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Bad loss has Browns thinking bounce back
The Cleveland Browns, after taking a 38-14 head-slap delivered by the Los Angeles Chargers, have reached a crossroad in their first full season with general manager John Dorsey in charge.
The Browns take a 2-3-1 record to Tampa to face the Buccaneers on Sunday. They are once again in their familiar residence in the AFC Central Division - last place.
Losing to the Chargers the way they did, being overwhelmed on both sides of the ball in a home game, was deflating. The Buccaneers give them a chance to rebound. After that they play in Pittsburgh and host Kansas City then Atlanta before their bye comes up on Nov. 18.
"We're going see what type men we have on this team," linebacker Christian Kirksey said.
The Buccaneers are going in the wrong direction, too. They have lost three straight after winning their first two games, and like the Browns are in their division basement. They fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith on Monday.
The Buccaneers have given up 16 touchdown passes and five more on the ground. That should play into the Browns' hands, especially Tampa's vulnerability through the air, except for a few major problems.
Injuries have left the Browns so desperately thin at wide receiver that they signed Breshard Perriman off the scrap heap the Saturday before they played the Chargers. Then on Tuesday they elevated Da'Mari Scott from the practice squad.
Their other receivers are rookie Antonio Callaway, rookie Damion Ratley and fifth-year player Jarvis Landry. Landry is the only reliable target quarterback Baker Mayfield has, and he faces a double-team on almost every play because the other wide receivers are so inexperienced.
There's more. Mayfield twisted his ankle running out of bounds in the first quarter against the Chargers. He was not on the injury report Wednesday.
On top of that, the Chargers figured out a pass rush to cut off Mayfield's escape routes from the pocket. The Browns can expect a similar tactic from Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have nine sacks through five games.
"I think we can do some things better so that when Baker needs an escape route there will be one there for him," head coach Hue Jackson said. "I think it's a combination of everything. There's going to be tape built now on Baker and how to defend him. That comes along with the territory. That's just a part of it."
The Chargers taught the Buccaneers and all future teams on the Browns' schedule something else; the Browns are vulnerable to outside running plays. Melvin Gordon rushed for 132 yards on 18 carries. He picked up most of that running outside the tackles.
The Buccaneers don't have anyone to match Gordon's talent in their backfield. Their leading rusher is Peyton Barber with 230 yards on 63 carries. Their only rushing touchdown was scored by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Still, the Browns can expect Tampa Bay to crank up the ground game until the Browns prove they can stop it.
SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular season meeting. Browns lead series, 6-3. The only team the Browns have faced fewer times is the Carolina Panthers. They are 1-4 in that series. The Browns won the last meeting with the Buccaneers in 2014 when Brian Hoyer threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Taylor Gabriel with 8:59 left in the fourth quarter to give the Browns a 22-17 edge.