BEREA, Ohio -- Don't look now but the Browns defense is slowly but surely working itself to the top of the league charts.
Through the first quarter of the season, the Browns are now the third ranked defense, overall in the NFL. The Browns bread-and-butter has been stopping the run. They have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher, stopping the likes of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson.
However, the Bills are coming to Cleveland as the top rushing team in the AFC and the second-best overall, in the NFL, averaging 152 yards a game on the ground. The Browns are giving up just 79 yards a game on the ground with an average of just 2.9 yards per carry. By contrast, The Bills are averaging 4.1 yards a carry.
D'Qwell Jackson was asked if he felt the defense could be dominant.
"I think so," Jackson said. "Every week we've gotten better. One area we need to clean up is obviously, third down. Stopping the run, no one is going to be able to run on us this year, as long as we stay healthy and continue to grind the tape out and continue what we need to to on (game day). I don't think anyone will be able to run on us. We've faced one of the purest running backs in Adrian Peterson, so we feel that's what we do best and (that's) stopping the run. So yeah, we want to be a top defense when this season is over."
Joe Haden agreed.
"(The defense) can be really good," Haden said. "We have a lot of talent on this defense. We have starters that can play other spots. It's just everything is coming together and people are understanding their roles and making plays and that's the biggest thing. It's a standard now, and just making plays, we expect it. That's the biggest thing, when we do good, its's not a surprise, we expect to do good. Our defense is good enough to be one of the best."
The Bills are led by C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Spiller has 66 carries for 230 yards with a 3.5 average. Jackson has 48 rushes for 256 yards for an average of 5.3 average. Spiller rushed for 103 yards against the Panthers on Sept. 15.
However, Spiller injured his ankle and did not practice Tuesday, while Jackson practiced on a limited basis with a knee injury. Bills coach Doug Marrone was non committal about the duo playing, but sounded optimistic.
"Obviously, I'm looking forward to both playing, but they're just day-to-day."
Marrone, who interviewed for the Browns head coaching position, is impressed with the Browns defense.
"They're very stout up front," Marrone said. "They present quite a challenge for us."
Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel has enjoyed the benefits of having a good running game.
"Our running backs have done a great job," he said. "Our running game opens up a lot of things for the offense."
Haden says the Browns have to continue to stop the run, particularly this week.
"(The Bills) rely on their running game and pass when they have to."
Manuel is the wildcard in the offense, because he can scramble. He is the third-leading rusher for the Bills having picked up 77 yards on the season, including a long run of 19 yards.
"He can run," Haden said. "That's the thing we need to work on. A lot of times our pass rush gets up in there and our defense has good coverage, but we have to contain the quarterback. A lot of times it's not the running backs who hurt us, but the quarterbacks scrambling for the first down. We just have to make sure we don't let him get out of the pocket."
Haden was asked how do they make sure Manuel doesn't break containment.
"It's just everybody locking in and doing their job," Haden said. "It's all coming together. The front seven helps us out as they get there and we get a lot of cover sacks. Sometimes, when a receiver is open (the quarterback) doesn't see him because they're getting pressure. We're helping each other out."
Rob Chudzinski, who spent time with Manuel before the draft, knows how Manuel can hurt a defense.
"(Manuel) is extremely dangerous," Chudzinski said. "Obviously, he can run and make plays, extend plays. He’s accurate. He really was intriguing and impressive guy coming out, and all of the things off the field from a leadership standpoint, the type of person he is were very impressive.”
The Bills have the same record as the Browns at 2-2, but have scored between 20 and 24 points in all four games.
Chudzinski is encouraged by what he's seen in the Browns defense, overall.
“I’ve been encouraged by how they’ve play and how they’ve progressed and are progressing, particularly with the things that we wanted to work on in the past few weeks," he said. "It’s a good feeling. We’re playing good defense right now, and we hope that will continue.”
Who's No. Two?: With QB Brian Hoyer starting, Chudzinski wouldn't name the number two quarterback for the Bills game.
“We have not yet, we’ll see," he said. "(Tuesday) is our first day of an actual, true full speed practice. We’ll make that determination. We’ll see how Brandon (Weeden) does today and kind of where he’s at from that standpoint.
"Then we’ll have (Wednesday)," he said. "It’s not going to be 100-percent full speed, but it’ll be at a pretty good clip for practice tomorrow.”
"We haven't determined that yet," he said. "We'll see where Brandon (Weeden) is and make that determination. We'll see how he's doing."
Weeden was taking reps in the drills during the portion open to the media but no 11-on-11 scrimmages took place during that time.
Confident in Billy: Despite missing two of three field goal attempts, Chudzinski is confident i K Billy Cundiff.
"I've got all the faith in the world in Billy."
Cundiff (strained quad) practiced Tuesday.
Wildcat Man: The Browns signed undrafted rookie free agent MarQueis Gray as a tight end at the final roster cut downs, but he lined up twice last Sunday as the quarterback in the wildcat.
"It makes the defense prepare for a different look," Hoyer said.
Chudzinski said Gray was claimed as a future as a tight end. He played quarterback at Minnesota.
"If you have a guy with those talents, you want to use them."
New Back: The Browns signed RB/KR Fozzy Whittaker after releasing WR Josh Cooper from the roster. Chudzinski said he will be looked at as a kick returner.
“Fozzy is a guy that’s been a kick returner, very versatile as a running back," he said. "We felt like we would bring him in and see what he could do and (we’re) excited about having him. He’s just finishing up a physical now.”
Whittaker was on the practice field and is wearing number 35.
Prime Time: DB Joe Haden and DB T.J. Ward are looking forward to playing in Thursday's nationally televised game.
"It's cool, for sure," Haden said. "To have all your friends and everybody you know watching and that's the only game on and getting to play in front of everyone is special and you just want to go out there and play your best."
"Anytime you get to play on prime time, that's exciting."
Lauvao Ready: OL Shawn Lauvao (ankle) is optimistic that he will finally make his season debut Thursday night against the Bills.
"I'm pretty positive about playing (Thursday)," he said. "At the end of the day, it's up to the coaches."
Lauvao has missed the first four games after arthroscopic surgery on his ankle. OL Oniel Cousins has started at right guard in his place.
Sheard Status: LB Quentin Groves (ankle), DL Billy Winn (calf) and LB Jabaal Sheard (knee) did not practice on Tuesday. K Billy Cundiff (quad), OL Shawn Lauvao (ankle) and DL John Hughes (knee) were limited. Chudzdinski was asked about Sheard's status for this week's game.
“He’s coming (along); he’s improved quite a bit," Chudzinski said. "We’ll hold him for practice today, but we’ll wait and see what his status is for the game.”