After that incredibly emotional victory against the Houston Texans, the Raiders get to come home for three straight games at O.Co Coliseum. This is the time when the Raiders will determine if they are a playoff team or not. At 3-2, they have an opportunity to beat a trio of subpar opponents (combined 5-9 record) and go to 6-2, which would be their best start in a decade—even better than their 2002 Super Bowl year, when they were 4-4 at the halfway point of the season.
The Browns are not an awful team, but they are definitely beatable. A playoff team in 2011 beats the Cleveland Browns at home—so if the Raiders want to be playing January football, they’d better be miserable hosts to Colt McCoy and the boys. Let’s break down how they can do it.
Pound the Rock
At 2-2, the Browns have one of the league’s best pass defenses (fourth) but one of its worst rush defenses (25th). Good thing we have this guy named Darren McFadden on the roster; perhaps you’ve heard of him? I think he might be pretty good.
The Raiders love to run the ball, and McFadden is as dynamic a running back as you’ll find in the NFL. He had a tough game against the Texans, but their defense is athletic and swarms the ball. McFadden should have a considerably easier afternoon against the Browns.
The Raiders have run the ball effectively in every game this season, averaging 172 rushing yards per game in their three wins and 145 rushing yards per game in their two losses. The real story, however, lies with McFadden because many of those rushing yards have come from reverses and trick plays.
When McFadden himself has a good game, the Raiders win. Compare his average numbers in wins (124 rushing yards, 6.5 yards per carry) with his averages in losses (73.5 rushing yards, 4.3 yards per carry).
The Raiders have to give their stud the ball early and often. If McFadden carries the ball at least 22-23 times Sunday, Oakland wins.
Expose the Fact That Colt Isn’t the Real McCoy
Holy smokes, does Chuck Bresnahan read my work on Bleacher Report? Because against the Texans, he finally did something I’ve been begging him to do all season: He blitzed! A lot! He sent the house at Matt Schaub, and what do you know? The Raiders limited an offense scoring 26 points per game to only 20. See what happens when you listen to me, Chuck?
According to ESPN’s Ron Jaworski, the Raiders blitzed almost 50 percent of the time (26 of the Texans’ 53 offensive plays). Hue Jackson, who is this imposter you’ve replaced Bresnahan with? I don’t care because I like him.
McCoy is a nice young quarterback, and he may be a star in this league one day—but he isn’t a star right now. He’s a little trigger happy, and the best way to force him into errors is to scare the living daylights out of him with endless blitzes. In the first Raider home game since the death of our fearless leader, Al Davis, do you think the crowd might be a little fired up? The Coliseum is going to be electric, and if you combine that noise with rushing Raiders in your face, it’s going to be a long day for McCoy.
Do NOT Turn the Ball Over
When you’re playing a mediocre team like the Browns, you can get away with a few mistakes—some stalled drives, lapses defensively on third down. But the one thing you absolutely cannot do is commit turnovers.
Of course, teams should always avoid turning the ball over because it’s never a good idea. But it’s especially important against a team like the Browns because they have to understand which team is superior at all times. The Raiders have to crush the Browns’ spirits at every opportunity to ensure Cleveland never believes it actually has a shot at winning. And nothing will give a bad team momentum like a poorly timed interception or fumble.
If Jason Campbell throws a pick at his own 20 with the Raiders leading 10-3, the Browns are in position to make the game 10-10 and suddenly believe they have a real chance to win. That means trouble.
For further proof of this phenomenon, look at the Seahawks vs. Giants game last week. The 1-3 Seahawks had to travel cross-country to play an early game in New York, a game which they had no business winning (Las Vegas had the Giants as a 10-point favorite).
But the Giants had an unforgivable five turnovers (four by Eli Manning), including the game-breaking pick-six thrown by Manning as the Giants were on the verge of a fourth-quarter comeback. Seahawks win 36-25 and heavy drinking ensues among Giant fans.
Many times this season I’ve thought Campbell was too cautious with the football and gave up on plays too quickly, but on Sunday, Jason, please just hand the ball to McFadden and don’t screw this up.