Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Cleveland Browns Preview and Predictions


Oct 12, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson (83) against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were on the road against an AFC North opponent, they came away with a win in the final seconds. That was against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it is still the Bucs’ lone win on the season.

Still, don’t try to equate that into meaning that the Buccaneers are ready for their road contest against the Cleveland Browns today. Tampa Bay lost on the first play in overtime against one of the worst teams in the NFL, the Minnesota Vikings, last week. That came after the Buccaneers failed to score any points until the fourth quarter.

That will have to change this afternoon if the Bucs want to walk out of the “dawg pound” with a victory.

The quarterback for the Cleveland Browns today will be Brian Hoyer, and while his 57% completion percentage is nothing to write home about, his efficiency in leading this Browns attack is. With only two interceptions and eight touchdowns on the year, Hoyer is very capable of marching Cleveland down the field and making smart decisions with the football. The only way that will change is if the Buccaneers can assert pressure with their front four. They did that last week, but Teddy Bridgewater was able to avoid making a big mistake. We’ll see if Hoyer can do the same today.

Ben Tate will be leading the Browns’ rushing attack against the Buccaneers’ defense today, which is ranked dead last in the NFL. Stopping the run on first and second downs and forcing third and long passes will be the ultimate key for today’s game. The most sure-fire way to rattle an efficient quarterback is to put him into situations where he’ll have to throw when he doesn’t want to. Stopping Tate and company will be the first step into getting Hoyer off of his game.

On defense, the Browns are led by head coach Mike Pettine, who is a defensive mind. His schemes are one of the biggest reasons Cleveland has been competitive this year. They have a 4-3 record in the tough AFC North division, and that’s probably due to their turnover ratio. The Browns are +6 for takeaways on the year, so the Buccaneers will have to be careful, even though I know they are desperate to make plays.

If the Browns have one glaring weakness in 2014, it is time of possession. Teams have held the ball for an average of five more minutes per game against Cleveland, and the Bucs would be wise to control the clock and play keep away, if they can.

That’s a huge “if”.

With Doug Martin listed as doubtful on the afternoon, two men will be looked upon to breathe life into Tampa Bay’s rushing attack: Bobby Rainey, who is the biggest reason the Bucs are averaging 4.1 yards per carry on the ground this year, and rookie running back Charles Sims, who is returning from ankle surgery.

It is unclear whether or not Sims will actually play today, but he has been added to the active roster, so that’s what most people are expecting. The Buccaneers’ organization loves the talent that this kid can bring to an offense, so if he really is 100% healthy, expect him to get the ball often today in an effort to resurrect this offense from the dead, and help control the clock.

At receiver, Tampa Bay will need much better production from their wide receivers.

Vincent Jackson, who was rumored to be on the move at Tuesday’s trade deadline, turned in a zero catch performance against Minnesota last week. And with multiple drops per game from this receiver group, that’s something that they can’t afford to happen against this stout Cleveland defense.

Expect the Buccaneers to go back to rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, despite his costly overtime fumble last week. When healthy, ASJ is one of Tampa Bay’s top weapons on offense, and he will slowly be molding himself into one of the better pass-catching tight ends that this league has to offer.

The last factor in today’s game that’s worth going over is weather.

At kickoff time, it’s expected to be around 43 degrees in Cleveland, Ohio. Last week, the Buccaneers were playing in a toasty Raymond James Stadium on a day in which we had temperatures somewhere in the 80’s, that probably felt like the 90’s with the heat index. That’s a huge difference from one week to the next, and I can only hope that the Bucs don’t come out of the tunnel frozen like statues.

There will also be 12 mph winds, so Michael Koenen’s punting game will be another key to watch, as he tries to climb his way from the bottom of the league’s stat sheets.

Earlier in the week, we spoke with Jared Mueller of Dawg Pound Daily about the upcoming Buccaneers vs. Browns game. Here’s what he had to say.

1. The Browns are 4-3 in a tough AFC North heading into this Sunday. Where does the fan base stand going forward? Do they see how far they have progressed so far as a win or are they dead set on making that playoff push?

I think it will all be how the season goes, not the actual result. If the Browns get to 8 wins then loss their last 4 or 5 games that will be seen as a let down for awhile. If the Browns end up 8 – 8 with wins and losses along the way, especially competitive games like we have had all season, it will be seen as great progress. The biggest concern is at the QB position. Brian Hoyer has been the toast of the town, and nationally, but there are some things that cause fans to pause about getting behind him.

2. How is the confidence level for Brian Hoyer the rest of the way? Is there a chance we see Johnny Manziel in an expanded role at all this season?

Manziel will likely see an expanded role only if the team falls out of the race early. Hoyer has locked up the position with solid decision making and leading the team. His limitations are somewhat obvious: he struggles on deep throws and his accuracy can be a problem sometimes. Manziel showed very little in pre-season that he was ready for the NFL. He has a ton of work to do to learn how to be a pocket passer. Having towering Mike Evans in college really allowed him to throw balls up for completion. In the NFL, even when Josh Gordon comes back, that type of play doesn’t work. Expect Manziel for some today but nothing that will overwhelm you.

3. Who will be the Browns’ MVP for the rest of the season? Who has been their MVP so far?

The rest of the season will be interesting. I think Gordon’s return will be a huge spark for the team but I think Joe Haden has turned the corner on defense and will take the Defensive MVP for the rest of the season. On offense the Browns have a variety of players that can impact the game in different ways. He may not be the MVP but I expect Taylor Gabriel to come on strong in the second half.

So far Andrew Hawkins, the outstanding slot receiver, has been the Offensive MVP. I could watch @Hawk do his release moves all day long and not get bored. He sets up defenders so well and is quick out of every break. Hoyer has found him over and over again. Tashaun Gipson, our free safety, is doing an amazing job as a ball-hawk as our Defensive MVP.

4. Last week, the Browns looked like a completely different running team. For a team which prides itself on effectively running the ball, what went wrong this past Sunday? Is there a cause for concern?

It is a big cause for concern for the Browns. With Alex Mack gone the Browns line has been in shuffle. In the Zone Blocking Scheme it is so important that the line be on the same page and working together. The Browns had one unit the first week Mack was gone then changed it up again last week.

The line has to be able to block to make the offense go. The last two weeks the line has been getting blown back into the backfield which keeps the running backs from having room to run or find cut back lanes. Against the Bucs and Gerald McCoy that could be a huge issue. It is possible that Kyle Shanahan will play that to his advantage and run some delays and draws to let the defensive linemen up field and let the back slip in behind.

If the Browns can’t get the running game going for the third straight game it will be tough for them to win against anyone.

5. What is your prediction for the game on Sunday?

I think they get the ground game going a bit and take a victory today. Kyle Shanahan is going to have to dip into his basket of tricks to get some movement in the run game. Draws and delays will be one way as well as Jet Sweeps to Travis Benjamin and screen plays. Anything that can get the Bucs defense guessing.

The Browns defense has really come together and I expect them to have a field day against the passing game but struggle against the smaller Bobby Rainey and the fast Charles Sims. I expect the Bucs to hit on a long screen to one of those backs for a TD.

Browns 24 – Bucs 17


After seeing how the Bucs have played since their victory in Pittsburgh, there is no way I can predict them to win a football game with a straight face until they prove otherwise. Last week was an opportunity for a layup, but instead the Buccaneers clanked the ball off of the bottom of the rim and it smacked them right in the face.

Today, they’ll have the deck stacked against them.

They’re facing a team that can run the football, is efficient in their turnover ratio, on the road in their first true cold weather game of the year. They’ll need a pass rush to help them win the turnover battle today, and I’m not confident they’ll get one. Michael Johnson has been missing in action for the majority of this year, and for the Bucs’ sake, I hope he shows up today.

On offense, the Buccaneers will have to get back to basics: run the football, and when they see the defense start to stack eight players in the box, throw it over the top and hit Jackson or Mike Evans for a big play. That threat has been missing all season long, and it has hurt Tampa Bay badly.

The Browns are a well-coached team. They play smart, disciplined football and play to the strengths of their personnel. The Buccaneers, to say the very least, do not do any of those things.

Hopefully it’s close, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high.

Final Score: Cleveland Browns 30, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16.