The Buccaneers have lost three straight games after a 19-13 overtime loss to a struggling Minnesota Vikings team and are 1-6 on the season. What are the six things PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds is looking for in Tampa Bay’s upcoming game at Cleveland against the 4-3 Browns? Find out right here in SR’s Pick 6.
Who: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Cleveland Browns
Where: FirstEnergy Stadium – Cleveland, Ohio
When: 1:00 p.m. ET – FOX
Last meeting: Bucs have won three straight, including the last meeting in 2002
Series notes: Browns hold a 5-3 edge over the Bucs
1. RUN RAINEY, RUN
Doug Martin likely won’t play on Sunday due to an ankle injury he suffered against Minnesota. That’s probably a good thing due to the fact that he hasn’t rushed for more than 47 yards in any of his five starts this season. Bobby Rainey will likely get the start at running back and he will get the chance to go against a team he played with for six games in 2013 prior to joining the Buccaneers. Rainey was the Bucs leading rusher last year with over 500 yards and six total touchdowns (five rushing and one receiving).
Rainey remains the leading rusher with 287 yards and one touchdown on 62 carries, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Rainey, who also has a career-high 22 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown, could have some success against Cleveland, which has the 30th-ranked run defense, allowing an average of 143.4 yards per carry. Rainey is the Bucs’ shiftiest and most elusive back, although he is expected to share some carries with rookie Charles Sims, who is expected to be on the active roster by Sunday.
2. BASH THE BROWNS’ 3-BACK ATTACK
Tampa Bay did a reasonably good job against Minnesota’s two-headed backfield of rookie Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata last week. McKinnon had 83 yards on 16 carries (5.2 avg.), while Asiata had one yard on four carries (0.3 avg.) as Tampa Bay held the Vikings under 100 yards rushing. The Bucs defense will have to be even more stout against a better rushing attack in Cleveland.
Veteran Ben Tate has 305 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 84 carries (3.6 avg.), while rookies Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, who are a big, 225-pounders just like Tate, have rushed for 256 yards and four scores on 52 carries (4.9 avg.), and 254 yards and two TDs on 66 carries (3.8 avg). Because the three Browns rushers are powerful backs, Tampa Bay’s defense needs to do a better job of wrapping up and getting them on the ground. Cleveland has the 12th-ranked rushing attack, averaging 120 yards per game thanks to that big, three-headed monster.
3. HARRASS HOYER RELENTLESSLY
Tampa Bay’s defense has recorded just one sack over the past three games with Gerald McCoy notching one against Teddy Bridgewater last week. The Bucs’ awful pass rush needs to get better and begin to make life miserable for Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer, who has played well this season and kept first-round pick Johnny Manziel on the bench.
Hoyer has completed 57.3 percent of his passes for 1,714 yards with eight touchdowns and just two interceptions and a QB rating of 91. Hoyer has been sacked 10 times in seven games this season, and he isn’t easy to sack. With defensive end Michael Johnson questionable with a hand injury, the Bucs may have to rely on Larry English and Jacquies Smith to help the team’s edge rush on Sunday.
4. KEEP UP WITH CLEVELAND’S SHORT, SPEEDY WRs
The Browns will be without tight end Jordan Cameron on Sunday, so Hoyer will be targeted the smallest and fastest wide receiving corps in the NFL. That will present some challenges and match up problems for the Buccaneers defensive backs, especially the lanky Johnthan Banks, who is 6-foot-2, 185 pounds. Tampa Bay’s 31st-ranked pass coverage has really struggled this year, allowing 286 passing yards per game.
Andrew Hawkins, a 5-foot-7, 180-pound receiver, leads the Browns with 36 yards for 470 yards and a touchdown. Taylor Gabriel, a 5-foot-8, 167-pounder, has 16 catches for 317 yards. Travis Benjamin, who stands just 5-foot-10, 175 pounds has nine catches for 148 yards and three scores. Alterraun Verner, who stands just 5-foot-10, 187 pounds is the quickest and fastest cornerback on the team and he’ll have to lock down one side of the field.
5. DUNKANEERS NEED TO SHOW UP IN CLEVELAND
LeBron James isn’t the only dunker in Cleveland these days. Tampa Bay’s trio of 6-foot-5 targets – wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins – will also be in town to face the Browns. Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon needs to use the height advantage of these receivers against the short Browns secondary that consists of starting corners Buster Skrine, who is 5-foot-8, and Joe Haden, who is 5-foot-11.
Glennon is getting more comfortable throwing downfield, evidenced by a 40-yard completion to Evans last Sunday against Minnesota, which was a career-long reception by the rookie. Rookie Justin Gilbert, who is 6-foot, 202 pounds, offers the Browns the most favorable size matchup when going up against Tampa Bay’s gigantic pass-catchers.
6. BUCCANEERS PASS PROTECTION HAS TO HOLD UP
Tampa Bay has had a horrendous two-game stretch in terms of pass protection, surrendering 10 sacks combined against Baltimore (five) and Minnesota (five). The good news is that the Bucs won’t be facing another team wearing purple this week. They’ll be squaring off against the Browns, whose starting defensive line doesn’t have a sack this season. However, Cleveland runs a 3-4 defense and its linebacking corps features the real pass rushers, as inside linebacker Karlos Dansby has three sacks and outside linebacker Paul Kruger has five.
With left tackle Anthony Collins listed as doubtful with a foot injury, reserve Oniel Cousins has been getting reps in his place in practice this week and could see his first start there against his former team. Tampa Bay’s offensive line needs to do a much better job in pass protecting and also eliminating drive-killing holding penalties, as backup guard Garrett Gilkey was flagged twice on back-to-back plays last Sunday against Minnesota. The offensive line can help themselves by establishing a strong ground game against the Browns and staying out of third-and-long situations.
SR’s Prediction: Browns 27, Buccaneers 20
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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35 Browns, 12 Bucs.
seat, agree on Browns win, not sure we score 12
I really dislike statements like “Glennon is getting more comfortable throwing downfield, as evidenced by a 40 yard completion…” Seriously? It was one, yes ONE completion! I guess we have to look at whatever tiny accomplishments we can find. Greg Cosell of ESPN said the Bucs have the slowest offense in the NFL. Couple that with little O-line blocking and the fact that Glennon has no pocket presence (stands completely still) & no quick release, no wonder our offense is offensive.
Warren, agree on Glennon. He is not the answer unless the question is, who should NOT be a starting QB in the NFL. great backup, not a starter. The Browns are much better than we are. we may not score 10 points. My prediction Browns 28-7
Oneil Cousins, Garrett Gilkey, ED Smith….oh my…..can we just forfeit this one….and the rest of this year….with the first pick we can get Mariota, with the second pick we can get a reasonable LT, and with the third pick a reasonable OG….and then we may have a chance to build something….
Being from Pittsburgh it was really great for the Bucs to win there and keep my Steeler fan family, who still reside there, silent. But my wife’s family is from Cleveland so another upset victory would be almost as special. We should be able to hear the laughter from the Browns defense when we trot out ex-Browns Cousins and Gilkey to protect the statuesque Glennon. Maybe the other ex-Brown Rainey can spoil their fun. Still hopeful. Not convinced we can win a game this season; but perhaps our opponent can find a way to lose like the Steelers did.
completely agree IF another team finds a way to lose, we have a CHANCE to win. With Schiano the past 2 years were by far better than this team but hey blame players not coaches…
OK, so it seems like expectations are now rock bottom. Bucs on the road. Nobody picking them to even be competitive. I smell a Bucs upset today, ala the Steelers win. They seem to play better on the road when few expect much…but not in a dome.
I’ll be at the game today, my brother bought me a ticket under one condition….wear a brown’s tee to the game; I guess I’ll be an under-cover bucs fan today. Hopefully Rainey and Cousins bring their A game against their former team! If the O-line plays well we will win this game, the browns are not playing well. We need to exploit the Evans-Gilbert rookie matchup down the field. Lavonte and GMC can handle anything they throw at us on D. Interesting what the secondary will look like with Barron gone (what a horrible trade) and then having him calling our scheme passive…STAY AWAY from Haden
Browns 27- Bucs 10
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