The Buffalo Bills' run defense gets to show just how new and improved it is Sunday when the team visits the Cleveland Browns.
Containing Cleveland's Trent Richardson, the most highly regarded running back to enter the NFL in the past five years, will be a key to the Bills' success.
"He's a very tough runner - downhill, keeps his shoulders square to the line," said Bills defensive end Mario Williams. "He's a power guy."
Buffalo ranked 28th in the NFL against the run last season and has been among the bottom 11 against the run seven straight years.
Results from the first two weeks this season are encouraging. Buffalo ranks only 24th, allowing 134 yards a game on the ground. That's just 5 fewer than last year's average. However, the total has been padded by garbage-time yardage given up in the fourth quarter. The Bills allowed only 84 rushing yards on 26 carries in the first three quarters against the New York Jets. They held Kansas City to 52 yards on 15 carries in building a 35-3 lead late in the third quarter of Sunday's game.
"We've done well," Williams said. "We've missed some tackles. I think that's the biggest thing. If we don't go out and miss tackles, I think we'll be better. I think we have to focus on making sure our tackling game is up to par, especially this week."
"It's obvious dating back from last year, we've gotten better as a defense," said Bills middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. "But we still don't feel like we've arrived or we've gotten to the point where we think we should be. We still think we can improve tremendously."
The Bills better be good against the 5-foot-9, 230-pound Richardson, who helped lead the University of Alabama to the national championship last year.
Richardson rushed for 109 yards and caught 36 yards in passes in Cleveland's 34-27 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday. Richardson showed his speed and quickness on a 32-yard touchdown run, taking a handoff on a draw play and bouncing to the right sideline to elude three defenders and score without being touched. He showed his hard-running on a 23-yard TD catch, taking a short check-down pass and running through four arm-tackling Bengals on the way to the end zone.
"He's very similar to the guy in Jacksonville, Maurice Jones-Drew, as far as his build and how he keeps his legs moving," said Bills linebacker Arthur Moats. "With him, you've got to drive your feet and gang tackle."
Richardson is a lot bigger than Jones-Drew, who is 5-7, 208. There were virtually no check marks against Richardson entering the draft after he produced 2,017 yards and 24 touchdowns in 13 games last year for the Crimson Tide. He also fumbled just once in 614 touches in college.
Cleveland picked him third overall, and he draws comparisons to Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, who was picked seventh in 2007.
"I don't see a huge difference between he and Adrian Peterson ... in terms of what they can provide," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said in April. "He has lateral agility like very few guys in the 230-pound range. You give him a crease, and he can take it. He can go. ... He can make double moves in open field and make things happen as a receiver after the catch."
"I saw a lot of him during my years I went up against him," said Sheppard, the Louisiana State product. "He's, in my opinion, one of the better backs in the NFL. He's good on first down, short yardage, third and long, he's good catching the ball out of the backfield."
The Browns ranked 28th in rushing last season. They're tied for 11th through two games this year.