The Browns are back, after their bye week, and are sitting at .500. They’ve hopefully gotten the putrid taste of giving up big play after big play to the Titans out of their mouths, but face an equally tough challenge this Sunday as they head out to The Black Hole to face the resurgent Raiders. I remember a plucky young football team who was sitting on the precipice of something good when their owner named Al unexpectedly passed away. That team put a sweet patch on their uniforms, and made a surprise run to the playoffs. Hard to believe it was almost 10 years ago; these Raiders appear poised to do something similar.
This is going to sound more callous than I intend, but the Browns draw a short straw this week in heading to Oakland for the first Raiders’ home game after Al Davis’s passing. I expect an emotional team and crowd, and it’s going to mean the Browns are going to have to be that much better to beat Oakland in their house this Sunday. Oakland sits at 3-2, and is getting it done with the running game. They are currently second in the NFL with 161.8 yards per game on the ground, whereas the Browns are 25th in the league at stopping the run (124.5 yards allowed per game). Their passing attack is a little less stellar, sitting at 22nd in the league with 219.8 yards per game; the Browns counter with a solid pass defense which is fourth in the league (195.5 yards allowed per game). Defensively, the Raiders struggle a bit more, allowing almost 425 yards a game: 124.5 on the ground (25th) and 299.6 through the air (29th). The Browns’ offense has to come to play on Sunday to exploit those numbers. Without further ado…
The Browns Will Win If…
Editor’s note: Similar to the pats weeks, we have started things off with sharing some takes with our audience over at Still WFNY – please feel free to head over to Cleveland.com to partake. We have also invited Daniel Wolf from National Football Authority to contribute to our weekly post. If you haven’t already, check out his website and twitter for Browns news and info. Take it away, Daniel…
Daniel Wolf : … if Pat Shurmur has finally had the time with his roster to analyze players’ strengths and weaknesses during the Bye week. I think this is evident since rookie receiver Greg Little has finally been moved into the starting lineup, over Brian Robiskie. Little’s development is very important for the Browns to win this game and hopefully he has shed all the rust from not playing his senior year and can have a break-out performance against the Raiders this Sunday. I’m not saying Little is the key to winning, but the fact he is starting over Robiskie, gives the Browns a better chance of moving the ball on offense and could help the team pull off a win and move back to a winning record, at 3-2.
Craig: … if Alex Mack plays. I don’t think Alex Mack playing guarantees victory, but I think Browns fans are in for a rude awakening if he doesn’t play and they figure out just how important his presence is giving the ball to Colt McCoy and holding strong between two very young guards. The Browns will need to run the ball if they plan on getting their offense going and while I don’t know a ton about Mack’s potential replacement Steve Vallos, I just can’t believe the Browns have someone of Pro Bowl quality stashed as depth on the bench.
Andrew: …The obvious answer would be if they can keep Darren McFadden in check. But the Raiders showed last week that they are still capable of winning even when McFadden has just an average game. So slowing down McFadden is a given, but if the Browns are going to win this game they need their offense to give them a strong showing for once.
The Raiders pass defense has been suspect this season and it’s time for Colt McCoy to start showing that he’s capable of being a difference maker at QB. Obviously getting a breakout performance from Peyton Hillis would be huge. Maybe enough to win this game if the defense has a good day. But deep down, I suspect the outcome of this game will be in Colt’s hands in the 4th quarter. If he steps up, I think the Browns can win this game.
Rick: …they can muster a couple of big plays on both offense and defense. I see this as a game the Browns will need to force some turnovers in order to stall the Raiders. And they could be doing it without their best play-maker on defense. It would be hard to make the Raiders one-dimensional without Haden. The Browns’ offense will have to find a way to perform in the first quarter, which is something they haven’t done this season. Adding to the difficulty will be the emotion of a sold-out Coliseum and an Al Davis tribute pregame. Ouch. Hopefully the Browns have made some progress during the bye week and will have some creative ways to get the ball downfield.
Kirk: …The Browns will win if Joe Haden and Alex Mack play. They’re two of the five most important players on the team, and they’re in key aspects of this game. The Raiders have 14 sacks as a team, and having Mack in there to protect and assist in the running game is crucial. As for Haden, it would be a big boost to have him cover Heyward-Bey, and I’m concerned about the exploitation of Sheldon Brown even more than Patterson or Skrine. If the Browns can’t get the run game started against Oakland’s D, I’m not sure it will get started at all this year. Emotion will be high for Al Davis, but I think that’s getting overhyped a bit. If the Browns can avoid getting blasted in the first, they will be competitive.
Now, for the other side of the coin. We reached out to several Raiders bloggers, and got some strong takes. Without further ado…
The Raiders Will Win If…
Chris Shellcroft writes for Just Blog Baby. Chris is a Los Angeles native who’s Raider Roots can be traced to those glorious years when Al Davis was kind enough to share the passion of the “Just Win Baby” attitude with Southern California. Chris’s goals are to capture the pride of the Raider Nation and represent the Silver and Black faithful world wide.
…they keep relying on what has worked thus far. Namely, handing the rock to Darren McFadden and allowing him to operate in space behind a dominating O-line. With the spirit of Al Davis still as present as if he were sitting in the owners’ box for the game there will be plenty of emotion still fresh from last week’s win in Houston. All of that emotion will have to be kept in check. Amid all the tributes to Davis that will occur during the game the Oakland defense has got to be dialed in to stop Peyton Hillis. The broken record that is the Raiders’ woeful run defense continues to skip. While last week they contained Arian Foster on the ground they allowed him to eclipse the century mark in receiving yardage.
The Browns are a scrappy bunch that, much like the Raiders, are capable of beating anybody including themselves on any given Sunday depending on their focus. Colt McCoy could have a big day as well as the Nnamdi-less secondary has been embarrassing thus far. Injuries, inexperience and general indifference have plagued the Oakland DBs through 5 games.
Levi Damien is a writer for Thoughts from the Dark Side, and has been covering the Raiders for TFDS since early 2008. He originally hails from the fine state of Oregon where he has followed the Raiders since the early 80’s.
…they bring it with phrases Al Davis was known for:
1. “Pride and poise” The Raiders have a lot of pride right now but they need to stay poised and control their emotions. This is going to be a big game for the Raiders. It is their first home game since Al Davis passed away and the sold out crowd will really be into it. The key for the Raiders will be to channel their emotions and not turn them into stupid roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
2. “The quarterback must go down and he must go down hard”. They must put constant pressure on Colt McCoy. Their pass rush is the key to their success of late. When they are getting pressure, it eases the burden on the secondary and forces turnovers. The Raiders are 0-2 this season in games where they weren’t getting to the quarterback and Matt Schaub almost drove them to another loss even when they were getting pressure.
3. “The greatness of the Raiders is in their future”. For some of these young Raiders, the future is now. Namely Rolando McClain. He is banged up and it is uncertain if he will play on Sunday. I believe he will simply because the Raiders don’t really have any other option. If he is not at the top of his game, the Browns will key on him. He was drafted last year and immediately stepped in as the starter but has yet to become the player the Raiders hope he will be. As the every down middle linebacker, that transition must happen right quick.
Two other young players are Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore–the Raiders’ return men. The kick and punt return game thus far this season has been horrendous. Too many times the Raiders have started inside their own 20 yard line. A lot of that has to do with coverage of course. They will need to break through or make the decision to just take the touchback. Field position is important in football and one of these games is going to come down to which team was able to make a play in the return game and which team was staring at their own 20 yard line every time.
What say, there, fuzzy britches?