The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are running out of winnable games this season, if their play through the first two months of the season has been any indication of their potential for beating an NFL team with any sort of regularity.
Sunday's game against the 4-3 Cleveland Browns represents one of the best chances the Bucs have of putting another win in the books this year, and they'll need to get things going on offense to outscore the Browns, who will likely find ways to get into the end zone against the Bucs leaky defense.
Here are three matchups that will be key for the Bucs when they have the ball.
Oniel Cousins versus Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger
Prediction: This one doesn't end well for the Buccaneers.
Anthony Collins has struggled this year, but his definition of "struggled" doesn't match up to the poor level of play we saw from Oniel Cousins in the preseason. And that was at guard, facing interior pass rushers.
This weekend, Cousins will likely draw the start at left tackle, and will face Cleveland's pass rushing outside linebackers Sheard and Kruger. Mike Glennon struggles under pressure, and will need Cousins to play better than we're all expecting to give the second-year signal caller any time to throw.
Mike Glennon versus Tashaun Gipson
When Glennon does have time to throw, he has to be careful not to put the ball up for grabs for Cleveland's ball-hawking safety Tashaun Gipson. The former Wyoming Cowboy already has five interceptions this season, including picks off of Joe Flacco and Drew Brees.
Glennon will likely face pressure on Sunday, and he must deal with it safely by getting rid of the ball to areas where a defender isn't around. A late, back-footed throw over the middle will result in an interception from Gipson, and once he gets the ball, he averages a decent return going the other way.
The Bucs cannot afford turnovers with the way they're playing on offense and defense. Glennon must keep the ball away from Cleveland defenders this weekend, and Gipson is the most likely to pick off the Bucs' signal caller.
Mike Evans versus Joe Haden and Buster Skrine
So how does Glennon take care of the ball best? By getting rid of it quickly to his playmakers. Mike Evans has been getting more and more involved in the passing game as the season has gone on, and this weekend he'll face the Browns' struggling cornerbacks with a chance to have a breakout game.
Joe Haden isn't playing up to his standards this season, but that doesn't mean he's going to let Evans run all over him. When the two are matched up, Evans will have to work hard to get open and secure a catch against one of the league's best defenders. Skrine, on the other hand, isn't all that great, and Evans should take advantage of that matchup when given the chance.
Evans is the future of the receiving corps for the Bucs, and games like Sunday's against Cleveland are ones he'll be called upon to dominate once he's settled into the NFL. A big game in his rookie season would be a nice way to announce his arrival to the league, and give Bucs fans some hope moving forward.