With a tough stretch of matchups looming in Weeks Eight and Nine against the Steelers and Chiefs, the Cleveland Browns seek a much needed road win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
In some ways this game could be considered a must win for Cleveland. For starters, another loss would give head coach Hue Jackson 35 Ls in his three seasons at the helm and add a can of gasoline to the already massive fire keeping his seat scorching hot. Any hope the Browns have of making the playoffs would all but disappear as well. Unfortunately, they’ll go to battle with the Buccaneers significantly undermanned, particularly in the secondary and at wide receiver.
Cornerback E.J. Gaines, who was holding down the right cornerback spot for Terrance Mitchell, is out with a concussion. The defense will also be without linebacker Joe Shobert. On the other side of the ball wide receiver Rashard Higgins will miss a second consecutive game, leaving the Browns with a less than impressive depth chart at receiver behind Jarvis Landry.
With so many injuries the Browns have their work cut out for them. Here are three keys to victory over Tampa Bay:
1) Pass, Pass, Pass
Yes, the Browns are thin at wide receiver but the formula for beating the Buccaneers is out there and it involves throwing the football – A LOT. The Buccaneers boast the league’s worst passing defense, yielding an abysmal 356 average yards per game to their opponents. They also are the easiest defense to score on, giving up an average of 34.6 points per game.
Tampa Bay enters Sunday on a three-game losing streak and in each of the three losses they surrendered 335 or more passing yards and over 30 points. Talk about bad timing for the injury bug to strike the Browns receiving corps. With the weapons that remain, Baker Mayfield has to find a way to move the ball through the air. Mayfield already gone over 300 yards passing once this season and come within five yards of that mark on another occasion. He can certainly do it again.
2) Take the Reins Rook
The Browns made headlines on Friday when they traded veteran running back Carlos Hyde to Jacksonville for a fifth-round pick. Now, rookie running back Nick Chubb finally gets his chance to shine. Jackson has spent several weeks since Chubb broke out against Oakland promising to get the second-round pick more touches. Instead, Chubb has only touched the ball three times in three consecutive games.
Starting Sunday though, those carries are coming. And while the Buccaneers have only given up over 100 yards to one team this season Chubb is a threat to go over 100 on his own. His success on the ground in this one will take some pressure off of Mayfield and help the offense keep pace in a game where they’re going to have score a lot of points. It should help that disruptive Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is out for this one too.
3) Not by Sea, but by Air
While the Buccaneers defense is susceptible to giving up a ton of passing yards and points, those are ironically two things they’re offense have done well this year. Tampa Bay leads the league in passing yards per game at a clip of 368.4. They’re also eighth in points per game (28.2).
With those numbers, the Buccaneers can certainly do some damage against the Browns banged up secondary. Again, terrible timing for the injury bug to hit that unit as well. Regardless, with next man up T.J. Carrie inserted into the starting lineup at corner, the Browns have to find a way to slow down quarterback Jameis Winston and his loaded arsenal of weapons even a little bit if they want to have any shot at winning this game.
Prediction: This game has all the makings of a shootout. Passing on Tampa Bay’s defense is like water through a strainer, but their own passing attack is no joke. This game could go a long way in determining the future of Hue Jackson as head coach. I think the Browns win a barn burner, 38-35 – because, why not.