The Cleveland Browns play the third game in a trio of games that are, generously stated, against struggling teams. The Browns lost to winless Jacksonville and beat winless Oakland. Now the 1-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to Cleveland.
The Bucs are like the Browns in that they are adjusting to a new coach. They are like the Browns used to be in that they are searching for a quarterback.
Cleveland is at home, where the temperature is expected to be a decidedly non-Tampa Bay like 40-some degrees.
Bucs reporter Pat Yasinskas and Browns reporter Pat McManamon join to discuss the game.
McManamon: Tampa Bay comes to Cleveland 1-6. Where exactly have the Bucs improved under Lovie Smith?
Yaskinskas: That’s a great question, and the honest answer is nowhere. Smith seemed like a great hire and has good pedigree with the Tampa 2 defense. The Bucs were active in free agency and they said that’s because they didn’t want to have to ask their fans to be patient. But none of the free-agent moves really have panned out and it’s taking a lot longer for Smith’s defensive and offensive schemes to take hold. I never thought I’d say this, but former coach Greg Schiano’s bunch from last year might be better than the current Bucs.
The Browns jumped into the national spotlight when they drafted Johnny Manziel. But Brian Hoyer has been able to hold him off for the starting quarterback job. How is Hoyer playing, and how firm is his grip on the job?
McManamon: As coach Mike Pettine said last week, good enough to win and be 4-3. Hoyer has hit a bit of a lull, with two off days in Jacksonville and at home against Oakland. But take the entire season together and he’s doing well. His rating is more than 90, he doesn’t throw interceptions, and he’s doing it without Josh Gordon and -- for the past two games -- without a running game. Hoyer’s only issue is that the Browns drafted Johnny Manziel. Because of that there will always be a vocal minority (or majority?) that will cry for Manziel at every error by Hoyer. He needs to win this game, but in the overall picture his play has been a bright spot for a team few thought would be 4-3 at this point of the season.
Is the Bucs' long-term quarterback on the roster, or will he be drafted in the offseason?
Yaskinskas: Josh McCown is 35, so he’s out as a long-term answer. But the jury still is out on second-year pro Mike Glennon. He has a big arm and some nice intangibles, but he hasn’t been met with a lot of success. I think Glennon could be fine if the Bucs improved his supporting cast. But, if this team keeps losing and gets an early draft pick, I think it’s going to be tough to not draft a guy that might be able to be a franchise quarterback.
The Browns haven’t been able to run the ball effectively the past few games. What’s gone wrong?
McManamon: The easy answer is to say the Browns lost their Pro Bowl center. Without Alex Mack the Browns aren’t even averaging 2 yards a carry the past two games. Clearly that’s a factor. But the other factor is that Jacksonville and Oakland dared the Browns to throw by loading the box with a safety to protect against the run. It’s no secret that Kyle Shanahan’s offense is built around the ability to run and play-action, so teams are trying to take the run away and negate play-action. Tampa is a Cover 2 team, though. It will be interesting to see if Smith goes against his bread-and-butter and plays eight in the box.
We live in a (Cleve)land where the coach got one season to prove himself last season with the Browns. Is it at all conceivable that would happen with Smith?
Yasinskas: That’s something I’ve started asking myself recently because it’s becoming a legitimate question. Smith signed a five-year contract and ownership still seems high on him. But let’s say the Bucs end up 1-15 or 2-14 and have some more embarrassing losses like they did against Atlanta and Baltimore. If the bottom really falls out of this thing, I think it’s possible that Smith could get only one year. He needs to get a few wins and show improvement down the stretch.
With Josh Gordon suspended, where do the Browns turn for a receiving threat if banged-up tight end Jordan Cameron isn’t ready to go?
McManamon: That’s a significant issue, Pat. If Cameron’s concussion keeps him on the sidelines the Browns will absolutely have to run the ball. That will help the passing game more than anything. To replace Gordon, the Browns have basically shared the wealth. Andrew Hawkins has played more than any receiver and has been a pleasant surprise. Miles Austin has come up with big catches and touchdowns. And undrafted rookie Taylor Gabriel ranks second in the league in yards per catch (19.8 yards). Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge would share time in place of Cameron. Both have good hands, but neither can get down the field the way Cameron can. One of Hoyer’s strengths is that he can read the field and make a decision quickly, which allows him to spread the ball around. I’d expect that approach to continue.