NFL Week 1 Picks: Former Cleveland Browns Upset Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Browns find themselves matched up Sunday against a team with striking similarities. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the 2009 season with a dismal 3-13 record. The Browns….5-11.
TE Kellen Winslow, S Sean Jones and C Jeff Faine, all former Browns players, are now starters with the Bucs. And both teams are rebuilding with aspirations of a better performance this season
Buccaneers Improve Defense with Rookies
The Bucs ranked 27th in total defense last year, allowed 365 yards per game. The Browns ranked 31st and gave up 389.
The Bucs defense surrendered 158 rushing yards per game compared to the Browns 144 yards. Passing… Bucs 244 vs. Browns 207.
The Bucs this offseason looked to the draft to improve their defensive performance. They drafted two defensive tackles in Gerald McCoy and Brian Price.
McCoy, an undersized DT, is the perfect fit for the Bucs return to the famed Tampa 2 defense.
The hope is McCoy and Price allow their DE partners Kyle Moore and Stylez White to be more effective in the pass rush while improving the run defense.
So far this preseason the performance has been promising. McCoy is drawing double-teams and providing pressure on the opponent’s side of the ball.
DB Myron Lewis was drafted to be the eventual replacement of 14-year veteran Ronde Barber. Joining Barber at the other corner is Aqib Talib who misses the game serving a suspension for an off season altercation with a cab driver.
In his place will be second- year corner E.J. Biggers who was his own highlight reel against the Dolphins in their first preseason game by shutting down Brandon Marshall, leading the team with four solo tackles and recovering a fumble from Tyler Thigpen.
Though somewhat strange, look for Barber to play the slot receiver when the Browns go with 3 WR’s and Lewis playing the corner in his place.
The heart of the Tampa 2 is the LB position. The Bucs have a pair that are exemplary in Barrett Ruud and Quincy Black.
Ruud was third in the NFL last year with an astounding 142 tackles. Black led in tackles on defense this preseason with 15.
Safety Sean Jones was brought in Tampa shore up the poor tackling exhibited by Sabby Piscatelli last season and will start at SS.
On offense head coach Raheem Morris starts second year QB Josh Freeman. Freeman had a dreadful rookie season with 10 TD’s and 18 INT’s.
Determined to improve, Freeman reportedly had dedicated himself this offseason to the film study trying to improve his game.
Putting his classroom time into action however was derailed at the beginning of training camp when Freeman fractured his right thumb and has sat out all four preseason games.
Coaches were concerned about him being able to grip the ball as well as rotating it out of his hand with power and accuracy. So far reports are he is doing fine and is expected to start Sunday
A solid running game is the best medicine for shaky QB play. And Morris has prescribed a three-headed monster to alleviate Freeman’s growing pains with RB Cadillac Williams, RB Kareem Huggins and FB Earnest Graham.
Graham has had an impressive preseason and leads the backs with 25 carries for 134 yards and 5.4 yard per carry average. Cadillac has lost a step and is still an upright downhill runner with limited success.
The Bucs, like the Browns with Hillis, are toying with the idea of using Graham as a RB instead of a FB given his preseason success.
The receiving core features a very familiar name to Browns fans with TE Kellen Winslow. Winslow comes off his second best season as a pro with 77 receptions and 884 yards.
But don’t overlook TE Jerramy Stevens. And how could you? At 6-7 and 260 lbs, Stevens is a size mismatch for anyone on defense.
The other area addressed during the offseason was WR. And the Buccaneers feel they found a winner with Syracuse’s Mike Williams.
At 6-2, 212 lbs, Williams has had an impressive camp with 7 catches for 157 yards and a 22.7 yard average.
Playing the Z receiver will be second-year man Sammy Stroughter. Also look for rookie standout 6-2, 220 lb Arrelious Benn from Illinois to be on the field testing the secondary as well.
To most outsiders this game, appears to be a sleeper. But I believe this will be one of the more entertaining games on Sunday.
The Bucs' WRs will be a good test of the Browns secondary coverage skills. And you know Kellen Winslow is looking to make a statement to his former boss Eric Mangini.
However, this all might be for naught due to Josh Freeman’s inactivity during the preseason. Freeman has a lost valuable time applying his classroom time on the field with the bullets flying.
Look for Rob Ryan to provide enough confusion in his schemes to give Freeman fits Sunday.
Additionally, Freeman and his young receiver core have had no time to develop a rhythm and timing in the passing game.
This could provide interception opportunities for Wright, Brown and Haden.
The Bucs running game has been inconsistent this offseason but is their best hope for success. The battle in the trenches will be a good test for the front seven.
Offensively, Jake Delhomme should have a decent day. The Tampa Tribune put this up as its quote of the day, from Raheem Morris: “(Jake Delhomme) is going to know our defense as good as one of our vets on our own team. He might know it better than some of our young players.
"He probably knows it better than (Bucs rookie safety) Cody Grimm right now. When you go into the game, you got to understand that and know that he knows that you know that he knows.”
Jake knows the Tampa 2 well. He should be able to find the holes in the coverage and “matriculate the ball down the field.”
I will be watching with great interest who Ronde Barber matches up with when Evan Moore and Benjamin Watson are on the field. One or both could be in for a big day.
Browns walk away from this one with a 1-0 record.