Browns vs. Raiders: 5 Keys to the Game for Oakland
The Browns enter the game with the same 3-8 record this season, fresh off a 20-14 win over Pittsburgh last week.
In fact, this game could have some draft implications should the two teams finish the season with the same record.
For Oakland, the biggest need is to figure something out defensively, as Oakland continues their historically bad defensive stretch. The good news is that the Browns are coming to town, but the bad news is that rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden can throw the ball a little bit and he's beginning to find some exciting receivers on the outside.
The big question this week is whether the Raiders will show some pride as they close out this season because if the last few weeks are any indication, the answer is no.
Establish the Run Game
After two straight weeks with a productive run game, the Oakland offense is in line to get a boost on Sunday as Darren McFadden seems ready to return.
The big question is how much of an improvement that might be.
McFadden has struggled mightily thus far, averaging just 57 yards per game while notching just two touchdowns in eight games.
For the early part of the season, many attributed those numbers to the offensive line, but Marcel Reece's emergence badly wounded that theory.
In two starts without McFadden, Reece has been sensational, averaging nearly 150 total yards a game with a yards per carry average over five. To put that in perspective, McFadden was averaging just 3.3 yards per carry this season and doesn't have a single game this season with 150 total yards.
Now with Run DMC back in the mix, it will be interesting how the Raiders can balance their hot back and their star player, but, regardless of who plays, Oakland needs to take some pressure off of Carson Palmer.
To a certain extent, putting Carson Palmer's picture on a slide about mistakes is misleading. In reality, Palmer might be last in the line of people to blame for Oakland's downfall this season, but anytime the team struggles, the quarterback gets the finger pointed in his direction.
The problem for Palmer is that he has been put in numerous situations this season in which he has needed to be absolutely perfect, and more times than not, he hasn't been able to.
The good news this week is that Oakland faces a weak Browns team, meaning he might have some room to breathe and take some chances this week.
Despite the lowly opponent though, if Oakland's defense can't get it together this week, then the Oakland offense will need to limit the turnovers. I think this is one area Oakland will improve upon this week.
If there's one lesson the Oakland Raiders are learning this season it's that surrounding a few good pieces with terrible ones isn't a feasible approach.
To discount the entire defense would be a mistake because guys like Phillip Wheeler and Miles Burris have been pleasant surprises. To discount the entire defensive backfield, however, would not be a mistake.
The Browns offense is headlined by rookie running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden, so if there's any week for the Raiders D to turn it around, this week would appear to be the one.
The Raiders have held opponents under 26 points just twice all season, and if they're going to beat Cleveland, they may need to do that on Sunday.
The best way to defend a rookie quarterback is to throw him off his game and get to him early.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, they are tied for last in the league with just 13 sacks despite the large amount of talent across the defensive line.
If Oakland can put pressure on Weeden, it will help mask their lack of talent in the secondary and could also lead to some key turnovers.
Then again, if they can't pressure Weeden, he'll just be the next guy in a line of quarterbacks to torch the Raiders.
Play with Pride
On paper, the Raiders should dominate this game.
On the field, however, anything could happen—especially if Oakland has already checked out for the season.
The problem with Oakland lately has seemed to be a lack of interest, especially amongst some of the higher-profile guys like Tommy Kelly and Rolando McClain. With McClain gone, it's up to someone to step up and motivate the team to play hard for 60 minutes.
If Oakland plays with pride and not for a draft pick (note: I'm not necessarily saying this is the best outcome for Oakland long-term, but what can you say), I think this could be a game that jump-starts the latter half of their season.
In fact, I think this is the game that determines how the next five games play out. Aside from a game against Denver, Oakland plays four teams that they could definitely beat (Browns, Chiefs, Chargers, Panthers), but that all depends on how much they want it.
If Oakland wins this game, I could see a seven-win season as within the realm of possibility. If they lose, however, a three-win season is equally as likely.