Raiders @ Browns – Game #3 Preview
It’s not every week that both the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders are coming off victories; however that is the case headed into the third week of the 2015 season. Getting off to a 2 – 1 start is huge for both of these clubs – and will give them an edge at the playoffs (provided many wins follow this Sunday). There will be a few critical factors in this matchup that can decide the outcome, like last week I hope they go the Browns’ way. For a further look at the game, below is the breakdown.
Quarterback: Johnny Manziel made great strides last week and capped off an efficient contest with an excellent score down the field. For that reason, I want to see him under center this Sunday – but it appears that the coaching staff might feel otherwise. Regardless of who is the signal caller, the game plan looks to be the same. Get an early lead, primarily run the ball, pass when you have to, and prevent any turnovers. This matchup is another game where the Browns can win with this formula; it all comes down to execution.
Running Back: Was last week a mirage, or a sign of greater things to come? I would like to think the latter, as both Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson got the ground game going. They have still yet to break out on that long run, or consistently pick up large chunks of yards – but growth was evident last week. I envision this will continue against the Raiders, including another score by one of the backs. A rusher in this game will lose a turnover, but he will be donning the silver and black.
Wide Receiver: It’s all but a given that Travis Benjamin will be game planned against going forward. The speedster has accounted for all receiving touchdowns for the team in the first two weeks; now opponents will make sure they do not get beat deep. Taylor Gabriel, Andrew Hawkins, and Brian Hartline are the next three in line to garner receptions in this offense. As of now, they have not done anything to prove they can be trusted though. That must change on Sunday, if the Browns expect to come out ahead. The veterans have a chance to prove Ray Farmer correct in implying that this unit was good enough to forgo a wide out in the early rounds of the 2015 draft.
Tight End: If Gary Barnidge can make a huge grab or two like he did against the Titans, I will feel pretty good about the tight end group. There were some fine blocks by Jim Dray – but other than that, these guys are pretty much invisible. Is it time to see E.J. Bibbs? I think so; Rob Housler has not done one thing to warrant playing time
over the undrafted rookie, and I feel the younger guy can catch and run better than his veteran counterpart. Maybe the coaching staff is waiting to unleash this apparent wildcard?
Offensive Line: Unfortunately, it looks like Alex Mack is still not where was athletically before his broken leg (in 2014). The result is an underachieving offensive line, but improvement is still not out of the cards. I am confident in this team’s pass protection, as the quarterback’s evasiveness has assisted with that part of the offense.
The run blocking has been lacking, but looked well against the Titans – the jumbo packages with Cameron Erving might be the trick in making holes for runners to go through.
Defensive Line: From zero to seven sacks in one week, what a difference consistent pressure makes! Jamie Meder, John Hughes, and Randy Starks all got into the action a week ago. The eight hundred pound elephant in the room continues to be the run defense and its inability to stop opponents. Latavius Murray is no slouch, and can make life frustrating for Jim O’Neil and the Browns’ defenders if their offensive line provides alleys to run through. I predict this is the week where they put it all together, funneling the opposition to the middle of the field where Danny Shelton can work his magic.
Linebacker: During Scott Solomon’s loss of playing time from his injured ankle, another athlete would have to fill in opposite Paul Kruger at outside linebacker. With Barkevious Mingo displaying his usual lackluster ability, Armonty Bryant came out on top. The veteran crashed on the edge pretty well and looked like a viable starter in
this defense. His transition from defensive line to linebacker is far from complete, but if last week is any indication – I am all for him getting a majority of reps on Sunday. On the inside, it is status quo (once again) for the trio of linebackers. They continue to be a strength of this defense, now they need a few of those impactful plays.
Secondary: Overall the unit has grown, but the secondary is still a ways from there they would like to be. Joe Haden recovered a fumble, while Trammon Williams was stout in coverage all game long. However, the opposing tight ends were playing pitch and catch with the quarterback at will. That cannot occur on a weekly basis, otherwise games could get ugly. Tashaun Gipson needs to return to his 2014 form of jumping routes and taking interceptions back for many yards. I thought K’Waun Williams held his own last contest – he will be expected to step up against a wide receiving corps that features Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper.
Special Teams: Not a lot to complain about here – the kicking and coverage units have been solid while the return games have been excellent. Winning in this matchup could be the decider between a win and a loss, and I like the Browns in the special teams’ battle.
Coaching: I would expect a similar blueprint to last week by both the Browns’ offensive and defensive coaching staffs. Maintain a lead and play conservatively, with the quarterback making some throws here and there. Meanwhile, the defense will be relentless and will make Derek Carr nervous on every drop back.
Prediction (My Record: 0 – 2): Well, I have been wrong so far – and would love to pick against the Browns every week (assuming they can always prove me wrong). However, with the Raiders traveling east and coming off a huge win over the Ravens – I see a big letdown and do see the Browns actually winning 27 – 17.