This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the Oakland Raiders. After how promising the season started, surely the loss of C Alex Mack won't send this team into such a tailspin that they will lose to two winless teams in back-to-back weeks, right?. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
Browns: My personal opinion of Brian Hoyer is still very high. A down performance against the Raiders would start to diminish my confidence in him, but I don't envision him struggling given how he played the first five games of the season. The decision-making ability is still there, but he needs to be more consistent with his accuracy, much like the game he had against the Ravens in Week 3.
Raiders: If Mike Pettine ever had a week in which he wanted to unleash a creative scheme to get pressure on a quarterback, this would be that week. Although PFF notes that rookie Derek Carr has not performed well when under pressure, he hasn't been under pressure very often, taking four sacks all season and using his mobility to extend plays. He also has a rocket arm and has statistically been the best rookie quarterback to play in 2014.
Browns: All three of the Browns' running backs are coming off of their worst games of the season, but the delicate situation is the fact that three running backs are being utilized. When the Browns won against the Titans, the utilization was perfect: Ben Tate got the bulk of the reps, and Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell each got equal reps as backups. I think it's difficult to replicate that production, and the rough part is that none of the three backs are known as shift, receiving backs.
Raiders: Since 2012, Darren McFadden has not been very productive with the Raiders. In fact, I was surprised to see Oakland stick with him this past offseason. He's averaging 3.8 yards per carry, but the Raiders just don't run the ball well enough nor have the commitment to the ground game. Maurice Jones-Drew is the team's backup running back, but has been limited to just 18 carries in 4 games this season. Raiders interim head coach Tony Sporano has been flirting with the return of the Wildcat formation, and the Browns prepared for it in practice this week.
Browns: After several dropped passes last week, the Browns' receivers are looking for redemption too. Andrew Hawkins is coming off of a 100+ yard performance, but a couple of his dropped passes were drive killers. Cleveland's receivers have benefited this season from Kyle Shanahan's scheming. While it didn't work as well against the Jaguars this week, the Raiders don't have the same defensive talent to create havoc in the backfield.
Raiders: Veteran receiver James Jones leads the way for Oakland with 30 catches for 363 yards and 3 touchdowns. Over the past couple of weeks, though, it has been the 6-4 Andre Holmes who has become a favorite target for Derek Carr. Two weeks ago, Holmes had 4 catches for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Raiders claimed former Patriots receiver Kenbrell Thompkins off waivers a couple weeks ago. Thompkins saw a lot of reps last week but wasn't targeted. The Raiders' tight end, Mychal Rivera, is the brother of Glee's Naya Rivera. He isn't utilized as much of a threat in the receiving game.
Browns: Cleveland went from having perhaps the best offensive line in the league (with Alex Mack) to a line that looked to be in shambles last week. Paul McQuistan was the root of all the problems, and I am crossing my fingers that the activation of Nick McDonald means that he will start at center and John Greco will slide back to right guard. In my head, I think it could stabilize the offensive line. Considering McDonald hasn't started a game at center since 2011, though, and because we don't even know if he'll start, I can't give the Browns the blind-faith advantage on the offensive line this week.
Raiders: As DBN's Mike Krupka noted in his scouting report of the Raiders, both of Oakland's offensive guards, Gabe Jackson and Austin Howard, struggle in run blocking. The rest of the line struggles in run blocking too, which is a reason they average a league-worst 69.3 yards rushing per game. When it comes to pass blocking, though, the Raiders are quite respectable. They have only allowed Derek Carr to be sacked four times this season, allowing a sack on 2.34% of their pass plays, the second-best mark in the NFL.
Browns: The Browns should have Ahtyba Rubin back in the starting lineup. Although I felt he struggled to begin the season, I can't complain about getting a starter back. It gives the Browns a lot more flexibility with their depth. Rubin and Desmond Bryant can be used in their starting roles, with John Hughes taking the other defensive end position. You are then limiting the amount of times that guys like Ishmaa'ily Kitchen or Sione Fua have to see the field. The Browns don't have a landslide advantage here, but it's indicative of how I perceive the Raiders' defensive line.
Raiders: For as dominant as the Jaguars' defensive line was last week, we're pretty much on the opposite side of the spectrum for the Raiders, which is a good thing for Cleveland's offense. The Raiders use a mix of the 3-4 and 4-3 defense, but for the purposes of this ranking, I'll label LaMar Woodley as a defensive end. Woodley suffered a season-ending injury last week, and he'll be replaced by Benson Mayowa, a former undrafted free agent with just two tackles on the season. Defensive end Justin Tuck is banged up but could play; PFF has him rated as an effective pass rusher this season.
Browns: Cleveland could be relying on Barkevious Mingo to stop Derek Carr on his scrambles Sunday. Paul Kruger hasn't performed as well since his back injury a few weeks ago, although he's no longer listed on the injury report. Although the outside linebackers have caused a few interceptions due to bull rushes this season, it'd be nice to see them hit home on the quarterback more often. Karlos Dansby has been as steady as one could ask for at inside linebacker, while Chris Kirksey had a redemption game last week.
Raiders: Khalil Mack is still waiting for his first career NFL sack, and something tells me he'll get it this week. Have a look at what our Raiders affiliate said about Mack: "His pass rush productivity rating is among the highest in the NFL. He is also rating as the top run stopping linebacker in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. That’s all linebackers, not just rookies. His PFF rating of +17.0 is the best of any rookie this year at any position. So, you could say he has produced. As a run stopper, he is virtually unblockable. It’s quite something to see him shed and shuck blockers to make stops. As a football fan, he is fantastic to watch."
The Raiders' other outside linebacker, Sio Moore, is also a strength of the defense. Oakland doesn't feature a complete unit, though, as middle linebacker Miles Burris has played very poorly this season.
Browns: I'll be curious to see who the Browns line up against the 6-4 Andre Holmes. It seems like a matchup made for rookie Justin Gilbert, but K'Waun Williams is returning from a concussion this week and defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil has already talked about his excited he is to have Williams back in the fold. Tashaun Gipson made Blake Bortles pay on some of his decisions last week with two interceptions; can he do it again?
Raiders: Now in his 17th season, safety Charles Woodson remains a solid player. Oakland faces questions at the other safety position, though, with starter Usama Young suffering a season-ending injury last week. Veteran cornerback Carlos Rogers hasn't had a very good year in coverage, and starting opposite him is Tarell Brown. Together, the combination doesn't have an interception all season. Oakland has activated 2013 1st-round pick D.J. Hayden from the PUP list this week, but with the limited experience he has, I expect to be nothing more than a depth player.
Browns: I expect the Browns to stick with Jordan Poyer as their punt returner this week, but I wish they'd pull out a surprise and stick Travis Benjamin in there. Spencer Lanning remains steady as the team's punter, and Billy Cundiff is doing what's expected of him. Chris Tabor's unit has had too many blunders this season, but I can't fault the return coverage. The Browns are 3rd in the NFL in covering kicks, and 13th in covering punts.
Raiders: Sebastian Janikowski is just 5-of-6 on field goals this year, and it's surprising to see him with such few attempts. Punter Marquette King is at the bottom of the NFL in punt distance, but he's above average in net punts, probably because a lot of teams are fair catching his punts. The Raiders have gone with 7th-round pick T.J. Carrie as their kick and punt returner, and he's had a couple of nice returns.
The Browns' offensive line situation makes this game a bit unpredictable, and Oakland has been playing more competitive football since Tony Sporano took over the team. The Raiders' defense has actually played better on the road, losing games 19-14 to the Jets and 16-9 to the Patriots. Coming off of three straight home losses, though, I think their defensive injuries will allow a fuming Browns offense to capitalize.
Cleveland Browns 24, Oakland Raiders 17
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