Two vastly different ground attacks highlight Thursday night's showdown between the Buffalo Bills and the host Cleveland Browns. The Bills boast one of the most robust rushing games in the NFL through the first month of the season, but has struggled defending the ground game. The Browns have the opposite problem, limiting opponents' rushing yards but struggling mightily to generate their own.
Here's the breakdown in our betting tale of the tape:
Buffalo is still looking for consistency from its passing game behind rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel. The Bills rank 28th in the league in passing yards per game at 198, with just five touchdowns and three interceptions. The rushing attack is another matter altogether, with Buffalo sitting second in the NFL at 152 yards per game. What makes that statistic stand out is the fact that feature back C.J. Spiller has been underwhelming so far in 2013, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry and still looking for his first rushing touchdown of the year.
The Browns' decision to trade lead back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts without getting a rusher in return signaled the start of a dreadful committee that has resulted in one of the worst ground attacks in the NFL. Cleveland is averaging a paltry 76 rushing yards per game - the sixth-worst mark in the league - and are one of only two teams, along with St. Louis, without a TD on the ground. The passing game has improved dramatically with Bryan Hoyer under center, ranked 13th in total yards (991) and tied for ninth in touchdowns (seven).
The Bills' pass defense has been mostly mediocre, allowing the 10th-most yards in football (1,108) and the ninth-most touchdowns (eight). The Bills do have a star in the making in rookie LB Kiko Alonso, who has racked up four of the Bills' league-leading nine interceptions. Where Buffalo really struggles is in rush defense, where it has surrendered the sixth-highest yardage total and the ninth-highest yards-per-attempt average (4.2). The Bills have managed the red zone well, however, allowing just one rushing store.
As poorly as the Browns run the ball, they don't let other teams do it, either. Cleveland's rush defense is the class of the NFL through the first four weeks, allowing the fewest yards per carry (2.9) and limiting opponents to a longest run of just 14 yards. Strangely, however, the Browns have permitted five rushing touchdowns on the year, tied for the third-most in the league. Cleveland has been stingy through the air, as well, limiting opponents to 213 yards per game while allowing just two touchdowns - tied for the fewest in the NFL.
Bills placekicker Dan Carpenter has connected on 10-of-11 field goals so far this season, including two 27-yarders and a 22-yarder in Buffalo's 23-20 triumph over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4. The Bills have had just two kick returns for a total of 37 yards, while averaging 8.1 yards per attempt on seven punt returns. Buffalo has done well in minimizing opponents' returns, allowing the ninth-fewest yards per kickoff return (20.1) and sitting near the middle of the pack in average return yards per punt (8.4).
Cleveland has had plenty of experience on kickoff returns - bringing back nine to date - and is averaging 25.9 yards per return, good for eighth in the NFL. The Browns' 7.7-yard average on punt returns ranks 15th out of 32 teams. Cleveland is limiting opponents to 20.3 yards per kickoff return - ranking 10th overall - and has surrendered just 67 total yards on 10 punt returns. Veteran placekicker Billy Cundiff has struggled to date, converting just five of his seven field-goal attempts. Both of his misses came in last week's win over Cincinnati.
"Sitting at 2-2, it's not where we wanted to be. But after an 0-2 start, it's as good as we could have done. Sitting there with a lot of games to go, but still fighting in the division. You can't ask for any more." - Browns tackle Joe Thomas
"It just shows you, like I've heard Fred (Jackson) saying, 'We're not the same Bills.' I would say fans are starting to believe. And we're going to keep believing and keep pushing." - Bills safety Da'Norris Searcy