The Raiders might be one of the harder teams to figure out this season. On one hand, they have some of the worst quarterback play that I can remember. That's saying something coming from a guy that watches the Cleveland Browns every week. They have been beaten at home by terrible teams like the Chiefs and Redskins. They have been blown out by embarassing margins against the Jets (38-0) and Giants (44-7).
On the other hand, they have won games against some of the better teams in the league. The Raiders won a defensive struggle (!) against the Eagles. They dominated the second half and caused 4 turnovers to upset the Bengals. They rode Bruce Gradkowski (!) to a big passing day in coming back to beat the Steelers. And they ran all over the Broncos just last week in a game where 3 crappy QBs played for the Raiders (Charlie Frye, JaMarcus Russel and J.P. Losman).
Let's try to make a little sense of their matchup with our Brownies.
When the Raiders have the ball
The Browns defense is dead last after getting thrashed by the terrible Chiefs. Once again, it is hard to tell which Browns D will come to play tomorrow. The one that shut down a very good offense in the Steelers. Or the one that played last week.
Charlie Frye gets the start for the Raiders. In my mind, he is a Brady Quinn type. Heavy on heart and athleticism. Light on arm strength and instincts. Maybe that's a little harsh on Quinn, but the point is Frye won't be challenging our deep passing game, but he is a threat to scramble. In my memory, he is also less accurate than Quinn.
If Russell gets any playing time, he probably will stink. He is dead last in DYAR and DVOA (45 of 45 qualifying passers- nearly 60% worse than the average quarterback). And while there has never been a question of his arm strength, Russel's decisionmaking and even his commitment to the sport has been questioned several times over the last year or two.
The Raiders running game is ok (23rd in the league, -3.0% DVOA. Michael Bush is just above average (7.4% DVOA). Justin Fargas is just below average (-7.6% DVOA). Darren McFadden though is quickly becoming another disappointing Raiders draft pick. (-30% DVOA and 4 fumbles in just 90-some carries). The Browns are 31st against the run.
When the Browns have the Ball
The Raiders defense is 26th overall in efficiency and 28th in weighted DVOA (weighting the more recent games). They are 23rd against the pass and 26th against the run. They aren't particularly good or particularly bad at stopping any specific type of WR. But Nnamdi Asomugha does have a reputation as a top CB in the league- and the Browns passing game, regardless of quarterback, has been pretty bad. (Brady Quinn ranks 31st with a -17.8% DVOA and Derek Anderson ranks 44th with a -50.2% DVOA).
The Browns will look to continue their run-early-and-often attack. The team ranks 14th in the league in rushing efficiency now (3.1%-- better than average!!). Jerome Harrison, on the strength of last week's record-setting performance, is now the 25th most valuable back in the league this year (72 DYAR) and 20th most efficient on a per-play basis (6.6% DVOA).
Josh Cribbs' punt return unit has slacked to 2nd in the league (to the Eagles). But his kick return unit now leads the league and is 21.1% better than the average unit. Quit simply, Josh Cribbs may be the best returner in the history of the league. Appologies to Devin Hester, Billy Johnson, Eric Metcalf, Deion Sanders, Dante Hall or even Gayle Sayers. The Browns have the best special teams in the league right now.
Oakland has their strengths too. They have the best FG/XP unit (14.5% better than average) and the best Punting unit (16.5% better than average). And they should be. Punter Shane Lechler is the highest paid kicker or punter in football and kicker Sabastian Janikowski was infamously drafted in the first round (17th pick!). They are just below average covering kicks though, so Cribbs should have some chances. Their return units are awful (worst in the league in both)- somewhat surprising for all the emphasis Al Davis puts on 40 times when drafting.
Questions and Conclusions
Whether it is because of hard-headed cooridinators, crappy quarterbacks, or pourus rush defenses, there is going to be a lot rushing yards in this game. The Browns have confidence, but they needed quite a few breaks to get overcome a bad Chiefs game, and the Raiders are capable of very good games too.
Three Questions that will determine the outcome:
1.) Whether it was coin flips or practice, DA and Charlie Frye have a history of comepeting against eachother. Now, they are backups on awful teams, playing only because of injury. Which one will do less to lose the game?
2.) Can either rush defense step up to the challenge and slow the other team's ground attack?
3.) Will Josh Cribbs make a case for 3 Special Team Player of the Week awards in a row?
This game might look a lot like last week's- maybe not as explosive. Being at home, I think we pull it out again!