manage to lose to the Browns, who are clearly putting out a team that isn’t on the same level as the rest of the NFL — at home, no less — then that would be one of the most embarrassing home losses in several seasons. I expect the Bills, with the talent they have, to win the game handily.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia