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Browns vs. Buccaneers: NFL Week 7 Preview and Prediction

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Can the Browns pick up their first road victory?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 7 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.


Position-by-Position Evaluation


Quarterback

  • This week features a battle of No. 1 overall picks; Jameis Winston from 2015, and Baker Mayfield from 2018. Winston hasn’t been a bad quarterback in his first four seasons, but has probably been a bit more turnover-prone than fans would prefer. I mean, I think fans were ready to ride high with Ryan Fitzpatrick after his magical first two games, and that would not happen if Winston had been blowing everyone away the past few years with his performance. He has a strong arm and a few years of experience over Baker Mayfield, coming off of his first bad start. How about this great play design from last week that nearly worked for Tampa Bay, by the way?
  • We will know early on how Baker Mayfield’s ankle feels. Even if it is sore, he should have had the week of practice to test it out, and he wasn’t even listed on the injury report. Mayfield faces one of the worst secondaries in the NFL this week, which should provide he and his receivers an opportunity to bounce back in a major way.

Running Back

  • Peyton Barber is the Buccaneers’ leading rusher with 63 carries for 230 yards (3.7 YPC). Rookie Ronald Jones only has 11 carries for 32 yards (2.9 YPC). Tampa Bay only has 1 touchdown on the ground this year vs. 16 through the air. Thus far, the Buccaneers’ running backs have not been involved in the passing game at all.
  • Carlos Hyde may have only been averaging 3.4 YPC, but he was getting plenty of carries and doing a solid job. With that said, I don’t hate the move at all because it forces the coaching staff to play Duke Johnson and Nick Chubb more. I don’t know which back will be treated as the “starter,” but this could be where a true time share works out. Chubb has broken big runs with outside sprints and sneaky speed, while Johnson has been clamoring for more reps after getting a contract extension this offseason. The Browns still have the much-preferred group of backs this week over the Bucs, but the one concern I do have comes to Chubb in pass protection:

Wide Receiver / Tight End

  • The Buccaneers are pretty scary at wide receiver and tight end. Let’s start with receiver, where DeSean Jackson is averaging 23.9 yards per catch and leads the team with 501 yards receiving. Mike Evans has been one of the league’s best receivers for years, and he’s not far behind with 484 yards receiving. Chris Godwin adds 249 yards and leads the group with 4 touchdown receptions (Jackson and Evans each have three). I look at the Buccaneers’ receiving situation and I see visions of what I thought Cleveland may have had back in training camp, except it didn’t come true for the Browns.
  • Tampa Bay has a pair of tight ends who can do damage and most certainly will look to do so with Joe Schobert out. O.J. Howard has 15 catches for 284 yards and 2 touchdowns, while backup Cameron Brate has 3 touchdowns on 7 catches for 78 yards.
  • Is Jarvis Landry due for a big game? Over the past three weeks, he has totaled 11 catches on 30 targets for 114 yards and 1 touchdown. That is not nearly good enough. Meanwhile, Antonio Callaway’s drops are still a problem, and the club doesn’t know who its third receiver is (Damion Ratley is the favorite again after having 6 catches for 82 yards last week). This team is best when the receivers “make an abover average play,” something that has been far and few between.

Offensive Line

  • The Buccaneers’ starting offensive line includes LT Donovan Smith, LG Ali Marpet, C Ryan Jensen, RG Caleb Benenoch, and RT Demar Dotson. Tampa Bay is very weak on the right side of the line; PFF notes that Benenoch was on pace to allow 16 sacks on the year, the most ever by a significant margin for their tracking system. Benenoch was pulled mid-way through last week’s game, but it’s unclear if he’ll be given another chance this week or not.
  • JC Tretter was on the injury report this week, with Austin Corbett close to making his first start. It looks like Tretter will play, though, and he’s arguably been the team’s best lineman this year. PFF ranks Cleveland’s line 15th in the NFL vs. 26th for the Buccaneers.

Defensive Line

  • The Buccaneers run a 4-3 defense. They are without two of their starting linemen this week: DE Vinny Curry and DT Gerald McCoy. McCoy has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past six years, so that is a big loss for Tampa Bay up front. That opens the door for first-round pick DT Vita Vea to get some more action, but he doesn’t have a tackle all year. DE Carl Nassib could start for Curry, returning to face his former team. DE Jason Pierre-Paul leads the team with 5 sacks.
  • I’d love to see the Browns try to move Myles Garrett around on the line some more to match him up against the Buccaneers’ right side a few times. Garrett was also vocal this week about officiating, so it’ll be interesting to see if he gets the quick whistle or the non-holding calls against him. Cleveland gets the edge on the defensive line due to the Buccaneers’ depth concerns this week.

Linebacker

  • The Buccaneers’ linebackers are SLB Adarius Taylor, MLB Kwon Alexander, and WLB Lavonte David. David is a big reason for the Buccaneers’ successful run defense, as he and Alexander play every snap each week.
  • The Browns, meanwhile, are without MLB Joe Schobert, their Pro Bowler from a year ago who was actually playing like one (kind of) this year. The team will shuffle Christian Kirksey back to the middle this week, and Genard Avery will get some more work on the outside. But I’ll be curious if it is Jabrill Peppers who actually sees more action in the box.

Secondary

  • The Buccaneers’ starting cornerbacks are Brent Grimes and Carlton Davis. Davis, a second-round pick, started the first four games but missed the last two to injury. He should return this week, but neither he nor Grimes have excelled at their craft. Grimes’ production has faded with age. They lost former first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves early in the year to injury. Jordan Whitehead and Justin Evans start at safety. Tampa Bay has one total interception this year.
  • I’m not optimistic about the fact that T.J. Carrie is starting this week for the injured E.J. Gaines (who was already filling in for Terrence Mitchell). My confidence in Carrie is just about at zero, and you had better believe that Jameis Winston knows his receivers can win that battle every single time. It is because of that liability that I downgraded Cleveland from having a sure-lock advantage in the secondary to just “even” this week. I do like the fact that Briean Boddy-Calhoun gets a chance at some redemption in the slot, though.

Special Teams

  • Chandler Catanzaro is the Buccaneers kicker. A career 84.5% player, he has made 6-of-7 kicks this year, but has only tried a long of 36 yards. He has range, though, having hit from 57 and 60 yards the past two years. He has missed two extra points this year. Greg Joseph has quietly made 8-of-9 field goals now -- most of them short, but they still count.
  • Bryan Anger is the Buccaneers’ punter. He is averaging 42.5 yards per punt with a net average of 39.2; marks that are in the lower half of the league. Britton Colquitt has gotten his average up after a couple of strong games, but his net average is still really low (36.8) due to returns allowed.
  • Jabrill Peppers actually had some good returns last week — a miracle! Hopefully it gave him the confidence he needed to get going. Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson return punts for the Buccaneers, but haven’t gotten much going in that department this year.

Predictions

Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.


Chris Pokorny: “This game has ‘shootout’ written all over it. I’d like to think that Cleveland’s defense will be fired up to be better, but Joe Schobert and E.J. Gaines being out leave two big holes against a pass-heavy attack. Cleveland’s offense will actually contend in the shootout this week by default — this Buccaneers defense can’t stop anyone. The difference between these two clubs will be that the Browns have been forcing turnovers while the Buccaneers haven’t — and for once, the Browns will capitalize on their turnovers with touchdowns.” Browns 27, Buccaneers 23.


Mike Hoag: “New defensive coordinator, non-existent pass rush, and a struggling run game, these are not the keys to beating the Cleveland Browns. Peyton Barber finally got going last week, but the Buccaneers have struggled tremendously in establishing the run dating back to preseason. They field the worst scoring defense, have the second-fewest sacks, and deploy the league’s worst rushing offense.

There’ll be a ton of questions about the team’s path and future if they Browns away a game they probably should have won.” Browns 34, Buccaneers 28.


Thomas Moore: “Tampa Bay appears to do one thing well on defense, which is stop the run as the Bucs are at No. 5 in yards allowed per game. Of course, that could be because it is so easy to pass on their defense - dead last in the league in yards per game and tied for the most touchdown passes allowed - that teams don’t have to bother with the run game. Tampa Bay is also giving up a league-high 34.6 points per game.

So what does that mean for the Browns? After two-and-a-half games of general ineptitude, this week provides a prime opportunity to get the offense back in gear. Nick Chubb should be a good test to find out if Tampa Bay’s run defense is for real, and even with the limitations at wide receiver, there should be plays to be made for Baker Mayfield in the passing game.

The defense should be tested, however, as Tampa’s offense is as good as its defense is bad. Of course, no one should trust Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, even if he did have four touchdown passes last week. Cleveland’s defense is also hurting, especially in the secondary.

This Browns team has taught us this season that anything is possible, although the first road win of Hue Jackson’s tenure remains elusive. That will be the case again this week.” Buccaneers 45, Browns 42, in Overtime.


Ezweav: “The Curse made it’s presence felt last week, knocking out our #4 WR with too short a time to get a replacement, and then taking out our #3 WR like 5 seconds into the game, leaving our rookie QB fairly helpless and allowing the Chargers to stomp all over our faces.

It will be different this week as Tampa Bay’s defense is hot, sweaty garbage and they are missing key defenders to boot. They fired their DC Mike Smith, which is disappointing because he was pretty terrible. You can expect there to be some trouble for them to adjust, and Baker will rebound this week in a big way.

Unfortunately, their fascination with Fitzbeard has ended and they have their real quarterback in the lineup, and he is also going to have a day. With Joe Schobert out we can probably expect to have some vulnerability in the mid-range passing game, so expect OJ Howard to have roughly 700 yards as these two offenses race up and down the field, each making stupid mistakes.” Buccaneers 31, Browns 30.


Josh Finney: “I have no feel for this game. Nothing would surprise me. Should be a shootout.” Browns 11, Buccaneers 5.


Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.