The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns do not have much recent history playing against each other, as they have met only twice during the regular season over the last decade. But new Cleveland starting quarterback Jake Delhomme knows all about the Bucs from his days with the Carolina, going 9-2 vs. Tampa Bay as the Panthers starting QB.
The Buccaneers will be counting on second-year QB Josh Freeman to lead their offense and enter the regular-season opener against the Browns as 3-point home favorites on the NFL point spread. Freeman was Tampa’s first-round draft pick last year and took over around the midway point of the season, playing a vital role in all three wins during an otherwise brutal 3-13 campaign. He is recovering from a broken thumb suffered during the preseason on his non-throwing hand but will play.
Delhomme was especially successful playing at Tampa Bay when he played with the Panthers, winning five of the six times he played there. He will team with backup Seneca Wallace to give Cleveland a different look under center after letting Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson go in the offseason. The Browns hope to pick up where they left off last season, as they bring a four-game winning streak into this matchup and have covered seven regular-season games in a row.
Both teams will need to establish their running games though in order to take some pressure off their quarterbacks. Cleveland suffered a tough loss in the preseason finale despite beating Chicago 13-10 when rookie running back Montario Hardesty suffered a torn ACL in his left knee. Hardesty was expected to be the team’s starter, but that job now goes to Jerome Harrison. The fifth-year player from Washington State was the NFL’s top rusher over the last three weeks of last season, totaling 561 yards and scoring five touchdowns with the Browns winning all three games.
Tampa’s Carnell Williams knows all about injuries and would like to return to the 1,000-yard form of his rookie year. Williams had the second-best year of his career last season with 821 yards and seven touchdowns after overcoming a series of knee injuries. He will be the featured back for the Bucs this year and will need to stay healthy to help Freeman grow as a passer.
The Browns ranked 31st in total defense (giving up 389.3 yards per game) last season and 28th against the run (144.6 ypg) while Tampa Bay finished last in run defense, surrendering 158.2 yards per game. That means Harrison and Williams could very well run wild in this game, with the better performer most likely leading his team to victory in Week 1.
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