The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-6) will take on the Cleveland Browns (4-3) on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Here are several matchups between individual players and/or certain team units that could go a long way towards determining the game's final outcome:
Buccaneers Starting LT vs. OLB Paul Kruger
Usual starter Anthony Collins is listed as doubtful for the game with a foot injury. Oniel Cousins or Kevin Pamphile could fill the spot. It would be rookie Pamphile's first career start, or the first start of the season for Oniel Cousins, who opened four games last year for Sunday's home team, the Browns. Whoever lines up to protect Glennon's blind side will likely see a lot of Browns' leading sack artist Paul Kruger, who has five QB takedowns on the season, including three last week in a win over the Oakland Raiders.
LB Lavonte David vs. RB Ben Tate
Lavonte David leads the NFL in tackles per game, averaging nearly 11.5 in each contest and posting 14 tackles in each of his last three games. The Cleveland Browns average just 3.8 yards per rush (24th in the NFL) but run the ball on 49% of their snaps, the third highest percentage in the league. Because of their commitment to the run, they are 12th in the rushing yards, with nine TDs on the ground. Ben Tate leads the way with 84 carries for 305 yards in five games. Beyond the ground game, David and the Buccaneers have been solid in defending the pass against running backs, ranking 13th in the league in that category. The Browns have rarely thrown to their backs, who have just 14 combined receptions through seven games.
DT Gerald McCoy vs. G Joel Bitonio
McCoy has picked up right where he left off last season, proving to be an absolute headache for opposing linemen and quarterbacks. According to Pro Football Focus, McCoy is the highest rated DT, with three sacks, seven QB hits and 12 hurries on the year. He should line up across from rookie guard Joel Bitonio who is having a fine season of his own so far as PFF's fourth-ranked guard, having allowed no sacks and just one QB hit. McCoy could also see help coming from Browns' center Nick McDonald, who is filling in for injured two-time Pro Bowler Alex Mack.
RB Bobby Rainey vs. MLB Karlos Dansby
Doug Martin is also listed as doubtful for the game in Cleveland, which should mean significant playing time for Rainey. Rainey started at running back twice this season during Martin's previous injury and rushed for 185 yards while also catching 10 passes for 94 yards in those two games. He faces the rush defense giving up the third most yards per game in the league this season, led by Dansby who has registered 56 tackles, three sacks and an interception.
WRs Vincent Jackson & Mike Evans vs. CBs Buster Skrine & Joe Haden
Coming off a Pro Bowl 2013 season, Haden, has yet to register an interception in his seven games this season. Fellow starting cornerback Skrine has two INTs, but according to Pro Football Focus has allowed five touchdowns thrown in his direction. Jackson and Evans have 51 catches, 693 yards and four touchdowns between them. The Bucs have struggled over the last two weeks to get things moving through the air. QB Mike Glennon could try to establish a connection with both receivers early to build a rhythm and bring the passing game back to life.
CB Alterraun Verner vs. QB Brian Hoyer
Hoyer has thrown just eight touchdowns on the season, but still boasts a 91.0 passer rating, thanks to 245 yards per game and only two interceptions, tied with Tom Brady for the fewest among quarterbacks with at least five starts. WR Andrew Hawkins, the Browns' leading receiver and likely the man lined up against Verner the most in this game, has been targeted 62 times this season, 28.3% of Hoyer's passes. Verner is looking for his second interception of the season and should see a lot of chances thrown his way, but by one of the leagues hardest-to-intercept quarterbacks.
Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy will likely be lined up against a rookie quite a bit on Sunday, but Cleveland's Joel Bitonio happens to be one of the NFL's top-performing guards this season