It’s time! Woo hoo! We’ve warmed up with four “What We’re Watching For…” pieces for the pre-season, and now it’s time to hit for real. The Browns are still technically on a four-game winning streak, and with the start of a new season anything is possible. What time is it? GAME TIME!
On paper, this is hardly a marquee matchup, with the (2009) 5-11 Browns meeting the 3-13 Buccaneers. The Browns looked like an actually-competent team at many times in the pre-season, with an offense that actually moved the ball. QB Jake Delhomme brought some much-needed stability to the position, and the stable of running backs provided OC Brian Daboll with a solid rotation of ball carriers. TE Ben Watson helped many Browns fans get over Kellen Winslow, and oh look who’s coming to dinner! I could go on, but will leave it as: it’s time to play for reals. Let’s get it on! Without further ado…
The Browns Will Win If…
Craig: …they win the time of possession battle. That seems like the key to me. In order to win it the Browns will have to control the line of scrimmage, run the ball effectively and not turn the ball over. If the Browns offensive line takes care of business, then I expect Delhomme, Jerome Harrison and Peyton Hillis to be able to handle the rest.
Scott: …the offense can continue to build off of the production we saw in the preseason and they win the takeaway battle. I think the Browns defense will continue to give up their share of big plays (I forecast rookie receiver Mike Williams to have at least one reception of 25 yards…), but with Tampa Bay’s quarterback situation in flux, Cleveland should be able to keep them at bay. The game will come down to what the Browns do when they have the ball. If they can do more of the same – perhaps with a little Cyclone mixed in for good measure – the Jake Delhomme career revival tour can get off to a roaring start. Quick, on-target passes to the tight ends, stretch the field with the wide receivers and smash the ball down their throats with Peyton Hills. Sounds like an excellent forecast for success, and one that is very possible if they do not make costly mistakes.
DP: …they control the ball on offense and bend but don’t break on defense. The old adage is that the best offense is a good defense. In the Browns’ case, the best defense is a good offense. After talking with our guest blogger, it sounds like the Browns can have success running they ball. If they can successfully rotate their running backs, keep the chains moving, and give their defense time to rest in the heat, they have a good chance to win this game. If the running game is successful, and Jake Delhomme can continue to be accurate with his short and intermediate throws, the Browns can grind out long drives and score some points. On defense, there wasn’t much from the pre-season to make you think this defense is going to stop many teams, but the addition of Shaun Rogers should certainly help. I look for some lineups with Rogers and Ahtyba Rubin side-by-side to stop the run and collapse the pocket. Some semblance of coverage on Kellen Winslow—who is really the Bucs only real receiving threat—would be helpful, as the TE always seems to be a killer to the Browns on defense. If the Browns’ offense can help keep the defense fresh, I give the team a very good chance to win this game by 10+ points.
Rick: …they take care of the ball. Turnovers were the biggest reason Cleveland’s offense struggled in the preseason. Toe to toe with Tampa Bay I like our chances. Give them extra possessions at home and it’s an uphill battle. Defensively the Browns have to find ways of getting pressure, and Shaun Rogers should help with that this week. Offensively I think Delhomme has the advantage given his success against Tampa in the past. The running game needs to be effective to take some pressure off Jake, and there is no reason to think it won’t be. I like the Browns by a touchdown in this one.
Andrew: …they can establish their running game. Sounds so cliché and so simple, but in all honesty, the Browns discovered a formula to give them a chance to win games at the end of the year last season, and it was all about the running game. In the preseason I didn’t see the same explosion through the holes that Jerome Harrison showed us last season, but that’s what they need to establish. The best way to beat a team with even talent on the road is to dominate the line of scrimmage. Even with the improvements the Browns have made, they’re still not a team that can afford to make mistakes and still win games, so they will also need Jake Delhomme to protect the possessions and as a team they need to avoid typical first week penalties that have killed this franchise for so many years. There’s still a ton this team needs to do well each and every game to have a chance to win, but against Tampa, I think getting Harrison going early is more important than anything else.
TD: …they plan on being “competitive”. If the Browns plan on having a “competitive” season, then this is a game they must win. Tampa Bay is one of the bottom five teams in the league. Their second year QB Josh Freeman missed most of camp due to injury. Their top RB is Cadillac Williams, he of the multiple knee surgeries. Their #1 receiver is fifth round pick Mike Williams. Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Ronde Barber, and John Lynch aren’t comin’ through that door on D. This is a young transitioning team picked to finish dead last in the NFC South. The Browns arguably play in the toughest division in football, so winning games against teams like Tampa Bay is a must. I look for our first Wildcat sightings with Josh Cribbs and Seneca Wallace. You just know they are itching to break that out of the arsenal since the offense didn’t show it once in preseason (by design). I also am excited to watch the thunder and lighting of Peyton Hillis and Jerome Harrison pound the ball right down the throats of the Tampa front seven. Defensively, you can bet Freeman will try to test rookies Joe Haden and TJ Ward. If they can contain Williams and the running game, I fully expect the Browns to take this one.
Now for the other side of the coin. We reached out to a couple of Buccaneers blogs to see how the other side feels about this game. Eric Schmidt is the writer of What The Bucs for the Fanball.com network and the lead NFL editor for Rantsports.com where he covers 10 teams as well as being the author of the NFL dedicated site, Redzonetalk.com, and he was happy to oblige. Without further ado…
The Buccaneers Will Win If…
…they improve on their run defense. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off a 3-13 season and a season in which they went through total disarray. For over a decade, the Buccaneers had been known for great defensive play, but age and free agency robbed the Buccaneers of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Tampa finished dead last in the NFL against the rush, surrendering nearly 160 yards per game. The only player remaining on the Bucs Super Bowl roster is Ronde Barber, who has lost a step entering his 13th season. In order to address the issue of run defense, Tampa used their first two picks of the 2010 draft to select DT’s Gerald McCoy and Brian Price. While McCoy has shown some flashes this preseason, Price has been hampered with injuries. Cleveland comes to Tampa with Jake Delhomme under center. Buccaneers fans are not happy to see him: the former Carolina Panther is a Buccaneer killer. This time, however, he visits Ray Jay without Steve Smith and he has a corps of young receivers. It will be imperative that the Buccaneers shut down veteran TE Ben Watson, as Delhomme loves throwing to his tight end.
On the offensive side of the ball, it appears there is now a possibility that Josh Freeman might not start at quarterback against the Browns. Freeman fractured his thumb two weeks ago in a preseason game and has not played since suffering the injury. Freeman was held out of practice today, after practicing yesterday. If Freeman can’t go, Josh Johnson will get the nod at QB. The Buccaneers are also dealing with their own youth movement at wide receiver. Syracuse WR Mike Williams has made noise during the Bucs preseason along with second year slot receiver Sammie Stroughter. Former Browns TE Kellen Winslow has been nursing injuries all preseason and hasn’t seen any live game action yet. Tampa released Derrick Ward last week and are left with Carnell Williams at running back along with two young players, Kareem Huggins out of Hofstra and rookie LeGarrette Blount who was claimed by the Bucs off waivers from the Titans.
In order for the Bucs to have a chance to beat the Browns, it will take long sustained, precise drives using runs and short passes by the Tampa offense which will keep the Browns defense on the field for long periods of time. No doubt that Tampa will wear their white jerseys and use the home field advantage of the heat. September home games in Ray Jay are 10th-level-of-hell hot.
What say, there, fuzzy britches?