Bills vs. Browns 2013: five questions with the enemy

Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

To prepare for the Buffalo Bills' Week 5 matchup with the Cleveland Browns, we spoke with Chris Pokorny at SB Nation's Browns site, Dawgs By Nature. Read on for his take on key Browns players and themes.

Without condemning Brian Hoyer to the same fate, I get something of a Ryan Fitzpatrick vibe from him: a no-holds-barred approach to quarterbacking, often for the better, sometimes for the worse. That kind of quarterback can be very endearing from a fan's perspective. What is Hoyer's ceiling, do you think, in Norv Turner's offense?

Pokorny: It's funny that you mention Ryan Fitzpatrick – when I was thinking about recent undrafted free agents who do well all of a sudden when thrust into a starting role, he was the first person who came to mind. I'm not certain what you mean by a no-holds-barred approach to quarterbacking. To me, that implies a little bit of recklessness, which I haven't seen from Hoyer.

Hoyer has great touch on his passes and makes very quick decisions, indicating he has a good grasp of what the defense is showing. He has been accurate with his passes and hasn't really tried to force a pass where he shouldn't have. When he was intercepted several times in his first start, it was because he didn’t anticipate another defender coming across the field in zone coverage.

As far as his ceiling goes, I'm still hesitant on proclaiming him as some savior, because it’s not every day you run into a too-good-to-be-true story. What I do like is that in back-to-back weeks, he has led either a game-winning touchdown drive, or a game-sealing touchdown drive. For him to have that poise late in the game means that Norv Turner is going to trust him with greater responsibilities in this offense. We've already started seeing new wrinkles and concepts being introduced into the offense over the past two weeks, although the return of Josh Gordon might have something to do with that, too.

What should we expect, in terms of a workload, between the Browns' new-look rushing attack featuring Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya and Bobby Rainey?

Pokorny: The Browns double up on Chris Ogbonnaya and use him as both a fullback and a running back, even though he is probably the smallest fullback in the NFL. Because of that dual role, he’ll be in for about half the snaps during the game.

Willis McGahee has played two weeks now, and he saw his reps increase a little bit from the first game to the second game. I think we'll continue seeing his workload increase, but he may only see about 40 percent of the reps this week against Buffalo. Therefore, this will still be very much a running-back-by-committee approach between Ogbonnaya, McGahee, and Rainey on Thursday. The Browns also signed running back Fozzy Whittaker the other day, who is expected to return kicks and could also possibly find his way into the committee mix.

Right now, I think many would struggle to come up with a more difficult one-two receiving punch to cover than Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon. How much do you attribute Hoyer's hot start to having double the amount of elite-level receiving talent that Brandon Weeden had?

Pokorny: When the offense struggled during the first two games, after reviewing the film, I actually came to the opinion that Brandon Weeden wasn't playing too bad. Two things were going wrong: his offensive line was getting him killed, and the receivers weren't getting separation. Before I knew about Weeden's thumb injury, I said, "I can't wait for Gordon to come back, because he could very well have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the offense, in a positive way." Weeden and Gordon showed good chemistry in the preseason, and I wanted to see more of that.

Hoyer has done some things better than Weeden; in particular, he gets rid of the ball much quicker, which helps reduce the issues the offensive line are having. I think Gordon's presence has also had a major influence on the offense winning the past two weeks, though. All of those catches he is making would previously go as incomplete passes or sacks, because none of the other receivers would get open or be able to catch the passes. To summarize, Hoyer certainly deserves props for what he's been able to do, but the reason I haven't completely given up on Weeden yet is because I know that Gordon is a key ingredient to the success of the offense the past two weeks.

Cleveland has been dynamite on defense this season. Does all of the credit for their improvement go straight to Ray Horton and his attack-first system, or have new players (Barkevious Mingo and Desmond Bryant for starters) made that much of a difference?

Pokorny: It is hard to segregate the two, so I will put it this way: it was necessary to get the likes of Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo, and Desmond Bryant, because those were the final three pieces our front seven needed, and each of them have shown they can play at a near-elite level. With regard to Ray Horton, I do like his attack-first system, but I think the ability he has to motivate players on this team like Phil Taylor, D’Qwell Jackson, and Joe Haden help ensure that everybody is playing smart football and with a lot of confidence.

Joe Haden has been the guy that Bills fans were hoping Stephon Gilmore would be before his wrist injury - a lockdown corner. Has he typically matched up with an opponent's top receiver this season (in this case Stevie Johnson), or does he stick to a specific position in Horton's system?

Pokorny: Through four weeks, he has primarily shadowed Mike Wallace, Torrey Smith, Greg Jennings, and A.J. Green. He has shut them down with great coverage and hasn't yielded a touchdown to any of them. Here are Haden's stats on each of them (and most of Smith's yardage came in zone coverage on a couple plays where Haden wasn't on him):

I would fully expect Haden to be on Stevie Johnson throughout the game, assuming he’s Buffalo’s clear No. 1 receiver. Occasionally, you’ll see Haden in zone coverage, so somebody else will be on Johnson, but that’s to be expected in a defense.

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