Browns at Raiders – Game #12 Preview
The Browns head west to Oakland on Sunday for a rare, late kickoff (4:25 PM ET); the franchise has yet to be a part of one of these in 2012. Victory at another team’s stadium is another thing the team has not boasted yet. The Raiders defeated the Browns last year 24-17 in the O.co Coliseum; hopefully revenge is on the visitor’s mind this season. It has been over twelve months year since the Browns have strung together consecutive wins – one thing going their way, is this year’s Raiders team has been injured and struggling mightily.
Offense: It’s still not 100% guaranteed that Brandon Weeden will be the official starter on Sunday; the rookie signal caller must pass all NFL-mandated tests (from his concussion) in order to suit up against the Raiders. He missed a few targets and threw an interception (which was returned for a touchdown) against the top-rated defense last week; however the upcoming opponent is rated near the bottom of the league (25th overall) – surrendering over 247 yards and over two touchdowns through the air per game. Provided they play up to their potential, the Browns should be able open up the playbook this game. If Weeden is the quarterback, I see a rebound game from the Oklahoma State alum. Last week, the Raiders gave up three touchdown throws from Andy Dalton en route to a thirty-four-point output; I believe the Browns can have similar success this week. Should Weeden not be able to play, Colt McCoy is the next option for the visiting team. If last week’s game is any indication, the coaching staff will be less liberal with the third-year veteran. The team may become more run-heavy and call passing plays on just third downs or in shorter yardage-to-gain situations.
Teams have been gaining slightly over 131 yards per game against the Raiders this season; Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis toted the football nineteen times for 129 yards for the Bengals last week. Their team tallied 221 yards on the ground – the Browns’ game plan this week should include a healthy dose of Trent Richardson. The rookie has been efficient lately, even though some criticize his inability to find an opening to run. There’s a good chance these opportunities will exist routinely in Oakland – therefore the back must make the most of them. I look forward to Montario Hardesty getting several rushing attempts as well. In limited duty this year, the veteran has been able to get to the second level (where the linebackers are lined up) after receiving the hand off. Being this will be the Browns’ twelfth game, Richardson may become fatigued, as the proverbial “rookie wall” will likely set in. This would have been his final regular season game if he were still at the University of Alabama.
This contest could be a good litmus test for Josh Gordon’s progression toward becoming a bona-fide number-one wide out. A.J. Green had 111 receiving yards as the primary target for the Bengals; at the least, I want to see Gordon make a big play or two on Sunday. Additionally, Greg Little needs to regroup from his poor outing against the Steelers. The athletic receiver has proven he can make a catch and run downfield away from defenders. I foresee the coaching staff employing under routes and short slants for Little, in order to get him involved in the contest. Following a “break out” game by Mohammed Massaquoi (three catches – the most he’s had since week two), the wide out could be given additional opportunities. There is a good chance he will only see shorter passes and those near the boundary (away from hard-hitting defenders), but anything that helps the offense is desired. I want to see, at a minimum, one of the tight ends have a fine game against the Raiders – Ben Watson played well two weeks ago, while Jordan Cameron caught a huge touchdown versus the Steelers. Replicating what Jermaine Gresham did last week (four catches for forty-one yards and a touchdown) would be a suitable performance by either of the two.
The Browns’ offensive line struggled with penalties and allowed defenders to plug up running lanes in their last contest. Sunday permits an opportunity for redemption – especially for the interior linemen. The Steelers hindered the Browns’ rushing attack by getting a push up the middle; frustration gave way to the offense committing a few holding penalties. This week, veteran Tommy Kelly (whom has had a rather quiet season) is the main adversary in the middle. I envision the Browns doubling up on the nose tackle, and creating holes between the tackles. On the outside, pressure will likely come from Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston. The pair combined for seven tackles, a sack, and a hit on Andy Dalton against the Bengals. These defensive ends are picking up the slack while long-time veteran Richard Seymour has missed time with knee and hamstring injuries – his status for Sunday is still not known. It will be up to Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz to limit these defenders. The Browns cannot afford to give up four sacks – like the unit did this last week. Facing a linebacker group that includes Rolando McClain, Philip Wheeler, and Miles Burris, and the offensive line could have a tough time picking these guys up and keeping the quarterback clean, however.
Defense: The defensive line should be licking their chops at the sight of the Oakland Raiders’ offense. Carson Palmer was sacked four times last week, while the team’s running attack tallied under 100 yards at Paul Brown Stadium. It will be hard to replicate that performance defending the run, but facing a backup in Marcel Reece should give the Browns an advantage in the pending matchup. (There is a chance starter Darren McFadden will return from injury, in which case problems could exist for the run defense). The front four (especially the combo of Athyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, and Billy Winn) will be called upon to close up possible openings for the opponent. They must also focus on limiting gains to shorter distances on a consistent basis – the Raiders would then naturally turn to their passing game more times than not. Here is where the defensive line must put pressure on Palmer; the veteran quarterback knows how to get passes out early but is not mobile enough to avoid an immediate rush. The defensive ends were not effective last week, but Juqua Parker, Frostee Rucker, and Jabaal Sheard have shown they can create havoc on the opposition. I look forward to a few takedowns by this trio on passing plays.
After facing a couple of dynamic tight ends, the Browns will go against Brandon Myers. He is a solid NFL player but not a game breaker like Jason Witten and Heath Miller. Nonetheless, Craig Robertson (or any other defender) must prevent Carson Palmer from making it a habit to go to Myers, while enhancing other receiving options in the process. The opponent has been including their running back in the passing game, as well. Marcel Reece has had at least four receptions in each of the last four contests. Covering these athletes is another task for the linebackers, and something that has not been performed regularly. The Raiders’ quarterback has been susceptible to turning over the football – last week, both a fumble and an interception occurred against his former team. Hopefully D’Qwell Jackson and Robertson can pick up where they left off last week and give the football to the offense in advantageous situations. After a couple of solid games, rookie James-Michael Johnson is due for a breakout performance. Will it come against the Raiders? We shall find out in a couple of days.
Dimitri Patterson has missed the previous six games, but the veteran finally saw the practice field this week – he can provide depth in an area that has seen its ups and downs. This could be significant, as the Browns’ secondary is coming off an outstanding performance last week (sans one egregious pass interference penalty). Cornerbacks Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown each recorded an interception; while safeties T.J. Ward and Usama Young were either the cause of or the recipient of a Steelers’ fumble. They will likely not have a repeat performance this week, as they go against a better signal caller, but perhaps they can still be successful. The wide receiver combination of Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey had just one catch for twenty yards between them last week. The Raiders are 8th in the league in passing yardage this year, but these totals have typically come from tight ends and running backs. The wide outs are responsible for the big plays though; so (once again) limiting these athletes will be crucial for the defense. Additionally, if the Browns can employ more single coverage, the safeties can be used more in run support – allowing a hard hitter like Ward to shut down the opponent. If Usama Young is not cleared to play (from his concussion), someone must fill in and come up with a big play like the starter is accustomed to.
Special Teams: Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski have consistently been among the best punters and kickers (respectively) in the NFL over the past couple of years. Phil Dawson can go toe to toe (yes, pun intended) in the kicking game, but Reggie Hodges has been lacking in his punting duties. The Browns must succeed in the offensive and defensive parts of the ballgame to make sure the contest does not come down to special teams. The return units for the two squads are hit-and-miss as former Brown Coye Francies has been decent in return yardage while bringing back kickoffs.
Coaching: Regardless of the quarterback situation, the Browns should be reliant on the run in their offensive game plan. The team should use Richardson (and possibly Hardesty) to soften up the front seven, while the signal caller occasionally completes passes when the defense is unprepared. This is a type of game where the Browns must control an inferior opponent – there have been few of these opportunities in the past couple of years. I like the type of defensive calls that have been made as of late; I just hope they utilize more of a rush on Carson Palmer. The veteran is simply turnover prone, but given time he can pick up yards in chunks.
Prediction (My Record 7-4): After a tough inter-division victory, I think the Browns finally get a win on the road this week. The Browns will limit their turnovers, while the Raiders give the ball back a couple of times en route to a 24 – 13 defeat, while Browns’ fans rejoice after