This afternoon, a pair of 3-8 teams will square off in Oakland. The Browns are fresh off their 8 forced turnover effort against the Steelers that snapped a 2-game losing streak, while the Raiders lost big to the Bengals 34-10 to extend their losing skid to 4 games. Heavy rain has hit the Oakland area over the last couple days, so field conditions are expected to have a palpable effect on this game. Here’s three things I think the Browns need to take care of if they hope to take home a win from the west coast.
1. Win the turnover battle – In the five games that the Browns have won the turnover battle (8th in turnover margin in the league), they are 3-2, including the last minute losses to Indianapolis and Philadelphia. Likewise, Oakland is 1-8 when they don’t win the turnover battle (25th in turnover margin). This is an opportunistic defense that has playmakers at every level now. While the eight turnovers last week won’t soon be duplicated, it’s not a stretch to think the Browns can find a way to pick off two Carson Palmer passes. The Raiders are pass-heavy, and Carson has thrown 12 interceptions this season. With Joe Haden in the defensive backfield, the Browns are now 3-3. Can they push over the. 500 mark with him?
2. Rule the running game – The Raiders rank just 29th in rushing yards per game at just under 83 yards per game. Darren McFadden is back, but he may be slowed with his lingering ankle injury and the lousy weather. More than the running game itself, I’m concerned about the running backs catching passes out of the backfield. In particular, I hope the Browns account for fullback Marcel Reese, who has had some huge games this season catching the ball out of the backfield (games of 95, 90, 58, 56, and 54 yards receiving). Meanwhile, for the Browns, I will be pretty upset if Trent Richardson doesn’t get north of 30 carries. This is not a game where dropping Brandon Weeden back 30-35 times is a recipe for success. The Raiders have allowed the fifth most rushing yards per game this season, and this offensive line should have the chemistry and the capable back behind them to get the job done. Richardson didn’t have more than 19 carries in the first seven games, but he has not had less than 24 carries in the last four. It’s critical that they continue that trend and get Trent over 125 yards.
3. The little things – I’m talking about clock management, costly penalties, and field position. Little things can make the difference, especially with two sub-.500 teams. The Browns rank 5th in the league in penalties per game (2nd in yardage), while the Raiders fall in the middle of the pack after being known as being tops in the league for several seasons. There’s no need to belabor Pat Shurmur’s ineptness with clock management. It needs to get better, and there’s no time like the present for it to improve. Can we get through the game without one painfully obvious clock blunder by Pat? If the Browns have a lead late, can they secure the ball without clamming up too much and becoming so predictable that they can’t pick up first downs. The Raiders have one of if not the best punter-kicker duo in the game with Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski. The Browns have half of that elite equation. Reggie Hodges has been below average this season (42.2 yards per punt compared to Lechler’s 48.3), and they could use a few punts landing inside the 20 today.