clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bucs vs Browns: Five keys to victory

Tampa Bay’s defense has to step up against a solid Cleveland offense.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay enters Sunday’s game against Cleveland as losers of three straight. After falling short on a potential game-winning drive a week ago, it’ll be interesting to see how the Buccaneers offense responds against the Browns. Will they step up or falter?

As for the defense, a lot has happened this week. Mike Smith was fired and replaced with Mark Duffner. And as of Friday, Gerald McCoy and Vinny Curry have been ruled out for the game due to injury. That means Tampa Bay is going to be extremely shorthanded on the defensive front against a Cleveland team that likes to run the ball.

1. Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston was mostly stellar in his first game as a starter since returning from suspension. He completed 30 of 41 passes for 395 yards and four touchdowns compared to two interceptions in the loss to Atlanta. Arguably, one of the interceptions wasn’t Winston’s fault, as one of his passes made a fluke bounce straight into the air before being picked off.

However, Winston also fumbled two times against the Falcons, recovering both of them. Regardless, it’s imperative that the fourth-year quarterback takes better care of the ball against Cleveland. He’s always been a risk-taker and sometimes it leads to mistakes. Winston has to be careful as to when he makes those mistakes.

2. Making big plays through the air

Tampa Bay’s offense has been at its best when the ball is flying downfield, allowing receivers to make plays in space. That didn’t happen against Atlanta, as the Bucs connected on just three passing plays that went for 20 or more yards.

With deep threats like DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans, and OJ Howard in the lineup, look for Winston to take more shots downfield against the Browns. Jackson was reliable a week ago against Atlanta, catching four passes for 77 yards. But, his longest reception went for just 21 yards.

The veteran receiver is averaging a career-high 23.9 yards per catch in 2018. Winston and Jackson need to get on the same page. They’ve struggled with their chemistry since Jackson joined Tampa Bay last season.

3. Forcing turnovers

The Buccaneers failed to force a turnover a week ago in a five point loss to Atlanta. Who knows? A turnover could’ve possibly made a big difference in the final outcome

Regardless, Tampa Bay has been elite at getting shredded through the air rather than forcing turnovers in 2018. Through five games, the Bucs have forced just five total turnovers; one interception and four fumble recoveries.

Baker Mayfield has already tossed five interceptions and lost a fumble during his first four games of action during his rookie season. Look for the Buccaneers to try and force him into mistakes.

4. Passing defense

There’s no better way to put it. Tampa Bay’s defense has been absolutely pathetic through the first five games of the season. In fact, they’re on pace to be the worst defense in NFL history.

The Buccaneers have allowed at least 30 points and 350 passing yards in each of their three straight losses. It’s a narrative that has to change if this team has any chance of salvaging its 2-0 start and rallying to make the postseason.

5. Winning the battle on special teams

Tampa Bay has been mostly solid kicking wise in 2018. Cleveland has been as well since replacing Zane Gonzalez with Greg Joseph. The rookie out of Florida Atlantic has knocked through eight of his nine field goals and three of four extra points in his four games with the Browns.

As for the Bucs, Chandler Catanzaro has hit six of his seven field goals and 13 of 15 extra points. If this game is close down the stretch, it could come down to one crucial kick. Both of these kickers have been efficient so far this season, but all that matters is how they perform in the clutch.

Another area it’d be nice to see Tampa Bay get some production from is punt returns. The Buccaneers have averaged just 5.9 yards per punt return through five games, which ranks No. 23 in the league.