Despite having the same record as the Cleveland Browns (3-8), the Oakland Raiders have played much worse football during the 2012 season. I think you can look no further than the season point differential; while Cleveland is (-39), the Raiders are (-138). When teams beat the Raiders, it's usually a blowout due to their big-time struggles defensively. Could the rain change how the games goes this Sunday, though?
#1 - Accounting for the Weather: Usually, I try to talk about the opposing team specifically when doing these scouting reports. I think it is fitting to mention the projected weather conditions for the game, though, since it will make a big difference in the tempo of the game. If you haven't heard, the entire Bay Area, including Oakland, is expected to see "significant rainfall" and wind over the next couple of days, including Sunday. As of Thursday, there was an 80 percent chance of heavy rain for gametime. If it does indeed come down in buckets, both teams will have to fine tune their game plans. Oakland is typically a secondary that can be shredded, but both teams might need to rely on the ground game and their short passing game. Browns kicker Phil Dawson described the obvious impact it could have on the kicking game, too:
"It’s going to be a pretty extreme challenge," Dawson said. "That’s a baseball field, so it doesn’t have a crown. So any rain it does take on, it’s just going to sit there and not drain like other fields would. So it’s going to be a factor. We’ll just show up Sunday and figure it out."
The Browns did win a rainy contest in Cleveland against the Chargers a few weeks ago by a final score of 7-6. I could go for seeing a snowy game, but in terms of entertainment value, I'd much rather see the game in normal conditions. At least it is supposed to be warmer (close to 60 degrees), which should help matters a little bit.
#2 - Carson Palmer and Terrelle Pryor: After being inactive all season, news has come out of Oakland that quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the Ohio State product who we are all-too-familiar with, will finally be activated against the Browns. There are two reasons for this. First, Carson Palmer injured his right thumb in last week's game, so they want another quarterback active as insurance. Second, with linebacker Rolondo McClain being suspended, that opens another active roster spot.
The speculation at first was that Pryor would be incorporated into the offense this week, perhaps utilizing his mobility for some special packages. However, head coach Dennis Allen later indicated that if Pryor played, he would run the same offense as Palmer. Also, since Matt Leinart is the No. 2 quarterback, it seems more likely that he'd play if something happened to Palmer. Nonetheless, Dick Jauron should at least have his defense prepped for the possibility of seeing Pryor.
Assuming Palmer plays the entire game, you can expect the same type of player we saw all of those years in Cincinnati (last year, it was the Browns who were actually responsible for Palmer going to Oakland, since our defense injured quarterback Jason Campbell). The Raiders have really relied heavily on Palmer's arm this season because they fall behind in game so quickly; he's averaged 40 pass attempts and 289 yards passing per game. Palmer is a very streaky quarterback, but this will be the first time he's ever faced a Cleveland secondary that features Joe Haden. I've always felt that Palmer is prone to making the risky pick-six-in-the-flat type of throws, so our defensive backs should be ready to feast.
#3 - Shaky on the Ground: The Raiders are a hard team to figure out on the ground. Darren McFadden is supposed to be a dynamic running back who you expect to perform at a high level; after all, we're talking about a guy who averaged over 5 yards per carry in 2010 and 2011. This year, he just hasn't been the same averaging a meager 3.3 yards per carry in eight games played. He has missed the past three games due to an ankle injury, but started practicing again this week and is questionable. The Raiders' backup is former Carolina Panthers running back Mike Goodson. He's averaged 6.5 yards per carry in limited action, but is also trying to come back an ankle injury.
Over the past couple of weeks, the Raiders have started Marcel Reece at the running back position. Reece is an interesting player, considering he has been used as a tight end, fullback, running back, and wide receiver. Over the past three games, he's carried the ball 47 times for 225 yards, a 4.78 yards per carry average. On the season, he has caught 41 passes for 447 yards. Even if McFadden plays, Palmer still loves throwing to Reece from the fullback or receiver position.
The reason the Raiders are shaky on the ground is similar to Pittsburgh's situation last week: they have three guys, but two of their status' are in limbo. Even if McFadden plays, he's been the least effective out of the bunch. Our Raiders affiliate talked about why their veteran back has had some issues running the ball in 2012.
#4 - Wow: This subtitle applies to just how terrible the Raiders' defense has been this season. They allowed a league-high 32.6 points per game. Sometimes, you can point out something that a defense does well, but that doesn't apply to Oakland. Take a look at these rankings:
Total Yards: 25th
Rushing Yards: 28th
Passing Yards: 24th
Interception Rate: 29th
Sack Rate: 31st
3rd Downs: 26th
Red Zone: 30th
Goal to Go: 24th
Points Per Game: 32nd
The only other teams with comparable rankings are the Jaguars and the Titans, but they at least do something well (i.e. third down defense or interception rate). For the Raiders, it's just a complete and utter mess. Just this week, the Raiders suspended starting middle linebacker Rolando McClain for two games for conduct detrimental to the team. Former Eagles starting linebacker Omar Gaither will be thrown into the mix as his replacement. DT Richard Seymour, the type of guy who could make a big difference on defense, has missed the past several games with an injury and has been ruled out again.
The weather conditions could alter how well Cleveland can succeed in some of the statistical categories above, but at the very least, Oakland's run defense in the trenches should not suddenly become a dominant presence or anything.
#5 - Special Teams Overview: While Phil Dawson remains perfect this season, you could basically say the same thing about the Raiders' Sebastian Janikowski. Janikowski has connected on 23-of-24 kicks this season, and his only miss was a 64-yard attempt. The Raiders can also boom the ball on punts with Shane Lechler, but it's worth noting that Lechler's net average is down significantly this year. In the three seasons prior to this one, Lechler's net average was 43.9, 40.8, and 40.9 yards per punt.
This year, that number has dropped to 38.3 yards per punt. It might not seem like a huge drop, but it takes him from near the top of the league to near the bottom. The struggles might be due to the Raiders' lackluster coverage units, where they rank 22nd in the league defending punts and 28th in the league defending kickoffs. They've yet to find much success in the return game either, where they rank 32nd on punt returns and 20th on kick returns.