The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in Cleveland this week as they play the Browns on Sunday. The Bucs improved to 5-5 following their Week 10 win over the Seahawks as they went into their bye week with back-to-back victories.
We fired off some questions regarding the state of Cleveland’s team for Chris Pokorny from Dawgs by Nature to see if he can shed some light on what’s up on with the Browns heading into Week 12.
1. The Browns started out the season strong, with a few one score games and a couple wins in-between. Since then it appears thing’s haven’t been the same despite a win against the Bengals. What has been the reason for their struggles as of late?
Even before that win over the Bengals, the Browns had gone on a four-game losing streak. Most of the struggles stem from the defense. If you gave this offense to a lot of other teams in the NFL with whatever defense they had, you’re probably talking about a division leader. That’s what has made it so frustrating — even with Jacoby Brissett as the Browns’ quarterback, this offense has been very good in the majority of our games. Adding Deshaun Watson to the mix isn’t going to magically fix the defense. Before the season, we knew that the Browns were incredibly weak at the defensive tackle position. I was worried about it, because it was a way below-average unit on paper. For the first few regular season games, opposing teams were being a bit dumb and just trying to throw the ball. But then, at the end of the third quarter, the Atlanta Falcons started running the ball every single play, and they exposed how bad we were in the middle. Now, everyone knows (except the Bengals, who were dumb and kept on trying to pass the ball). I know the Buccaneers are ranked at the bottom of the league in rushing, but I’d be willing to bet that Tampa Bay can have their best rushing day of the season.
2. Running back Nick Chubb is close to a 1,000-yard rushing season with over 900 rushing yards so far in 2022. The same can’t be said about any of the Buccaneers backs. How will he and Cleveland’s offensive front present problems against Tampa Bay this week regardless of the “bad game” he had against Buffalo this past week?
One area of concern is at center, where Hjalte Froholdt will start for Ethan Pocic. Pocic suffered an injury right at the beginning of last week’s game, forcing Froholdt in at center. He struggled quite a bit, although he is not meant to play that position. Some coaching during the week might help, but it still seems like something Tampa Bay can exploit to generate a big bull rush up front to disrupt running plays (that is a big reason he had a “bad game” against Buffalo last week). If offensive line coach Bill Calahan can work wonders with Froholdt, then I’d be optimistic about our ground game. But another thing is that a couple of our linemen, including right tackle Jack Conklin, are banged up. It’s not that Chubb needs a great offensive line; he is outstanding at breaking tackles and making subtle moves once he reaches the line. But last week, and even the week before that to a degree, our line has been pushed back with a defender blowing up Chubb right after he touches the ball.
3. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is eligible to return to live action next week against his former team the Houston Texans. How receptive do you think the team will be to him taking the field? Is Cleveland looking for him to provide some kind of hope for the rest of the season and into next?
Jacoby Brissett has far exceeded anyone’s expectations, and there aren’t any complaints about him. As I said earlier, the team’s 3-7 record is not his fault; he’s played well enough to be leading a 7-3 team. With that said, there’s a certain excitement that I’m sure the rest of the players will feel with Deshaun Watson coming back. Whether we like him or not, the Browns made him the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL because they believe he’s a guy who can take us to the next level — someone who can be good enough to overcome even a bad defensive effort in a shootout. The tough thing is the level of expectations that’ll be placed on him to end this season. He has basically missed two full seasons of football, and I expect him to be rusty as hell. In a fairy tale, sure, it’d be nice to think about him providing that extra jolt that allows him to win some AFC North games to make one last run at a postseason spot — but fans are definitely notcounting on that for 2022. We understand that Watson will probably be rusty.
4. Who is one player Tampa Bay should be worried about this week, both on offense and defense?
On offense, I’ll go with wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. Although he doesn’t get a lot of separation as a route runner, he makes up for it because he is making so many closely-contested catches. He has also become very consistent — if you look at his stat line over the last 7 games, it is nearly identical: about 5 catches for 71 yards. On defense, I’ll go with rookie cornerback Martin Emerson. He has been the No. 2 or No. 3 cornerback all season due to various injuries at the position, but he’s played quite well, always staying very close to the receiver and not allowing yards after the catch. One of these times, maybe he’ll get a chance at an interception.
5. The Buccaneers are currently a 3.5-point favorite against the Browns. How do you see this game playing out?
This is the type of game where I’d be intrigued in picking the Browns. Tampa Bay has been inconsistent with losses to Carolina and Pittsburgh, teams that Cleveland defeated. The Browns also won their last home game (against Cincinnati) and could be a bit fired up with that. They’ve gotten in trouble against offenses that can jump ahead of them (and Brissett isn’t meant to play from behind), but I don’t see that same threat from the Buccaneers. I’d take the Browns against the spread.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the over/under is currently set to 42 for this matchup.