On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns (1-1) take on the Oakland Raiders (1-1) in Week 3 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
|QB||Derek Carr was the most impressive rookie quarterback of the 2014 draft class, in my opinion. He didn't have a chance to get going in a Week 1 loss to the Bengals before he was knocked out with an injury, but in his first full game as a sophomore last week, he led Oakland to a 37-33 victory over the Ravens, completing 65.2% of his passes for 351 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Carr has a great arm and spread the ball around to a variety of receivers last week, but it did come against a Ravens defense that is in shambles. Carr attempted a lot of passes against the Browns last year (54), throwing for 328 yards but just 1 touchdown in a 23-13 loss.
Josh McCown returns to the starting lineup after being cleared to return from the concussion protocol. Besides taking all of the first-team snaps this offseason and camp, here is why McCown is starting: in the third preseason game, his first series was a 16-play, 80-yard drive that lasted 9:37 and resulted in a touchdown. In Week 1 against a tough Jets defense, before his helicopter fumble, the first series he put together was a 17-play, 90-yard drive that lasted 9:59. The coaching staff believes McCown can run the offense to its fullest potential, put points on the board, and then let the defense and special teams handle the rest.
|RB||The Browns finally saw a productive rushing day from Isaiah Crowell last week, as he averaged 4.8 YPC on 15 rushing attempts last week. A good chunk of Cleveland's overall rushing success came on the same type of play that they ran twice -- it went for 20 yards the first time they ran it and 15 yards the second time they ran it. It'll be interesting to see if the Browns go with a playaction pass off of that look this week, and I'd also expect Josh McCown to try to utilize the running backs in the passing game a bit more.
The Raiders have finally committed to Latavius Murray as their starting running back. By virtue of circumstance, he hasn't had an opportunity to have a 20-carry type of game through two weeks since the Raiders fell behind early in Week 1 and then were in a passing shootout in Week 2. Murray does have 10 receptions already, so he's being utilized in the passing game a lot more than I would have anticipated. Fullback Marcel Reece can also be a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. Neither team has a distinct advantage over the other at the position.
The Raiders tried to re-tool their top receivers for 2015, and so far, it seems to be working. I know we're only heading into Week 3, but Amari Cooper, the team's first-round draft choice, already seems like an early favorite for offensive rookie of the year. The team signed Michael Crabtree in free agency, and the receiver who looked dead-and-buried the past couple of years with San Francisco has become a go-to target for Derek Carr. Tight end Mychal Rivera hasn't been targeted a lot through two weeks but proved to be a good security blanket for Carr in 2014.
The Browns continue to split the wide receiver reps among Travis Benjamin, Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins, and Taylor Gabriel, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Dwayne Bowe receive a little more playing time this week to start making it a five-man rotation. If these receivers were looking to have fantastic statistical seasons, they are playing for the wrong team, but it's their responsibility to be fresh and make the most of the opportunity when the ball is thrown their way like Benjamin has done. The tight ends should be heavily involved this week, with maybe even Rob Housler having a sneaky offensive day.
|OL||The Browns' pass protection remains solid, thanks to superior play at both of the tackle positions. Left guard Joel Bitonio has gotten off to a bit of a sophomore slump with the amount of penalties he's incurred and general struggles in run blocking. Alex Mack still hasn't been his same-old self at center. The line has been adequate, it's just that they are not attaining the high level of success we expected of them...yet.
The Raiders' offensive line features LT Donald Penn, LG Gabe Jackson, C Rodney Hudson, RG J'Marcus Webb, and RT Austin Howard. Jackson has had an outstanding start to the season, being graded positively in both games by PFF and also being particularly effective blocking for the run. Penn is also a good, stable left tackle. Oakland signed Hudson to a big free agent contract this offseason. The issues for Oakland's line come on the right side with Webb and Howard, as both men have proven to be liabilities when they are blitzed heavily. Carr gets the ball out quickly, though, in an effort to negate the rush he might otherwise face.
|DL||Last year, Sio Moore and Khalil Mack combined to terrorize the Browns' tight ends and disrupt plays in the backfield as outside linebackers. With Jack Del Rio now in Oakland, though, Moore was shipped off to the Colts via a trade and Mack has converted to more of a defensive end role (although he'll move around a bit in kind of that hybrid type of role). That's actually good news for the Browns because it means one of our offensive tackles, and not a tight end, should be taking on Mack this year. Aldon Smith is also listed as a defensive end on the depth chart, which gives Oakland a nice duo of pass rushers, despite the fact that the club hasn't registered a single sack through two games.
Browns defensive end Desmond Bryant played through a shoulder injury last week. This week, he was idle in practice through the week and was listed as questionable. The team might just be letting the veteran take it as easy as possible so he's in better shape for the game, but if he doesn't play, it'll be a hit to the team's defensive line rotation. Danny Shelton has done a fair job in the regular season of drawing double teams, but he needs to find a way to cause a little more individual disruption. Oakland doesn't have a big edge here, but the difference is the fact that I feel Oakland has one elite-level lineman (Mack) and Cleveland has a question mark injury-wise with one of their starters (Bryant).
The Raiders' linebacking corp has been a disaster thus far. Not only are they missing tackles, but they are being beaten by tight ends left and right. Last week, the Raiders allowed 5 catches for 88 yards and 2 touchdowns to the Ravens' Crockett Gilmore. In Week 1, Tyler Eifert of the Bengals had 9 catches for 104 yards and 2 touchdowns. Ray-Ray Armstrong, Malcolm Smith, and Curtis Lofton look to be the unit that will prevent Oakland from taking that next step defensively.
The Browns combined for 7 sacks last week against the Titans, led by Armonty Bryant's 2.5 sacks. He has taken the starting outside linebacker opportunity by the horns and run with it. The coaching staff said that they over-used Paul Kruger too much last week, and they want to keep him fresh since he is the team's best pass rusher. Therefore, expect an uptick in playing time for either Barkevious Mingo or Nate Orchard.
|DB||The Raiders' top two cornerbacks are T.J. Carrie and D.J. Hayden, with Neiko Thorpe coming in for nickel situations. Veteran Charles Woodson still remains in the NFL as one of the team's starting safeties. The Raiders lost their other starting safety, Nate Allen, to injury in Week 1. They signed Taylor Mays off the street and had him split time with former Browns safety Larry Asante last week. Carrie has gotten off to a great start this season, but between Oakland's lack of a pass rush, the poor coverage by linebackers, and missing a starting safety, the secondary hasn't been a particular strong point for Oakland either.
Joe Haden had a much-improved game against the Titans last week. Even though he gave up a late touchdown on fourth down, he was blanketing receivers throughout the game. Carr was not afraid to target Haden last year when these two teams met, so hopefully Haden remembers a few things and is able to guess right on a pass or two. Nickelback K'Waun Williams is out with a concussion, so in nickel sets, expect Pierre Desir to play on the outside with Tramon Williams shifting over to the slot.
|ST||Last week, Titans punter Brett Kern wasn't doing a horrible job with his punts. He directional kicked many of them near the sideline, but Travis Benjamin still terrorized the Titans with all of his returns. The Raiders' punter, Marquette King, has a strong leg, but through two games his stats rank him near the middle of the league (47.3 average, 39.4 net), which pales in comparison to Andy Lee (55.0 average, 45.8 net). If the Raiders' special teams coach has any sense, he'll tell King to punt the ball high and short, or out of bounds. Because of King's strong leg, though, I hope he out-kicks his coverage so we can see Benjamin with a few more return attempts.
I don't need to go much into the resume of Sebastian Janikowski. For the Browns, Travis Coons has only attempted one field goal this season (good), but all of his extra points have been straight down the middle. The Raiders' kick returner is Taiwan Jones, and their punt returner is T.J. Carrie. Kickoff returners never get opportunities these days. Carrie didn't prove to be a threatening punt returner last year and is only averaging 6.4 yards per return on 5 attempts in 2015.
With the Raiders, it was a tale of two games offensively between Week 1 and Week 2. In Week 1, they dropped five passes. In Week 2, their receivers stepped up to the plate and delivered for a good up-and-coming quarterback. The consistent both weeks has been that Oakland's defense has been terrible. Oakland is still a young offense and were able to take advantage of a Ravens defense that is way out-of-there-element without the likes of Haloti Ngata or Terrell Suggs.
On top of all of that, the Raiders have not won a game in the Eastern Time Zone in six years, a streak that has lasted 16 games. Oakland has also lost 12 straight road games. Streaks are made to be broken, and Oakland has a handful of impressive players in Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Gabe Jackson, Khalil Mack, and T.J. Carrie. The problem is that the rest of the roster still needs a lot of work. Cleveland isn't a barn burner either, but their depth is more established and they will take advantage of Oakland's inconsistencies.
Cleveland Browns 24, Oakland Raiders 14
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