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OPPONENT: Cleveland Browns
WHERE: Cleveland Browns Stadium
WHERE THE BROWNS STAND: The Browns are 4-10 and in last place in the AFC North division.
BROWNS HEAD COACH: Romeo Crennel
BROWNS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jeff Davidson
BROWNS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Todd Grantham
BROWNS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Jerry Rosburg
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE
OVERALL: 30th (262.8 ypg)
RUSHING: 29th (90.0 ypg)
PASSING: 26th (172.8 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE
OVERALL: 23rd (338.6 ypg)
RUSHING: 17th (121.0 ypg)
PASSING: 23rd (217.6 ypg)
CLEVELAND BROWNS OFFENSE
OVERALL: 29th (267.1 ypg)
RUSHING: 30th (79.8 ypg)
PASSING: 22nd (187.4 ypg)
CLEVELAND BROWNS DEFENSE
OVERALL: 31st (355.9 ypg)
RUSHING: 29th (144.7 ypg)
PASSING: 17th (211.2 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW …
… Cleveland ranks tied for 29th in the NFL with a minus-11 turnover ratio?
SCOUTING THE BROWNS
Charlie Frye entered the season as Cleveland’s starting signal caller. He completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 2,267 yards and tossed 10 touchdowns and 16 interceptions before getting injured. Frye probably will not start against Tampa Bay since he’s listed as questionable with a wrist injury. Instead, Browns backup QB Derek Anderson will get the nod. The second-year signal caller has completed 56-of-90 passes (62.2 percent) for 670 yards while tossing five touchdowns and four interceptions. Although he’s a backup quarterback, the 6-foot-6, 245-pound Anderson has a big frame and rifle for an arm that Tampa Bay’s defense must respect.
If you thought Tampa Bay’s ground game was struggling, Cleveland’s could make it look potent. The Browns have had a terrible time running the football this season. They are currently averaging just 79.8 yards per game in that department, which ranks 30th in the league. Cleveland’s ground attack is led by Reuben Droughns, who has rushed for 583 yards (3.2 avg.) and four touchdowns. Droughns is a hard runner and can break some tackles, but he’s listed as questionable with a foot injury. Droughns has also had problems holding onto the ball this season. In fact, Droughns has lost all three of the fumbles he’s had in 2006. Although he’s not as mobile as Frye, Anderson has the ability to take off with the football, evidenced by his 33-yard run earlier this season.
With Cleveland’s running game grounded, look for the Anderson and the Browns to come out passing the football Sunday. Second-year WR Braylon Edwards has caught 55 passes for 831 yards (15.1 avg.) and six touchdowns. Edwards (6-3, 215) will be matched up against Bucs cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who has replaced ailing CB Juran Bolden in the starting lineup. Buchanon is nursing a groin injury but was taken off of the injury report Friday. While Edwards is a dangerous receiver, Cleveland’s go-to guy is tight end Kellen Winslow, who has hauled in a team-leading 76 passes for 755 yards and three touchdowns. Winslow is an exceptional athlete and has impressive speed, and no one should be surprised to see the Browns take a page out of Chicago’s playbook and get him matched up with linebackers Derrick Brooks and Ryan Nece, and/or safety Jermaine Phillips. The Bucs defense struggled mightily to cover Bears TE Desmond Clark last week. Look for the Browns to feature plenty of two-tight end sets with Steve Heiden, who has caught 33 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns while serving as more of a blocker than a pass catcher. Former Tampa Bay WR Joe Jurevicius will line up against Bucs CB Ronde Barber, who was voted to his third straight Pro Bowl this week. Barber’s familiarity with the 6-foot-5, 230-pound receiver should help him contain Jurevicius, who has hauled in 36 passes for 437 yards but is listed as questionable with a concussion. While Barber is a great athlete, Anderson has enough confidence in Jurevicius’ size to throw up passes for him down the sidelines. The 5-foot-10 Barber will have to find a way to defend these types of plays against a Cleveland offense that is producing just 267 yards and converting 33 percent of its third downs this season.
Cleveland spent some serious money in free agency in an effort to upgrade its offensive line this offseason, but it hasn’t paid off. Former New Orleans Saints center LeCharles Bentley signed with Cleveland in free agency and suffered a season-ending knee injury on the first day of training camp. Backup C Hank Fraley has played in his place, but he’s had mixed results. The Browns also landed left tackle Kevin Shaffer during the offseason. He’s been charged with protecting the blindside of the quarterbacks, but Cleveland’s offensive line has failed to protect anyone. In fact, Cleveland has given up a whopping 50 sacks in 14 regular season games. That stat ranks 30th in the league. Bucs defensive end Dewayne White hasn’t generated much of a pass rush in place of Simeon Rice, but he needs to get past Shaffer and after Anderson on Sunday. Tampa Bay DE Greg Spires should have a favorable matchup vs. Cleveland RT Kelly Butler, who has been inconsistent in the running game and pass protection. The Bucs will once again use Ellis Wyms and Jovan Haye at the under tackle position, and they will face former Bucs guard Cosey Coleman, who is not a Pro Bowl-caliber player and is nursing a toe injury. Tampa Bay nose tackle Chris Hovan will be charged with taking on double teams from Fraley and LG Joe Andruzzi, who is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game with a knee injury. Tampa Bay’s defense has failed to get after the quarterback on a consistent basis this season. They’ve notched just 21 sacks through 14 games. If there were ever a game where Tampa Bay’s front four was poised to dominate in the trenches, this would be it.
In 2005, Cleveland head coach Romeo Crenell brought the 3-4 defensive scheme over with him from New England, where he served as defensive coordinator for the Patriots when the team won all three of their Super Bowls. Tampa Bay center John Wade will be charged with the difficult task of taking on Cleveland nose tackle Ted Washington, whose 6-foot-5, 365-pound frame will be tough to move, especially in the running game. The good news for Wade is Washington is questionable for the game with a knee injury. Bucs left tackle Anthony Davis, who has struggled over the past two games, will go up against RE Alvin McKinley, who has notched 4.5 sacks this season. On the right side of the line, Bucs rookie RT Jeremy Trueblood will face Browns LE Simon Fraser, who has notched four sacks this season. While Fraser and McKinley are capable of getting after the quarterback, they’ve struggled in the running game, where the Browns are giving up an average of 145 yards per contest. Bucs RB Cadillac Williams is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game with a foot injury. If he can’t go, which is likely, Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham, and fullback Mike Alstott will participate in a running-back-by-committee approach.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line has faced the 3-4 defense twice this season, and it’s hoping the third time will be the charm since it struggled in two previous contests. Browns left inside linebacker Andra Davis is not used to blitz often, and neither is right inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. In fact, they’ve combined for just one sack. However, Davis is capable in pass coverage, evidenced by his two interceptions. The Browns use left outside linebacker Willie McGinest and right outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley to go after the quarterback. McGinest, who was part of Crennel’s defense in New England, has notched four sacks and five tackles for a loss. Wimbley has been the most dominant player on Cleveland’s defense, recording a team-leading 7.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss. Tampa Bay guards Davin Joseph and Sean Mahan will have to play better than they have in previous games against the 3-4 defenses if the Bucs are going to move the ball and protect QB Tim Rattay against the Browns. The Bucs will use Pittman and Alstott to help pick up McGinest and/or Wimbley, but they’ll also try to get TE Alex Smith involved in the passing game in an effort to make the Browns pay for blitzing.
It will be key for Tampa Bay to establish the running game vs. Cleveland’s suspect defense. If the Bucs can get in short-yardage situations on second and third down, they will have the opportunity to exploit the Browns defense, which is allowing opposing offenses to convert nearly 45 percent of their third downs this season. Bucs WR Ike Hilliard will be matched up with Browns CB Leigh Bodden, who isn’t the best cover corner, but has two interceptions this season. Hilliard might have some one-on-one situations with Bodden since the Browns have been forced to play safeties Justin Hamilton and Sean Jones near the line of scrimmage to help defend the run. On the other side of the field, Tampa Bay WR Joey Galloway appears to have a favorable matchup with Cleveland CB Daven Holly, who has notched three interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. While he is a more accurate passer than rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski, Rattay must be careful throwing the ball to Galloway since Holly and Jones, who has recorded a team-leading five interceptions and 17 passes defensed this season, will be roaming around on that side of the field. Tampa Bay rookie WR Maurice Stovall might have trouble getting onto the field since the Bucs probably will feature a lot of two-tight end sets Sunday.
Cleveland has been victimized at times by its kicking game this season. Browns K Phil Dawson has made just 19-of-26 (76 percent) field goal attempts. Five of his misses have come from 40-49 yards out. Browns punter Dave Zastudil is averaging 44 yards per punt and has a net of 38.6. He’s pinned 25 of his 76 punts inside the 20-yard line. Josh Cribbs handles kickoffs and punt returns for the Browns. Cribbs has respectable speed and is averaging 24.9 yards per kickoff return. His longest came on a 92-yard touchdown return earlier this season. Cribbs is averaging 9.2 yards per punt return and has a long of 34. Dennis Northcutt can also return punts for the Browns. Tampa Bay’s coverage units did a great job of limiting Chicago return specialist Devin Hester last Sunday. It will have to do the same vs. Cribbs.
FLYNN’S FORECAST: Browns 21 Buccaneers 20