The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come off their bye week riding a two-game win streak, hoping to fuel another momentous stretch. First up on their seven-week journey to the finish line of the regular season is the Cleveland Browns, boasting one of the NFL's best running backs and one of the most feared edge rushers. The Bucs sit at a 5-5 record with a half-game lead on the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South. They will face a 3-7 Cleveland Browns team that is predicated on pounding the rock, featuring a two-headed monster in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Cleveland has struggled to maintain success on the ground in recent weeks after the first quarter while trying to play catch-up; however, the talent is evident despite what the record may dictate on paper. Their defense is spearheaded by Myles Garrett, undoubtably one of the most lethal defensive ends in the league. For the Bucs, thrilling wins over the Rams and Seahawks not only generated momentum heading into the bye but the additional time has provided an allotted rest period for reflection on the ultimate goal. Each week provides a steppingstone that could make or break playoff aspirations. After a week of preparation, here is what the Week 12 meeting comes down to:
4 Stats that Matter
- The Buccaneers ran for a season-best 161 yards against the Seahawks, featuring Rachaad White's first 100-yard game of the year. If Leonard Fournette is out on Sunday (hip pointer), then White will be the lead back. His vision and patience have sparked production, elevating Tampa Bay's ground game.
- Nick Chubb leads the NFL with 29 carries of 10-plus yards, with 29 of those coming before the Week Nine bye. Jacoby Brissett has showcased his mobility, posting three carries of 10-plus yards since the bye as an extension of the run game.
- Since an offseason trade, Amari Cooper has been an offensive catalyst for the Browns. Brissett has compiled a 107.9 passer rating when targeting Cooper according to Next Gen Stats. Cooper became his go-to target against the Bills in Week 11 and has been a red zone threat during the duration of the 2022 slate.
- Myles Garrett, undoubtably one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, has a blazing-fast get-off, averaging 0.72 seconds to get moving at the snap. He leads the Browns in 8.5 sacks through 10 games this season, solidifying the defensive unit.
3 Lineup Notes
- Bucs' wide receiver Russell Gage Jr. and guard Luke Goedeke were ruled out of Sunday's Week 12 clash. Gage has missed the last three games due to a hamstring ailment and Goedeke has missed the same timeframe on the field due to a foot injury. Against the Seahawks last week, Julio Jones stepped up as the No. 3 receiver behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Nick Leverett replaced Goedeke at left guard, fortifying the unit in the trenches.
- In addition, Bucs' nose tackle Vita Vea was listed as questionable on Friday's final injury report. Vea missed the first two practices of the week due to a foot injury, but was on the field with his teammates during the open media portion of practice on Friday. Head Coach Todd Bowles noted he is getting "better and better," progressing in the right direction. Bowles confirmed the injury did not occur during the game against Seattle in Munich but instead was a "freak thing that came up." Running back Leonard Fournette suffered a hip pointer in Tampa Bay's victory over Seattle in Week 10, but even after an extended rest period during the bye, Bowles stated he is "still pretty sore." The staff is taking a cautionary approach with Fournette and will continue to monitor his injury throughout the week to make a determination for Sunday's availability.
- Browns' cornerback Greg Newsome II (concussion) was the lone player ruled out of the Week 12 matchup for Cleveland. Newsome has not cleared concussion protocol and will miss his second-straight game. He will be replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Martin Emerson Jr. for another game.
2 Challenges Presented by the Browns
The Cleveland Browns have one of the most dynamic rushing tandems in the NFL with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Chubb is a one-cut downhill runner with natural balance to help stack yards after contact. He is approaching 1,000 yards in 2022 and has accumulated 11 touchdowns. Hunt effectively utilizes jump-cuts to avoid traffic and shifts to an open seam. Whether a run through tackles, an outsize zone, a quarterback scramble or the screen game, Kevin Stefanski's system is built around the running game. When teams are forced to allocate resources to stop the run by stacking the box, that creates advantageous one-on-one matchups for Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones. With precision on routes and subtle movements that bait, Cooper has become Jacoby Brissett's go-to target. The ground attack begins with the offensive line and the Browns have a stout interior. Pro Bowl guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller pave the way and clear holes. The Browns have struggled in recent weeks with the inability to run the football proficiently for four quarters, forcing the club to become one-dimensional. The Browns have been productive in the first quarter where they can achieve a balanced approach. Maintaining gaps and setting the edge will be crucial for the Bucs' defense. Tampa Bay's defensive line is solidified with Akiem Hicks commanding the middle and eating up blockers. After the Bucs held a robust Seattle rushing attack in check in Week 10 (Kenneth Walker 39 yards), they enter this meeting confident.
Although a myriad of opponents have imposed their will on the ground in 2022 against the Browns' defense, they still have two top-tier cornerstones in Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward who possess game-wrecking potential. Garrett's explosion out of his stance overwhelms tackles. With a rare combination of bend, speed and power, Garrett routinely commands double teams for his prowess at the line of scrimmage. He has 8.5 sacks on the season and will certainly look to record another against legendary 45-year-old Tom Brady on Sunday. Being stout at the point of attack will be crucial for both Tristan Wirfs and Donovan Smith in going up against one of the NFL's elite. Ward, the tone-setter of the Browns' secondary, can mirror and match receivers with good balance throughout the route. He has a ballhawk mentality to challenge at the catch point and Ward's footwork allows him to change direction while working on underneath routes. Ward is adept at matching up against larger receivers, playing bigger than his 5-11 frame. Both will certainly be a focal point for the Buccaneers in Week 12.
1 Key Thought from Head Coach Todd Bowles
On the Browns' rushing attack:
"It's going to be tough; you know? They've got two good runners, they've got a great offensive line, their tight ends and receivers block as well. They've been in the top five the last couple of years and it's going to be a challenge for our guys – gap control, understanding where we've got to be. But when you do that, they have play action passes and throw the ball – they have a great screen game [and] they've got some good receivers outside. All the way around, we're going to have to be disciplined."