After spending two days practicing against one another in western New York, the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills will strap up the helmets and go against one another one more time on Thursday night in northeast Ohio. This time it counts, well sort of as the Browns and Bills play preseason game number two at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The two teams got some much needed work in on Monday and Tuesday at the Bills training camp at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, New York just outside of Rochester. The only newsworthy story to come out of the two days of workouts were more injuries. The biggest injury is to the Bills biggest addition to their roster during the offseason, running back LeSean McCoy.
The Bills running back left Tuesday evening’s practice with a hamstring injury. He won’t play Thursday night in Cleveland, but hopes to be ready for the Bills season opener on September 13 against against the Indianapolis Colts. The Bills are very thin at the running back position entering Thursday night’s game. McCoy and backups Fred Jackson and Bryce Brown are all expected to miss the game. This would have been a great test for the Browns defense as they continue to improve on the worst run defense in the league from last year.
“It is what it is. We will just make do and we will be fine,” Bills head coach Rex Ryan said. “I would be a lot more concerned if this was a regular season deal. We thought two areas that we thought had a lot of depth at, well not so fast.”
The Browns couldn’t dodge the injury bug by taking two days of practice on the road. Terrelle Pryor and Justin Gilbert both pulled up lame and are expected to be held out of Thursday’s game. Pryor aggravated his hamstring again. This will be the third straight game situation that the former quarterback turned wide receiver will not be a part of. It certainly doesn’t help his chances of being on the final 53-man roster. The injuries are becoming a real concern.
“I don’t know the league numbers,” Browns head coach Mike Pettine said. “Just from what I have been told, the numbers are up. I am sure people will be doing studies on post-new CBA – how those rules have affected injuries – but I would be interested to see it.”
Gilbert doesn’t appear to be flawless after all. The Browns cornerback said following last week’s preseason loss to the Redskins that his performance was flawless despite allowing a near touchdown to Pierre Garcon who broke free of Gilbert. He left Tuesday’s practice with what appeared to be a hip flexor.
The Browns secondary is expected to be a little thin with Gilbert’s injury. Joe Haden is also not expected to play because of a hamstring injury. With Haden, the important thing is to have him healthy for September 13.
“I doubt Joe will go,” Pettine said. “I think what we would like to do is time it up for Tampa that we can have as many of our ones and key backups out there and get some quality work then. We are looking to get some solid work done Thursday night.”
One guy who took advantage of the two days of practice against the Bills was defensive tackle Danny Shelton. The rookie made quite an impression not only on his teammates bur members of the Bills offensive line, most notably former all pro Richie Incognito.
“I think it was great,” Shelton said. “It’s a chance for us to get some competition, different competition. The Bills obviously have a good organization. It’s just a great time here.”
“Man, he’s a big guy,” Incognito said. “He takes up so much space. He’s got a good foundation. He’s strong.”
“Richie Incognito, he’s one of the lineman that I always wanted to go against because I know for sure I’m going to get competition from him,” Shelton said. Just a great time to go against some great linemen and just a different competition. I had a good time out here.”
Thursday’s game will be the first meeting between Pettine and Ryan as head coaches. The two are very familiar with one another as Pettine worked under Ryan in both Baltimore and with the New York Jets. Pettine learned a lot from his fellow defensive specialist on being a coach in the NFL.
“There is a lot: his passion for the game, his outlook, his approach to it, his approach to handling people and understanding that coaching, just like a lot of leadership roles, it is more about people than it is the Xs and Os,” Pettine said. “From a scheme standpoint, he and I having built that playbook together in Baltimore and taking it up to New York and just how it has progressed over the years and kind of dove-tailed off into some different things. Just some of our conversations tonight about new coverages in the red zone. The ability to talk graduate level football to him has always been a real positive part about the relationship.”
The Browns and Bills played last year in the regular season at Ralph Wilson Stadium outside of Buffalo. The Bills dominated the second half and beat the Browns 26-10. Despite being just a couple hundred miles away from one another, this is the first preseason meeting between the Browns and Bills in the preseason since 2006. The Browns won the game in Orchard Park, New York 20-17. This is the first trip to Cleveland in the preseason for the Bills since 1986, the previous meeting in the preseason before the 2006 matchup. The Browns have dominated the preseason series against the Bills, Cleveland is 8-3 in the preseason against Buffalo.
Both the Browns and Bills are coming off losses in week one of the preseason. Cleveland lost at home to Washington 20-17. Buffalo lost at home to Carolina 25-24. Kickoff is at 8:00 p.m. Thursday night. The game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN. In the Cleveland area, the ESPN broadcast will be simulcast on WKYC Channel 3.