(This year we have decided that we will do some game previews in addition to the “Browns Will Win If…” feature that we have been doing. The format of this will be a work in progress, but we hope to get a little more in-depth into each week’s matchup before the game. As well as a prediction on my part.)
When and Where: Sunday, September 12th 1:00 PM – Raymond James Stadium – Tampa, FL
Overview: Browns vs. Bucs is so very exciting in Tampa that the game will be blacked out. A year ago as the Browns fans were disappointed with a five-win season, Buccaneers fans were treated to a 3-13 campaign. The Browns didn’t quit on their season and won their last four. The Buccaneers didn’t seem to quit on their first-year head coach Raheem Morris either as they won the middle two of their last four games. One of those games was an overtime victory over eventual Superbowl victors the New Orleans Saints.
Browns fans look at this game as one that is winnable. Guess what? Buccaneers fans also look at this game as one that they can win too. Buccaneers fans believe that everything that could have gone wrong a season ago did go wrong. Both coordinators were fired during the season. If either the Browns or Bucs have improved at all from a year ago, this is the kind of game they have to be able to win. Still, the outside world remains skeptical that any Browns improvements are real as the Browns are three point underdogs as of Friday morning to a Bucs team that won fewer games a season ago. Even in the NFL with home field advantage being what it is, it is hard to believe there could be much home field advantage in a town where the game will be blacked out due to lack of ticket sales.
Airing it Out: The Buccaneers have a pair of rookie wide receivers that will look to establish themselves. Mike Williams, selected in the 4th round out of Syracuse is beating out 2nd rounder Arrelious Benn who Big Ten fans will remember from Illinois. These two young guys along with Reggie Brown formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles will attempt to be targets for young quarterback Josh Freeman. When Freeman isn’t throwing to them, he will be looking for his favorite target Kellen Winslow. I don’t have to tell this crowd about Kellen Winslow’s skills and abilities when healthy.
Quarterback Josh Freeman (2009 1st round, Kansas State) was thrust into the starter’s role last year as a rookie. He finished the year with a QB rating of 59.8 in ten games. He completed just under 55% of his passes while throwing for 10 TDs and 18 INTs. Freeman broke the thumb on his non-throwing hand during the pre-season and didn’t practice until Thursday. Coach Raheem Morris is saying that he is on schedule to play on Sunday. If Freeman is not ready to go then the Bucs could trot out 2008 5th round draft choice Josh Johnson. In six games in 2009 Johnson completed just over 50% of his passes while tossing 4 TDs and 8 INTs for a 50.9 QB rating. Unless Josh Freeman can find a way to improve his play this season, it should remind you of the Browns struggles with two QBs who are unfit to start in the NFL. (Arizona’s choice aside, obviously.)
For new Browns starter Jake Delhomme, this should be a comfortable place to play. In his years as a Carolina Panther Delhomme amassed a 9-2 record against Tampa Bay as a starter. Obviously with a completely new team in Cleveland that doesn’t mean too much. Still, Delhomme is now a Browns captain and so far an unquestioned leader. As his confidence goes, so should the rest of his team.
The Browns passing attack will be defended by Ronde Barber and former 2009 7th rounder E.J. Biggers. Biggers is replacing Aqib Talib who is serving a one-game suspension for an off-season incident where he assaulted a cab driver. That cab fare became expensive as he will forfeit a game check for $83,382.35. Behind them will be former Brown Sean Jones and Tanard Jackson at safety.
Running it Down: Cadillac Williams played in all 16 games a year ago after playing just 10 games in the previous two years combined. He got over 200 attempts and ran for 823 yards while scoring 4 TDs. Talk is that the Bucs will use both Williams and Earnest Graham to try and wear down defenses and protect their quarterback. The Bucs also signed former Giant Derrick Ward. Ward was cut and Kareem Huggins appears to be next in line. But does that strategy sound familiar? That described the winning streak for the Browns at the end of last year. The Browns seemed to struggle on the defensive line during the pre-season, but there is no accounting for the fact that Browns starters didn’t play a whole lot between Robaire Smith and Shaun Rogers.
In the Trenches: The Buccaneers hope to improve their defensive line this year with third overall pick Gerald McCoy from Oklahoma. McCoy could turn out to be beastly for the Bucs. The DT is almost 6’5″ and 295 pounds. He was the number 1 ranked defensive tackle in the draft this year. Behind him #51 Barrett Ruud is one of the Bucs other defensive standouts at linebacker. The Buccaneers better hope that McCoy helps them improve against the run. A year ago Tampa finished dead last giving up close to 160 yards per game on the ground.
On the offensive line the Buccaneers have former Cleveland Brown Jeff Faine at center. Additionally they locked up their left tackle, Donald Penn to a six year deal this off-season. The 27 year-old from Utah State is good and solid but probably not elite.
Prediction: These two teams are both full of unknowns. It seems like maybe the Browns are a bit ahead of the schedule that Tampa Bay is currently on. The Browns had their two rookie receivers a year ago and they look to prove themselves in year two. The Browns developed the running attack a year ago after parting ways with Jamal Lewis. Tampa looks to establish that this season. The good news for both fanbases is that they have both probably improved themselves from a season ago. Unfortunately for Bucs fans, I do expect the Browns to win this game.
Even with question marks on the right side of the offensive line and questions on the defensive line, the Browns added something that the Buccaneers did not. Based on results in the pre-season the Browns have found a leader in Jake Delhomme. As long as he and the Browns offense play within themselves, they should be able to dominate the time of possession with their running game and short passing game. I expect to see a steady diet of Jerome Harrison and Peyton Hillis with Lawrence Vickers leading the way.
On defense, the Browns secondary should have an advantage outside of the Kellen Winslow matchup. The Bucs might have their receivers of the future in Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn, but it is hard to think, after seeing Massoquai as a rookie a year ago, that the rookies will be able to excel right out of the gate against Sheldon Brown and Eric Wright. Additionally, they have to find a way to do that with a young quarterback that has been missing a lot of practice lately.
The only risk for the Browns should be if the Buccaneers get the rushing attack going with Cadillac Williams, Earnest Graham and Derrick Ward. Hopefully the return of Shaun Rogers, and Robaire Smith will help stop that.