This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the Oakland Raiders in Week 4 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
- The first three years of Derek Carr’s career, he seemed to be destined for great things. Over the past two years, though, he has fans questioning whether he’s even still their quarterback of the future. This season, Carr has completed a career-high 76.6% of his passes, but has just 2 touchdown passes to 5 interceptions.
- What is going on? The team is limiting his time to throw with a lot of quick passes, like bubble screens and quick slants. It helps keep him upright behind a shaky offensive line. But when he has held on to the ball a little later and felt the pressure, he has made too many mistakes.
Derek Carr's 32.1 passer rating when pressured is trailed only by both Cardinals and Bills QBs, per PFF. He leads the NFL with four picks.— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) September 28, 2018
- The Raiders really only get the edge here because I don’t feel I can justify ranking a quarterback with his first career start (Baker Mayfield) ahead of a guy in his fifth season (who has had a lot of good moments in the NFL). For this isolated game, though, I am really excited about what Mayfield can do against a Raiders defense with a league-low three sacks.
- The Raiders’ starting running back is Marshawn Lynch, but he is playing behind an offensive line that struggles to run block, thus limiting his effectiveness. On the season, Lynch has 48 carries for 170 yards (3.5 YPC) and 3 touchdowns. His backup, Doug Martin, has 20 carries for 87 yards (4.4 YPC). Jalen Richard is the team’s receiving back; he is second on the team with 15 receptions for 114 yards.
The NFL AVG for an RB is 1.40 yards before first contact per attempt. #Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch is averaging 0.33 YBC/ATT through Week 3. Lynch ranks 8th in YAC/ATT (3.21) but ranks 33rd in traditional YPC.— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) September 27, 2018
OAK's OL is in trouble.
- Carlos Hyde is only averaging 3.3 YPC, but has grinded out 4 touchdown runs already. If there’s a chance for that average to skyrocket, it’s against the Raiders. They allowed 100+ yard rushers in each of the first two games, before holding the Dolphins’ running backs to 11 carries for 15 yards last week.
- I’m going to keep beating the dead horse with trying to get Duke Johnson some more catches. Maybe now that Baker Mayfield is under center, he’ll get more opportunities, just by virtue of the fact that Mayfield (hopefully) takes fewer sacks and takes off less.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- The Raiders’ starting receivers are Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson. It is an interesting tandem, when you think about Cooper’s hot start to his career and all of the success that Nelson had with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay (it’s not just me, right — it’s weird to see him in another uniform?).
- Cooper was a disaster in 2017 when it came to dropped passes, and he just hasn’t been able to flip the switch again. Nelson has thrived at the big play, averaging 20.5 yards per catch on 11 receptions for 226 yards. The team’s leading receiver is TE Jared Cook, who has 18 catches for 260 yards. Who still remembers Cook racing for an 80-yard touchdown against the Browns when he was with the Titans many years ago? (raises hand)
- Jarvis Landry has two 100+ yard receiving games in three tries. He already has 278 yards receiving, and may surpass Ricardo Louis’ amount of 357 yards from last season this week (which led all receivers in 2017). Landry plays with such passion, and you can tell that passion is even greater with Baker Mayfield in the game.
- The speed that Antonio Callaway has is scary good — I’m talking about the type of speed that can win a downfield match-up every time, and the defense can’t do anything about it unless the free safety shades his way. That’ll either open things up for other players, or Callaway will have some long plays. But he has to limit the amount of drops.
- The Raiders’ starting offensive line includes LT Kolton Miller, LG Kelechi Osemele, C Rodney Hudson, RG Gabe Jackson, and RT Donald Penn. Pro Football Focus currently has the line ranked 26th in the NFL, with both Miller and Penn really struggling. Miller was the 15th overall pick, so that forced the veteran Penn over to right tackle, where he hasn’t been able to pick things up well:
Penn has not taken well to the right side. After playing a grand total of 24 snaps at right tackle his entire career before this, Penn has been a fish out of water. He’s allowed two sacks, two hits and four hurries for the worst pass-blocking grade of any starting tackle in the league.
- Osemele is one of the league’s best guards, despite some struggles this year. Last week, he was on his game from a pass protection standpoint, not allowing one pressure in 44 snaps, per PFF.
- The Browns’ offensive line looked like night and day from the first half to the second half last week against the Jets, correlating with the change at quarterback. It’ll be fascinating to see how things go this week with a full game of Mayfield. Cleveland gets the edge for being stronger overall at both guards.
- The Raiders run a 4-3 defense. They don’t really have a consistent “starting” defensive line. Instead, they feature and rotate a mix of P.J. Hall, Clinton McDonald, Maurice Hurst, Bruce Irvin, Arden Key, and Frostee Rucker. Hey — where’s Khalil Mack? Just like Oakland isn’t graded well in the trenches on the offensive line, PFF ranks their defensive line 28th overall too:
The loss of Mack has dropped the defensive line to 32nd in combined pressure percentage (5.3) and pass-rush productivity (6.1) through Week 3. None of the team’s edge defenders have earned a pass-rush productivity above 6.0 in the team’s first three games, as rookie Arden Key leads the way at just 5.5 across 55 pass-rush snaps. Newly signed veterans Clinton McDonald and Frostee Rucker, however, have earned 74.7 and 73.7 overall grades, respectively, which has swung the unit’s collective grade upward.
The #Raiders' pass-rush woes are mind-boggling.— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) September 27, 2018
Through Week 3, OAK ranks 32nd in pressures (21) and pressure% (7.2) when QBs take 2.1+ seconds to throw the ball.
Through W3 in 2017, OAK had nearly double the pressures (43) and pressure% (13.2) on such dropbacks.
- The good thing about Emmanuel Ogbah missing the past two games is that we found out that Chris Smith is a pretty damn good player himself. With Myles Garrett playing nearly every snap, the Browns are set enough at defensive end with Garrett, Ogbah, Smith, and Genard Avery. On the interior, Larry Ogunjobi cannot be stopped. He is second on the team in tackles and is forcing pressures on a consistent basis.
- The Raiders’ linebackers include OLB Emmanuel Lamur, MLB Derrick Johnson, and OLB Tahir Whitehead, but Lamur hardly plays — instead, LB Marquel Lee will see significant snaps. Besides Lee, the entire group is new in 2018, and the group has been mediocre in coverage — although coverage is an area that Johnson has always excelled in.
- The Browns will be without James Burgess this week, but returning to the starting lineup from injury is Christian Kirksey. Last year, Joe Schobert racked up tackles, but when he made the Pro Bowl as an alternate, it was one of those, “meh, he didn’t really seem like a Pro Bowler.” This year, he is making more of the high-impact plays, including an interception that basically helped seal the team’s first win.
- The Raiders’ two starting cornerbacks are Rashaan Melvin and Gareon Conley, with Leon Hall covering the slot. The team also rotates Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie into the game instead of playing their same outside cornerbacks every snap. Melvin was fantastic with the Colts last season, either intercepting or defending nearly one quarter of passes that came his way. He has continued that strong effort as a Raider, and Hall has played well too. Conley and Rodgers-Cromartie leave something to be desired. Oakland’s starting safeties are Marcus Gilchrist and Reggie Nelson. Nelson has been playing terrible.
- Denzel Ward has been one of the league’s highest-graded defensive rookies, which is awesome because many times, cornerbacks or wide receivers really struggle once they get to the NFL level. That isn’t the case for Ward at all. Terrance Mitchell has played very well, and nickelback T.J. Carrie gave the club some intel on Oakland’s defense (having played there last year). The safety play has been solid for Cleveland too, with Damarious Randall not having missed a single tackle all year.
- The Raiders’ luck with kickers has been terrible so far. Undrafted rookie Eddy Pineiro was going to be their top kicker, but suffered a season-ending groin injury. Mike Nugent was signed and was 6-of-6 over the past 3 games, but suffered a groin injury that has also now landed him on IR. Undrafted rookie Matt McCrane now takes over. McCrane did have a strong preseason with Arizona, going 4-of-4, including on kicks from 53 and 54 yards. For the Browns, Greg Joseph was 2-of-2 last week, and made his extra point. Credit to him for making them, but the way the kicks “looked” did not leave me confident. Hopefully my confidence eases with him as I see him put more balls through the uprights.
- Johnny Townsend is the Raiders’ punter — a 5th round rookie. In three games, he is averaging 43.5 yards per punt with a net average of 40.5, both marks around a little below average. Britton Colquitt now ranks dead last in the NFL with his average (39.7) and net average (35.9). That has been a true combination of strategic short kicks (i.e. short fields), bad punts, and big returns for the opposition.
- Dwayne Harris returns kickoffs and punts for the Raiders. He has only gotten to attempt 2 punt returns this year. He used to be a big return man with the Cowboys and Giants, but didn’t have the same production in 2016 and 2017. I actually liked Jarvis Landry fielding punts last week over Jabrill Peppers; but how long until we get Antonio Callaway doing it? Callaway must not be fielding punts securely in practice.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “The Raiders haven’t been able to finish games at all in 2018 (sound familiar)? When that happens early in a season, that means things will only get worse as the year goes on — instead of ‘losing close games,’ you just start getting blown out in general. I think Baker Mayfield leads a new culture change for Cleveland, continuing to put the Browns on the map as a team to look out for. Yes, I am overly optimistic about Mayfield (perhaps to a fault), if you can’t tell.” Browns 27, Raiders 13.
Matt Wood: “Baker, Baker, TD Maker. Browns are here to stay. If the Raiders has a difference making pass rusher maybe this game would be a little more interesting but this sets up perfectly for the Browns. Mayfield deals and destroys the Raiders. Browns defense gives the O some short fields as the Browns roll. ” Browns 34, Raiders 17.
Josh Finney: “I really don’t want to. I’ve been spending all week watching hype videos. You guys see this?
GOING. TO. THE. PLAYOFFS!?
Kollman is preaching patience, and I’m trying. Oakland is going to be desperate, in front of the Black Hole, and playing hard. They’ve Brownsed it up for 3 straight weeks.
I expect a high scoring first half; teams should settle down and execute better defensively in the second half. The Browns will need to get some pressure from backup DL late or some sustained drives to keep them off the field. No depth or confidence in the depth for that group.
Also, please don’t make us put any late game trust in this punting or kicking game.
Either the browns finally score 30 or they lose?” Browns 30, Raiders 27.
Mike Hoag: “I don’t believe in Derek Carr and never have. And as Jarvis Landry says, Baker Mayfield has that contagious charisma and attitude that inspires. While “all rookie quarterbacks struggle,” I don’t think this is the week we’ll see Mayfield’s growing pains. Expect the offense to rally around him, and for Carr to do enough to earn his team another competitive but close loss.
As to the “West Coast factor” and the timezone change… This game could be played on the moon, on martian time, and I’d have the Browns winning it.” Browns 23, Raiders 21.
rufio: “Carr and company make a few big plays, but the Browns make more on offense and D. Baker makes plays but also throws his first career INT. Juice has at least 10 catches. The Browns end their streak of recovering 99.99% of the fumbles in the game.” Browns 30, Raiders 20.
Andrea Hangst: “It’s hard not to feel optimistic about the Browns after seeing what Baker Mayfield’s spark led to a week ago. And that spark should continue to burn on Sunday against the Raiders. Oakland isn’t going to have an answer for Cleveland’s defense and its ability to attack the quarterback and generate takeaways. And we’ve already seen how the Raiders defense has faired in three straight losses—it’s almost as though they are missing something, or someone. The Browns have the talent, they’ve finally gotten that important first victory and now it’s time to get down to the business of winning football games, plural. The Raiders shouldn’t be too much of a test for this young, fast team.” Browns 23, Raiders 13.
Ezweav: “Baker makes all the difference. For as much praise as he’s had heaped upon him this last week, it still probably doesn’t tell the whole story considering it was his first time with the first team all year, and was lights out - in his first game. With an entire (extended) week with the 1’s and a team that is starting to feel it, the Browns are going to explode here. People talk about the Raiders being mad about 0-3, but they don’t even know mad until they’ve gone through 5-50-1
Mayfield is going to torch a defense that will simply not know what to do to defend him. Once we build a lead, the pass rush is going to devour Carr. Saint Myles is going up against a (overdrafted) rookie. Ogbah and Kirko are both in the lineup. On top of all of that, this is also an opportunity for Hue to exact a little payback to his old team.” Browns 45, Raiders 6.
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.