The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be looking to snap a three-game losing streak when they play their first home game in nearly a month on Sunday, welcoming the Cleveland Browns to Raymond James Stadium. The Browns are 2-3-1 after dropping a 38-14 decision to the Los Angeles Chargers last Sunday. Cleveland has already won a game in overtime, lost a game in overtime and had a game end in a tie when nobody scored in the extra period.
Cleveland is clearly on the rise after winning just one game over the previous two seasons, and their loss to the Chargers was their first outing that was decided by more than four points. The Browns have an exciting new quarterback at the helm in rookie Baker Mayfield, the first-overall pick in the 2018 draft, and their aggressive defense, led by defensive end Myles Garrett, leads the NFL in takeaways. Here's a look at some of the challenges the Buccaneers will face against Chicago on Sunday:
Each week during the season, Head Coach Dirk Koetter puts together a specific video package to show to his players called "Game-Wreckers." The clips are meant to identify the three or four players on the opposing team who are likely to make the big plays that most affect the game's outcome. The Buccaneers know they have to limit the damage inflicted by these game-wreckers if they are going to come out on top.
Koetter's cut-up is an internal tool for his team and it is not shared publicly, though he does occasionally note an opposing game-wrecker or two during media sessions. Below are four players who might be on this week's tape.
1. DE Myles Garrett. Myles has five sacks through six games this year and 12 since he was picked first overall in the 2017 draft. The former Texas A&M star is one of the three or four most dangerous edge rushers the Buccaneers will face this season and the Browns are very creative in the ways that they use him. The 6-4, 275-pound edge rusher is not only fast but incredibly agile for his size, able to "bend" his pass-rushes low and tight around offensive tackles. While he most commonly rushes from the offense's left side – the blind side for righty passers – he sometimes flips to the other side and/or runs stunts that get him matched up with an interior blocker. The Browns go for broke with Gregg Williams as the coordinator, and Garrett is the most likely defender to hit the jackpot in the backfield.
2. WR Jarvis Landry. As part of a massive overhaul after an 0-16 season in 2017, the Browns dipped into their stockpile of draft picks to trade for Miami wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who catches passes in volume. Working frequently out of the slot, Landry averaged exactly 100 receptions during his four seasons with the Dolphins and he's on pace for 83 more this year. Landry is actually averaging a career-best 12.6 yards per reception this season and his career-low catch percentage (on targets) of 47.0% indicates that the Browns are using him in a different fashion than what he experienced in Miami. Landry has very good hands and good run-after-the-catch ability, so the Bucs will try to keep him from getting the ball out in space.
3. CB Denzel Ward. It's safe to say that Cleveland shocked the NFL world when they followed their #1 Baker Mayfield pick in the 2018 draft with the selection of Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward at #4. Conventional wisdom was that the Browns would nab the consensus best pass-rusher in Bradley Chubb or the best offensive lineman in Quenton Nelson. So far, so good for the Browns, who appear to have found a special talent at one of the game's most difficult positions. Ward has already snared three interceptions in his first six NFL games, and he's broken up six passes while adding 28 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Ward generally plays left cornerback for the Browns but they do sometimes use him as a matchup corner against a specific opponent. Given his speed, Ward might be a better matchup this Sunday for DeSean Jackson than Mike Evans.
4. DT Larry Ogunjobi. First-overall picks Myles Garrett and Baker Mayfield understandably draw more attention, but the Browns need some of their later-round picks to hit in order to turn the corner as a franchise. In that regard, they seem to have hit a home run with Ogunjobi, a third-round pick in 2017 out of North Carolina-Charlotte. The 6-5, 305-pound lineman started just one game as a rookie and had one sack, but he's firmly in the starting lineup in 2018 and already has 3.5 sacks, which is excellent for a nose-tackle type. Garrett gets the attention as the Browns' best pass-rusher, understandably, but Ogunjobi gives the team an underrated weapon in the middle.
The Browns' defense ranks just 28th in the league so far, but they have forced an NFL-high 16 turnovers and they have sacked opposing quarterbacks 15 times. The Browns also have eight rushing touchdowns already, and they've held opposing passers to a 58.4% completion percentage, which is low by today's standards. Here are some other areas in which the Browns have excelled so far this season:
· Cleveland has made it tough for opposing teams to pass the ball once they've entered the Browns' red zone. Thanks to nine interceptions, the Browns have allowed an opponent passer rating of 76.8 overall, but it gets even better close to the goal line. Cleveland's six opponents have combined for a 60.5 passer rating in the red zone, while the league average is 92.2. Only the Chargers and Seahawks have been better.
· The Browns are running the ball very well, which will be a good test for Tampa Bay's fifth-ranked rush defense. Cleveland is picking up 137.7 yards on the ground per game, and 4.6 yards per carry. Those two figures rank fifth and eight in the NFL, respectively.
· Cleveland's offense, while ranking just 20th overall, is capable of generating big plays. In fact, the Browns have 29 plays of 20 or more yards this season, which is tied for fifth in the NFL and is three more than the Bucs' high-powered offense has put up. (Of course, Tampa Bay has played five games so far to the Browns' six.
· If Cleveland has to resort to a two-point conversion attempt in Sunday's game, there's a good chance they'll succeed. The Browns have tried five two-pointers so far and succeeded on four of them. That 80% success rate ranks seventh in the NFL, behind six other teams that are still perfect.
Cleveland has given up 406.5 yards per game this season, which is fifth-worst in the NFL, and 138.2 rushing yards per out, which ranks 29th. The Browns' offense is completing just 53.2% of its passes and has thrown more interceptions (seven) than touchdown passes (6). In addition:
· The Browns have already allowed 26 quarterback sacks, or more than four per game. Veteran Tyrod Taylor absorbed 13 of those before ceding the starting job to Mayfield, who has also gone down 13 times. Cleveland passers have gone down on 10.97% of their dropbacks, the sixth-worst average in the NFL.
· As good as the Browns have been at creating turnovers, they haven't been able to convert them into points at a particularly good rate. Cleveland has an NFL-high 16 takeaways but have scored just 24 points off turnovers. That ranks just 17th in the NFL.
· Cleveland's kicking game could be better. The Browns have made 10 of 14 field goal attempts, though all four of their misses have come from 40 or more yards out, with two of them from 50 or more yards out. Cleveland's net punting average of 36.8 ranks 28th in the NFL.
· Opposing pass-catchers have been able to pick up extra ground after making the catch. The Browns' defense has given up a total of 1,697 passing yards so far, which breaks down into 813 yards at the point of the catch and 883 after the catch. That rate of 52.0% of passing yards picked up after the catch is the sixth-worst in the NFL.
NEW FACES IN 2018
Obviously, the Browns have a new signal-caller, one they hope will slow down the incredible turnover at the quarterback position over the past two decades. Cleveland's offense also has a new leading receiver, while the defense has not only found a potential star in the secondary in the draft but has added an impact safety via trade.
1. QB Baker Mayfield. The Browns had the first pick in a draft that was top-heavy on potential franchise quarterbacks but lacking any consensus as to which prospect was the best. Cleveland was the only team that could get whichever passer it wanted, and the Browns settled on the Heisman Trophy-winning player from Oklahoma. Mayfield got his first chance to play in Week Three after an injury to Tyrod Taylor and completed 17 of 23 passes for 201 yards in a win over the Jets. He's been at the helm ever since.
2. WR Jarvis Landry. As noted above in the game-wreckers section, Landry came over from the Dolphins in a trade and is now the team's leading receiver. Cleveland is also getting some useful production out of rookie wideout Antonio Calloway, a fourth-round pick.
3. S Damarious Randall. Ward, the fourth-overall pick in the 2018 draft, has been the most impactful addition to the Browns' secondary so far. But the trade of quarterback Deshone Kizer to Green Bay is also paying dividends, as Randall has made a difference at the back end of the secondary. Randall has started all six games and already has two picks and six passes defensed. His 33 tackles rank third on the Browns' defense.
1. WR Rashard Higgins. Cleveland's third-leading receiver suffered a knee injury in Week Five and didn't play last week against the Chargers. He may not be back for Sunday's game in Tampa.
2. LB Joe Schobert. The Browns' starting middle linebacker sustained a hamstring injury last Sunday and will be a question mark heading into 2018.
3. CB Terrance Mitchell. The former Chiefs corner started the first four games of the season but is now on injured reserve with forearm fracture.