Stopping the NFL’s top-ranked passing offense got more daunting for the Browns.
Starting cornerback E.J. Gaines will miss Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay because of a concussion, further challenging a Cleveland defense also without Pro Bowl linebacker Joe Schobert, who could be out several weeks with a hamstring injury.
The loss of Gaines would be tough any time, but especially this week against the high-flying Buccaneers, who are averaging 368.4 yards passing per game and have a trifecta of talented receivers in Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin.
With size and speed, Tampa Bay’s receivers stress defenses.
“Stresses the coaches, too, everybody,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “They are good. Make no doubt about it. We have one that is averaging 23 yards a reception (Jackson), another guy that is 14 yards per reception (Evans) and another guy that is 13 or 12, whatever he is (Goodwin).
“They all are making plays. They have all scored touchdowns. Then you throw the tight ends in there, too. They have some weapons. Guys that can score the ball. It is a big challenge for us. Have to go play well.”
Gaines only recently moved into the starting lineup after Terrance Mitchell, who started Cleveland’s first four games, was placed on injured reserve after he broke his right wrist at Oakland on Sept. 30.
Gaines practiced on Wednesday, but reported to the team’s facility Thursday with concussion-like symptoms and was placed into league protocol. Jackson doesn’t know exactly when Gaines got hurt, but said it was not during practice this week.
“These things, sometimes they flare up at different times in different ways with players,” Jackson said. “We had one of these a year ago that was a little different. Once they check them and put them into the protocol, in they go.”
With Gaines sidelined, T.J. Carrie will start on one corner opposite rookie Denzel Ward, and Briean Boddy-Calhoun will take over at nickel back.
Carrie signed a four-year, $31 million free agent contract with Cleveland in March after four seasons in Oakland. The 28-year-old Carrie started all 16 games last season and 37 during his tenure with the Raiders. He was credited with 12 tackles when the Browns played the Raiders and has 26 this season in a reserve role.
Carrie said all of Tampa Bay’s receivers are dangerous.
“It is going to be a challenge,” he said. “All of us on the back end are going to have to really bone up because they have some talented receivers with the guys that they have. It is another challenge that we have always prepared for. Week in and week out, there is always going to be a challenge with receivers in this league. So many teams in this league have No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 so for our matchup, it is about going out there and being confident in what we do.”
Cleveland’s got a major injury issue on the offensive side as well with starting center JC Tretter slowed by a high left ankle sprain.
Tretter didn’t practice again Thursday so he could get more treatment on the ankle he injured last week while blocking on a quarterback sneak in the first half of a loss to the Chargers. Tretter will test the ankle Friday, but feels positive he’s going to play.
“We will tape it up and we will see what it feels like, and we will make a good decision,” said Tretter, who is wearing a walking boot. “I still feel confident about playing on Sunday. I played with it during the game for the rest of it, and it feels better than it did at that point. I feel confident.”
NOTES: Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley said there were plenty of teaching points for rookie QB Baker Mayfield after his shaky performance last week. Haley said it’s vital the No. 1 pick bounces back Sunday. “How we respond to that, how he (Mayfield) responds to a game like that is very, very critical,” Haley said. “It was one game of 16.” ... The Browns have scored just six points in the first quarter this season, and Haley’s emphasized stronger starts. “I have told the offense very clearly that we need to do something to get the Browns going early. We can’t wait around and wait for somebody else to do it — for (DE) Myles Garrett to make a big sack/fumble or something like that. We have to do it. That is the charge this week and looking to see our guys respond.”