The Buffalo Bills travel to Cleveland to play the Browns in this week’s Thursday night matchup. The biggest injury question heading into this game has to do with who will be running the football for the Bills. As it turns out, that question may not be answered until just before kickoff.
C.J. Spiller, ankle (questionable), and Fred Jackson, knee (probable): Both backs took hits that left a mark last Sunday; Spiller sprained his left ankle and Jackson sprained his medial collateral ligament (MCL).
Jackson, familiar with the nature of an MCL sprain after suffering a similar injury last season, indicated his ailment this time around was far less serious and that he fully expected to play Thursday night. He seemed to back that up by participating in practice this week, albeit on a limited basis and sporting a brace. While knee braces do not come with a guarantee of preventing injury, they can be particularly helpful with medial ligament sprains. Reinforcements along the inner aspect of the brace can help provide good resistance against medial (valgus) stress, which would bow the knee inward, stressing the MCL. Jackson, listed as “probable,” is expected to play. There don't appear to be any major concerns about him being limited.
Spiller, however, might be a different story. He came into last Sunday’s game with a quad injury, but after practicing in full every day, did not appear to be limited ... until the ankle injury. After spraining his ankle, Spiller carried the ball just two more times and expressed uncertainty as recently as Tuesday about his status for Thursday night. "If I can go, I'll go," Spiller said. "If I can't, I can't." According to ESPN.com’s Mike Rodak, Spiller was still walking with a “heavy limp” after Tuesday’s practice, where he was at least able to do some jogging.
Jogging or not, it’s clear his ankle will not be at full health just four days after suffering the injury. Even if Spiller -- who practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday -- is active, he seems to be in line for less work than usual, particularly if he cannot run effectively. The biggest hint that the Bills are concerned came in the form of adding another running back, practice squad player Ronnie Wingo, to the travel list. Rodak, citing a league source, said Wingo will travel with the team, but the Bills have not yet decided whether to activate him. The Bills also have Tashard Choice, who stepped in last Sunday when both Spiller and Jackson were ailing and could be in line for more action on Thursday. Spiller’s status may come down to pregame warm-up tests to see how his ankle tolerates planting and cutting.
Steve Johnson, hamstring (probable): Johnson’s presence on the injury report because of his hamstring is nothing new, and he is expected to play Thursday night. Given the short week -- not to mention the tricky nature of hamstring injuries -- Johnson was held to limited practices throughout the week.
To put it mildly, Johnson did not have his best outing last Sunday (one reception for a 1-yard loss on six targets), perhaps due in part to not physically being at his best. He dealt with a hamstring injury in the preseason as well, pulling up while running a route just days into training camp. A sore hamstring can be a receiver’s nemesis, making it difficult to get an edge on separation or limiting vertical range. This week, Johnson goes go toe-to-toe with Browns cornerback Joe Haden, which doesn’t make things any easier.