The Cleveland Browns make the trip to the West Coast this week for a game against the Oakland Raiders. At 3-8, both teams are playing for pride and draft position at this point. The Browns are coming off just their third win in the past 25 games against the rival Steelers, while the Raiders are in total disarray, losers of four straight non-competitive games. Oakland has been miserable on both sides of the ball, but their defense is yielding points at an alarming rate. This week, the club even made the move to ban 2010 first-round pick Rolando McClain for two games.
On the other side, the Browns have been competitive in 10 of their 11 games, yet Pat Shurmur's club has been unable to close in the fourth quarter. They forced eight turnovers against the depleted Steelers, but it was still a nailbiter down the stretch as they held on for a six-point win. They are playing better football than the Raiders at this point in the season, but Shurmur has repeatedly been unable to capitalize on golden opportunities to get wins. They have lost 12 straight road games dating back to Week 2 of last season. Can they snap that streak in Oakland?
Meet the Raiders
The Oakland Raiders are the middle of an ugly four-game losing streak, but despite all the franchise's recent struggles, they have not had a five-game streak in five years. The biggest issue has been on the defensive side of the ball. Opponents are putting together career days on offense and special teams, and the Raiders offense has been unable to dig out of huge early holes.
The offense is clearly a pass-heavy unit with Carson Palmer among the league's top five quarterbacks in attempts. The Radiers passing attack is eighth overall in the league, averaging 273 yards per game. Palmer has been inconsistent, however, and he's been picked off in seven straight games. He threw for just 146 yards last week in the loss to the Bengals, but the Browns secondary has certainly been one of the team's weaknesses all season. Picking on the corner opposite Joe Haden, most likely Sheldon Brown, is one of the clearest paths to moving the ball against the Browns.
While the passing game has been relatively productive, the run game has been nonexistent. Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson are listed as questionable, but both are expected to play after missing the last three weeks. The Raiders have the third-worst rushing attack in the NFL, averaging less than 90 yards per game. They'll run into a defense that has a full compliment of young defensive linemen that are the strength of the Browns team. In what is forecasted to be some ugly weather, the Raiders will surely try to get something going on the ground. But that could be easier said than done.
The problem for Dennis Allen's squad is mostly on defense, where they are in the bottom third of the league against both the pass and the run. The Browns have made a concerted effort to feed running back Trent Richardson lately, and the Raiders are giving up more than 130 yards per game -- 28th in the NFL. The weather may make it a one-dimensional game for both sides, and considering the Raiders defense, that should favor Cleveland.
Meet the Browns
The Browns are an improved and talented young team, but still frustratingly in last place in their division at 3-8. Even the win last week over the Steelers came with somewhat of a hollow feeling, after multiple squandered chances to put it away early on all of the Pittsburgh turnovers. They head to Oakland as slight favorites, but this is the sort of opportunity that Shurmur's team has repeatedly been unable to capitalize on during his tenure.
Richardson reiterated again this week that he won't play another game at 100 percent this season, but he's getting heavy dose of carries in the second half of the season. He rushed it a season-high 29 times last week, the fourth straight game where he's received 24 or more carries. The bruising back from Alabama is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry, but that won't limit the Browns propensity to go to him in the Bay Area slop. Montario Hardesty is a solid backup, and with Brandon Weeden struggling recently, the Browns run game will be the key to snapping the road losing streak.
The Browns defense has emerged as one of the league's better units in the second half of the season, shutting down opponents and forcing turnovers. Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin are both healthy and paired together on the inside, they completely clog the middle. Rookies Billy Winn and John Hughes got significant action while those two were out injured, adding depth to a Browns defensive front that is young and gaining confidence with each week.
Marcel Reece has been impressive with McFadden out, and he'll likely continue to get the work out of the Raiders backfield. The Browns defense should still shut down the run, but it will be up to the secondary to limit Palmer in less-than-ideal conditions. The Browns may also face a quarterback Ohioans are quite familiar with in backup Terrelle Pryor. The former Ohio State standout was activated this week, and with Palmer nursing a thumb injury, he could throw some different looks at the Browns D.
Local Takes: Raiders
Marcus Allen Krause of Silver & Black Pride highlighted some of the familiar names that need to step up for the Raiders on the offense side of the ball, and one new name who could have an impact:
The Raiders really need to see Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey more in this game because they also were a nonfactor last week. The Raiders now are a passing team and if they want to have any success they need their receivers to show up each week.
An interesting turn of events for this week is the activation of Terrelle Pryor. He is not ready to start yet but it has long been time to give him some package plays. He is a great athlete and the Raiders need to now be more proactive in seeing him in game situations. Hopefully this is the game he is unveiled in.
Local Takes: Browns
In his pregame scouting report of the Raiders, Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature wrote that Palmer's willingness to take risks could be a boon for the Browns secondary:
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.
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Reggie McKenzie to intensely evaluate coaches over final five weeks sbn.to/Wzyfd9— S&B Pride's Editors (@silverandblackp) December 1, 2012
Wanna know y GMs and coaches want to come to CLE? Cause H&H rebuilt roster in2 talented young group. And were gonna get rid of them? #Browns— Dawgs By Nature (@DawgsByNature) November 30, 2012
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This game has draft pick implications with both teams sitting at 3-8. The new Oakland regime, unfortunately, looks a lot like the old one. The Browns, meanwhile, are showing some promise. Cleveland's on the right track and will win this game, whether it's Colt McCoy or Brandon Weeden who starts.
The pick: 17-14, Browns
The Browns opened as 1.5-point underdogs, but according to OddsShark, they are now the road favorites in most places.