It’s hard to believe that week nine of the NFL season has arrived, but what is even harder to believe is that the Cleveland Browns are contenders. Yes, those Cleveland Browns.
The Browns (4-3) will have a chance to add to their success with the underwhelming Tampa Bay Buccaneers making a trip to First Energy Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 2. The Bucs (1-6) have not improved as expected under new head coach Lovie Smith.
This Sunday’s game will be the Browns’ last chance to take advantage of a 3-game stretch of weaker opponents.
In the first two games, the Browns played down to their opponent’s level. Much of the poor play can be accredited to the lack of execution in the Brown’s rushing attack.
After the loss of Pro Bowl center Alex Mack to a season-ending leg injury, the offensive line has struggled. Right guard John Greco has had a tough time sustaining blocks, and new center Nick McDonald was thrown around quite a bit in his NFL debut against the Raiders last week.
But the ground game’s woes can’t always be placed on the shoulders of the offensive line. The running backs have lost steam, gaining a mere 101 yards the last two weeks. Each back seems to be more hesitant, which is not rewarded in the zone blocking scheme. The unit as a whole needs to improve in order for this team to have continued success this season.
In last Sunday’s game against the Raiders, quarterback Brian Hoyer played well, throwing for 275 yards and a touchdown. In the last two games, however, Hoyer had made some questionable decisions, and has had some issues with his accuracy and ball placement.
I’m sure this is something Hoyer is aware of, and will need to work on these little issues as the Browns look to take down the Buccaneers.
The Bucs are one of the NFL’s worst teams. One of the main reasons for the Bucs’ failures is their lack of a consistent running game. Doug Martin has been hobbled by injuries, while former Brown Bobby Rainey has done a less than ideal job filling in.
These two have a chance to be a nice duo for the Bucs, however, and they will face one of the league’s worst rush defenses in the Browns.
Quarterback Mike Glennon has come in for Tampa Bay and shown some signs of improvement. In order to hinder that improvement, the Browns’ front seven will have to get to the heavy-footed Glennon early and often.
Before the season, much of the hope for success for the Bucs was due to an impressive defense on paper. Led by All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the defense has been disappointing so far this year, but definitely has the talent to get back on track.
Unheralded linebacker Lavonte David is one of the league’s best, having already racked up 80 total tackles. Safety Mark Barron is a solid piece in the secondary. The Bucs’ pass defense as a whole is the worst in the league, giving up nearly 300 yards passing per game. If the Browns can get their running game back on track, look for Brian Hoyer and the offense to light up the Bucs’ defensive backs on play-action passes.
Prediction: Browns-30; Buccaneers-18