After months of sports talk and speculation, the regular season is only a few short days away. Cleveland and Tampa Bay both had seasons they would like to forget last year and are both looking for a win in week one. Here is an in depth analysis of both teams and what fans can expect to see in week 1.
The Browns have had one of their better preseasons in recent memory posting a 2-2 record. Other than Monterio Hardesty, the team has remained relatively healthy and is pretty well intact for week 1.
The main stories surrounding the Browns will be the entrance into the Mike Holmgren Era as well as the play of veteran Jake Delhomme. Delhomme has been impressive so far in the brown and orange uniforms. Jake has connected on 38 of 48 passes and two touchdowns.
Although Delhomme’s successes and failures will capture most of the headlines, the Browns as a unit are completely different than what they were one short year ago.
Jerome Harrison is slated to be the starting running back while James Davis and Peyton Hillis should also see some significant playing time. Davis was sidelined for the better part of last season due to a shoulder injury and Hillis has been impressive to say the least during his preseason tenure with the team.
Defensively, Shaun Rogers is expected to be back in the mix after he returned to practice this week. According to the report on ClevelandBrowns.com, the Browns are letting Rogers get acclimated slowly and are letting him get some reps at both nose tackle and defensive end.
As for the rest of the defense, all eyes will be on rookies Joe Haden and T.J. Ward. Haden has made significant progress over the preseason but has not yet shown the “game changer” ability that he once displayed at Florida. Ward for the most part has played well but has shown that he lacks in his ability to cover some of the quicker NFL receivers.
Cleveland Browns Key Player(s): Eric Wright and Sheldon Brown
The secondary is going to be vital to the success of Cleveland in this game. Tampa Bay quarterback, Josh Freeman, has seen very limited playing time after an injury this preseason and might take a little while to shake off the rust. Wright and Brown need to lead by example and show the younger members of the defense how to bring it on game day.
The Buccaneers enter Sunday’s game in a very similar boat as the Browns. Raheem Morris will enter his second year as head coach after posting an even 2-2 record over the preseason and hopes that the team’s offensive ability can carry them over the hump.
Unfortunately for Tampa, injuries were a main factor in the preseason as starting quarterback, Josh Freeman, went down after only attempting eight passes. Luckily for the Bucs Freeman’s injury will not sideline him for week 1 and he is expected to be the starter.
In Freeman’s absence the rest of the Buccaneers offense put on a very solid display. Rookie, Mike Williams, led the receiving corps with seven receptions for 157 yards and a touchdown. Arrelious Benn also showed that he should have a place on Sunday’s after averaging 12.2 yards a catch and collecting two scores.
In the ground game, Tampa flexed it’s muscles with a number of talented running backs. Cadillac Williams is expected to get the bulk of the carries as he was kept out of harms way for the better part of the preseason. Kareem Huggins probably had the most impressive preseason out of all the Tampa backs, collecting 134 yards on 25 carries.
The Tampa defensive unit is relatively young but has a load of talent. Fourth year player, Quincy Black, led the team in preseason defensive stats wrapping up 15 tackles and one sack. Second year defensive end, Michael Bennett, also had a strong showing after bringing the quarterback down twice and compiling 9 tackles.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Key Player(s): Josh Freeman
Freeman is entering this season with a large amount of pressure and expectations on his plate. Tampa’s success will rely heavily on Freeman’s ability to pick apart the young Cleveland Browns secondary and also become mobile if Browns get pressure on him. Any NFL team has a hard time if they are only one dimensional on offense and the passing game is definitely the lesser of the two so far this year.
Game Predictions: Leaders
Passing: Jake Delhomme 18-25, 216 yards, two touchdowns
Rushing: Jerome Harrison: 18 Att, 92 yards one touchdown
Receiving: Ben Watson: six catches, 75 yards one touchdown
Other touchdowns: Peyton Hillis, Rushing (one)
Passing: Josh Freeman 21-31, 189 yards, one touchdown one int
Rushing: Cadillac Williams 15 Att, 60 yards two touchdowns
Receiving: Kellen Winslow: seven catches, 80 yards, one touchdown
Cleveland Browns 31
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27