This week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the rest of the AFC North playing at a high level, Cleveland can't afford to drop many more games to teams who have been playing at a level like the Buccaneers have been. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.take on the
Browns: As demonstrated in my game review last week, Brian Hoyer's stat line against Oakland concealed the fact that he really should have had 3-4 interceptions. That's not what I'm accustom to seeing from Hoyer, but he's clearly been off his game since the Browns have been not been able to run the ball. He'll have to be better with his decision-making this week, otherwise teams are going to bait him into certain throws.
: The jury is still out on Mike Glennon. In 18 games over the past 2 years, he has a great touchdown to interception ratio at 27:13. This year, he's thrown 8 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, showing why it was a head-scratching move for Lovie Smith to not even allow him to compete with Josh McCown this offseason for the starting role. Glennon isn't mobile and doesn't have the quickest release, and perhaps because of that, he takes a beating behind his porous offensive line.
Browns: After the past two weeks, the Browns' rushing average has tanked to 3.82 yards per carry. Cleveland still seems to be committing to Ben Tate as their primary back, but the playing time distribution for the backups is going to continue to cause rifts. It'll become less of an issue if the offensive line blocks well, though, because then it basically becomes a plug-and-play system, as it should be.
Buccaneers: Starting tailback Doug Martin is only averaging 2.9 YPC on the season, but he'll be sidelined this week with an ankle injury. His likely replacement is former Browns RB Bobby Rainey, who is the team's leading rusher this year, averaging 4.6 YPC and also being an active threat as a receiver. I'm sure Joe Banner will be glued to his television. Rainey has been plagued by 3 lost fumbles, though, which has led some fans to wonder whether Charles Sims will make his debut. Sims, a 3rd round pick this year, is being activated from the non-football injury list, but it's hard to tell what kind of condition he'll be in to contribute.
Browns: Still without Josh Gordon, the Browns took another hit in their weapons department when Jordan Cameron suffered a concussion last week. Andrew Hawkins is out of his mini-slump and contributing well, while Taylor Gabriel and Miles Austin continue to fill their niche. Travis Benjamin has faded, though catching no passes in his past two games.
Buccaneers: The receiver position no doubt remains the strength of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by their top two receivers, 6-5 Vincent Jackson and 6-5 Mike Evans. Since being picked up, Louis Murphy has been a pretty good No. 3 receiver as well. Tampa Bay also has two fairly athletic tight ends in Brandon Myers and rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins. With a better offensive line, the Buccaneers would be able to take advantage of the size mismatches more often, which is why Cleveland needs to get pressure on gameday.
Browns: This will be the second full week that Nick McDonald has been able to practice with the starting offensive line at center, so you'd hope to see an improvement. We know he's not going to be physically dominating, but the little things -- making the right line calls, snapping the ball better -- should gradually improve.
Buccaneers: I can't begin to tell you how excited I was when I heard that, by some miracle, Oniel Cousins would make his first start of the season for the Buccaneers this week, at left tackle no less! Keep in mind that the Buccaneers' offensive line has been pretty bad already without Cousins in the lineup. The acquisition of Logan Mankins hasn't cured the team's offensive line problems. For some reason, the Buccaneers have been randomly rotating former Browns guard Garrett Gilkey into the game every so often. The long bright spot is right tackle Demar Dotson, who has not allowed a single quarterback hit this season, per PFF.
Browns: Every time a lineman returns, another one seems to be taken away. This week, we see John Hughes depart to short-term IR and Billy Winn returning to start in his place. Desmond Bryant, Ahtyba Rubin, and Winn aren't a terrible starting trio, but Cleveland will lack depth until Phil Taylor comes back. Also, remember that Hughes was one of the team's better run defenders.
Buccaneers: I wouldn't say they are as threatening as the Jaguars' defensive front, but Tampa Bay has some pretty tough interior defensive tackles, led by Gerald McCoy. McCoy just received a massive contract extension this past week from the Buccaneers, and he's the highest-rated defensive tackle in football, per PFF. His partner, Clinton McDonald, has also played well. Defensive end Michael Johnson, formerly of the Bengals, has been a letdown in the pass rushing department. On the other side, William Gholston defends the run well.
Browns: The Browns should seriously consider lining up Paul Kruger over Oniel Cousins -- I'd like to think that Jabaal Sheard could rush Cousins too, but right now, why not ride the hot hand? Karlos Dansby continues to be a force at inside linebacker, with the other two youngsters playing steadily. Craig Robertson made several good stops against the run and in coverage last week.
Buccaneers: Lavonte David is credited as being one of the best outside linebackers in football, and he's the Buccaneers' leading tackler by far. He has been a force at shutting down the run, so if he comes up to the line, Cleveland might need somebody other than a tight end to try to handle him. The Buccaneers' other two starting linebackers include Danny Lansanah on the outside and Mason Foster in the middle.
Browns: The Browns will have a full complement of their defensive backs this week, and the cornerbacks will have to do a good job challenging the Buccaneers' top receivers. Tashaun Gipson is on a tear with the number of interceptions he is logging, and Donte Whitner rediscovered his aggressive edge last week with a key third-and-short stop and then a forced fumble.
Buccaneers: Tampa Bay traded starting safety Mark Barron, a first-round pick from 2012, to the Rams this past week. Taking his spot in the lineup will be Major Wright, who played under Lovie Smith in Chicago the past four years. On the outside, the Buccaneers feature Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks as their top two cornerbacks. Verner was a highly coveted cornerback this past offseason, so if there is someone the Browns should stay more away from, it's him. Banks has had his fair share of difficulties. The Buccaneers seem to have a lot of individual talent in their secondary when you factor in Dashon Goldson at the other safety position, but it just hasn't come together like they had hoped.
Browns: For the criticism that Billy Cundiff has faced, he's quietly been nailing his kicks. Spencer Lanning has been getting a lot more work as a punter the past two weeks, but he's erased the inconsistent/shank type of punts that he had in 2013. The punt return game still remains a concern, but I have a feeling that Travis Benjamin will get another shot this week. Cleveland's kick return coverage ranks 2nd in the NFL while their punt return coverage is 9th in the NFL.
Buccaneers: Patrick Murray is in his first year with the Buccaneers and is 7-of-9 on field goals this year. He is 3-of-3 from beyond 50 yards. The Buccaneers have the worst-performing punter in the league, Michael Koenen, when it comes to punt distance and net average. Koenen also handles kickoffs. Tampa Bay's return position is a work in progress; they added Marcus Thigpen the other day from their practice squad, and he could be the new return man. The Buccaneers' coverage units are in the bottom half of the league.
This is one of those games where you can't necessarily look at the position battles straight up. I think the Buccaneers have more individual talent than the Jaguars and the Raiders, but for whatever reason, things just aren't clicking and there doesn't seem to be a good flow to their offense. With all of the trades they've made, once the Buccaneers get down, there's no coming back. The way they'll get down this week is when they have no protection at left tackle and the Browns hold on to an early lead.
Cleveland Browns 24, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14
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