1. ‘We have to be better:’ Considering how the Browns defense has been one of the league’s better units this year, it was disappointing to watch how the Chargers eviscerated the group inside and out in a 38-14 loss this past weekend. Cleveland — which surrendered 246 yards and three touchdowns on the ground — will try and put that poor performance behind itself with a game against the high-powered Buccaneers on tap.
“We have to be better. You can only imagine with how we do,” defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said. “It starts up front. We have to play better on the line of scrimmage. Play better on the line of scrimmage, and it transfers all of the way back … You have to be able to get off of that play and get on to the next play. That has been the big message this week. We have to play the way that we are supposed to play and the way they have been playing.”
2. Next man up: The Browns were dealt a significant blow when middle linebacker Joe Schobert suffered a hamstring injury in last week’s loss to the Chargers. Before that, Schobert had played every defensive snap this season and is something of the on-field general for a defense that leads the league with 16 takeaways.
“We’ll come up with ways to handle not having Joe,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “Obviously, that is a huge blow, but at the same time, we have some guys that can fill in and play.”
Schobert, a third-year player from Wisconsin coming off his first Pro Bowl, will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis. Without him, the Browns moved Christian Kirksey inside and will rotate a host of players at the WILL spot to mitigate the loss.
3. Depth issues: In addition to losing Schobert, the Browns also will be without starting cornerback E.J. Gaines, who on Thursday entered the league’s concussion protocol. It means Cleveland is without two of three top corners — Gaines replaced Terrance Mitchell (broken wrist) earlier this month — heading into a bout with the league’s top passing attack.
“It’s tough,” Jackson said. “But again, next man up. Here we go.”
Those next men up include T.J. Carrie and Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Carrie started 16 games for the Oakland Raiders and has serve as a role player on the back end. Boddy-Calhoun, meanwhile, has played mostly special teams in recent weeks.
The pair, in addition to star rookie Denzel Ward, will face off against one of the league’s better receiving corps in Mike Evans (33 catches, 484 yards, 3 TDs), DeSean Jackson (21 catches, 501 yards, 3 TDs) and second-year player Chris Godwin (21 catches, 284 yards, 4 TDs).
“We understand what the challenge is. That’s how they score,” Jackson said. “I said it yesterday, they have 16 touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown. They’re going to throw the football.”
4. Baker’s bounce-back: After what he described the worst game of his football career, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield took ownership of Sunday’s loss and vowed to do better going forward. Mayfield, who was under pressure all afternoon, passed for 238 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. The Browns believe they’ll see a better version of Mayfield, the first-overall NFL Draft pick, this weekend in Tampa. After all, the youngster had been previously impressive.
“Any loss like that hurts. That is the worst loss that I have ever had,” Mayfield said. “You have to push forward and just have to do your job, and you will find out what this team is made of. It is never about the week before or if you win or lose – it’s how you react from it. Coming off of a loss, we’ll really see what this team is made of.”