Tampa Bay’s offense has started the 2018 season red hot. Whether it’s been Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing for 400 yards in back-to-back games to start the season or Jameis Winston throwing four touchdowns and 395 yards in his first start of the year last week in a 34-29 loss at Atlanta, the offense hasn’t been the problem in Tampa Bay. Although Winston’s stellar effort was tainted somewhat by his pair of interceptions against the Falcons.
Despite the fact that the Bucs lead the league in passing and is averaging close to 30 points per game, their record reflects a sub .500 mark at 2-3, heading into Week 7 against the visiting Cleveland Browns. Much of, if not all of that, has to do with the complete ineptitude of the Bucs defense, currently ranked in the cellar in terms of points and passing yards allowed. The good news is that their run-stop unit is stout and ranked No. 5 in the league, but why should teams run the ball when they can strike at will through the air?
Despite the fact that head coach Dirk Koetter resisted making a change before the bye week, something had to be done when the Bucs surrendered 34 points to the Falcons and over 400 yards of offense. Under defensive coordinator Mike Smith’s watch, the Bucs have allowed 400 yards in 20 of the 37 games he has presided over Tampa Bay’s defense. Someone had to take the fall, and that someone was Smith who was shown the door and immediately replaced on an interim basis by linebackers coach Mark Duffner. The 65-year-old Duffner is really in a no-lose situation because things just can’t get any worse on the defensive side of the ball. The change was a bit surprising due to Koetter’s vote of confidence for Smith after Tampa’s 48-10 drubbing in Chicago two weeks ago.
As Tampa Bay moves on this week they will face a foe in Cleveland that is in the midst of a rebuilding phase – yet again – only this time they have notched a few wins and have a seemingly legitimate quarterback in Baker Mayfield, whom they tapped to lead the team with the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. Cleveland scored a huge win over divisional rival Baltimore before they were shredded by the supremely talented Melvin Gordon of the Los Angeles Chargers last week. Gordon was a one-man wrecking crew last Sunday and amassed 132 rushing yards on 18 carries (7.3 YPC) and found the end zone three times in L.A.’s 38-14 victory over the Browns.
Unfortunately, the Bucs don’t have a running back in their stable that compares to Gordon (few do) they will elect to give the lion’s share of carries to Peyton Barber who carried 13 times for 82 yards in a losing effort last week to the Falcons. Cleveland is near the bottom in preventing the run, which should give Barber ample opportunity to bolster the Bucs’ league-worst rushing attack. If Barber can successfully gash the Browns defensive line that will open up even more opportunities for Winston when the aerial assault ensues.
As we take a look at the point spread on this game we see that one of the industry’s leaders in online bookmaking, Heritage Sports is bullish on the Bucs’ chances this week. As of this writing, Tampa Bay has been installed as three-point home favorites over the Browns and the shakeup in defensive coordinators could go a long way into sending a message to Tampa’s defensive unit.
If you’re looking for a trend you can hang your hat on then look no further than the fact that Tampa Bay is 9-3 ATS in their last 12 games after allowing more than 350 total yards in their previous game. At this point, we’ll look at any ray of hope that the Bucs get back on track.