OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 02: Oakland Raiders fans in the Black Hole cheer on their team during their game against the New England Patriots at O.co Coliseum on October 2, 2011 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Two weeks removed from their last game, the Cleveland Browns will return to regular season action Sunday when they take on the Oakland Raiders. A big side storyline in this game will be the Raiders playing their first home game since the death of owner Al Davis. For the purposes of my positional breakdown, I'm going to write as if that "X Factor" will not have an impact on the outcome of the game.
|QB||This is big week for Colt McCoy to show that he's gotten more comfortable with the offense during the bye week, although Pat Shurmur's playcalling will obviously play a big part in that as well. I anticipate that the weather will be very nice, and I hope McCoy is able to make some of the 20-yard sideline throws he has excelled at this year.
The Raiders went with Jason Campbell as their starting quarterback again this year, and so far I think he has been a pretty effective game manager for them. I wouldn't say that he has lost them any games, but it looks like he has reached the ceiling already in his NFL career.
|RB||After five games, Darren McFadden is averaging and astonishing 5.7 yards per carry this season. He's also a significant threat as a receiver and could very well be the league's best all-around back at the moment.
One key is to stop the big run, something I think the Browns have done well with. If you take away McFadden's three big runs of 47, 70, and 41 yards, his average on most carries ends up being around 4.1 yards per carry. For the Browns, I just hope that Pat Shurmur goes through with his statement of Peyton Hillis getting the bulk of the carries. I'd still like to see Montario Hardesty get in there, but for a play or two here and there, not an entire series at a time.
Greg Little is the team's new starting receiver, so we'll see how that effects the personnel packages that Shurmur deploys offensively. Ideally, tight end Evan Moore will be the biggest benefactor of the bye week in terms of getting him involved in the gameplan more often.
The Raiders' receivers might have things coming together. Darius Heyward-Bey has had two breakout games of sorts over the past two weeks. Louis Murphy, one of the Raiders' top receivers last year, will make his season debut against the Browns. Tight end Kevin Boss debuted a couple of weeks ago, and even though he didn't catch anything a week ago, I think he'll end up being a big part of their offense moving forward.
|OL||I'll be honest -- I don't really know much about the Raiders' offensive line. I do know that reports indicate that they have done a very good job blocking for McFadden on the ground while the Browns' offensive line is still trying to click on all cylinders in that regard. Neither team has allowed many sacks, but the Raiders are slightly better in more games (five sacks allowed only).|
|DL||It's tough to rank the Raiders defensive line, because I think they are both great and not so great at the same time. The Raiders' defensive linemen tipped seven passes against Matt Schaub last week. That spells trouble for McCoy, who usually has several passes batted down by defensive linemen that are smaller than Oakland's group. Their front duo of Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour will be a load to handle, but they aren't as strong as the defensive end position heading into this game.
The Browns' defensive linemen were stymied against the Titans two weeks ago, but I don't think the Raiders' protection is as good. Still, whenever Jabaal Sheard and Jayme Mitchell have an opportunity to bring Campbell down, they can't let him slip away. Oakland's receivers are too fast and eventually Campbell will find someone open.
|LB||After being traded to the Raiders this week, Aaron Curry is expected to start right away for the Raiders, so that will be interesting. Former Brown Kamerion Wimbley will face his former team, but he won't recognize many of the players he is going up against. Cleveland could see the return of backup middle linebacker Titus Brown, so it'll be interesting to see if they try to work him in defensively.
|DB||I am banking on Joe Haden being out, and because of that, I lowered this ranking to "even." I am intrigued to see what Dimitri Patterson and Buster Skrine can do in elevated roles, but it's still a big loss to not have a shutdown corner in there. My concerns with the safety position need to be eased by someone in that group, even if it's Eric Hagg (will he play?), making a big play at some point.
The Raiders have a competent corner and safety in Stanford Routt and Michael Huff, respectively, but after those two guys the team is kind of banged up depth wise, so this is the week where Cleveland's receivers might actually be able to manage some separation.
Sebastian Janikowski is a beast, and it's a disadvantage for a Cleveland team that bends but doesn't break to have a kicker who can boom the ball from midfield if he needs to. I hope Shane Lechler gives Joshua Cribbs a few opportunities to return some "kicked out of his coverage" punts, because he could go the distance (assuming his injuries aren't too bothersome).
Not too many advantages for the Browns, eh? You would think this means the Raiders will dominate this game, and they very well could. I still would not put trust in them as being a consistent team though, so there are definitely a lot of other factors involved that still makes this game up for grabs. The Browns played well in their only road game of the season in Indianapolis, so I can't really say I'm overly worried about the road elements either. I really hope everything goes Cleveland's way this Sunday, but I'm hoping for a lot (Hillis to get the ball, Little and Moore to be involved, Mack being fine from his surgery, the secondary being fine without Haden, overcoming Oakland's motivation to win for Davis, etc). I'll have to pick against the Browns for the first time this season.
CHRIS' OVERALL NFL PREDICTIONS RECORD: 52-25
CHRIS' RECORD AT PICKING BROWNS GAMES: 2-2