Oakland Raiders vs. Cleveland Browns: Complete Week 7 Preview for Oakland

Brian Flores@@Raiders_TrackerContributor IIIOctober 24, 2014

Oakland Raiders vs. Cleveland Browns: Complete Week 7 Preview for Oakland

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Even 0-6 teams have must-win games, and that's exactly what the Oakland Raiders are facing this week when they visit FirstEnergy Stadium to take on the Cleveland Browns. Kickoff is scheduled for this Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET.

    Oakland's schedule is going to be grueling after this week, giving the game that much more importance.

    The Browns have looked good at times this season, but their performance last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars showed they are still very beatable. The Raiders have to capitalize on this opportunity.

    Cleveland has been one of the worst teams against the run this season. Despite his underwhelming play so far, Darren McFadden will be a major factor. If he's able to play anywhere near the level he's capable of, he could be looking at a breakout game.

    The Oakland defense has been decimated by injuries, forcing several reserves into starting roles. But with how bad the unit has played, that's not necessarily a bad thing. 

    Sunday's game is an odd matchup between a Raiders team that can't seem to get out of its own way and a Browns team that seems all too willing to give up a win. It might not be pretty, but the Raiders have a very real opportunity to leave Cleveland with a win.

    Here's a full breakdown of this week's game.

Oakland Raiders Week 7 Recap

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Week 6 looked like it could be a turning point in the Raiders' season. Despite the loss, the team played well and had a chance to win against one of the NFL's top teams. They could've build off of this performance last week against the beatable Arizona Cardinals.

    But instead, Oakland reverted back to the team it had been through the first four games. The defense found no success against the pass or the run, and the offense was once again unable to sustain drives and put up points.

    While the defense has had more than its share of criticism, it has played better than the team's record indicates. The primary problem continues to be the defensive line, which has easily been the team's most ineffective unit. Against the Cardinals, it was a non-factor as it couldn't stop the run and couldn't get to the quarterback. 

    The secondary and the linebackers are often the ones that look bad on the replays, but the problems start at the line of scrimmage. Carson Palmer was comfortable most of the game, and the defensive line was yet again unable to produce a single sack.

    Offensively, the team looked nothing like it did against the San Diego Chargers. There were no big plays in the passing game, and the running game was once again ineffective. For the fifth time in six games, the offense was unable to produce more than 14 points.

    Despite the defense's struggles, it was able to keep Oakland in the game. But it didn't matter as the offense couldn't sustain drives or generate any points. This once again turned into a close game late as the Raiders were within a score heading into the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the offense never really threatened, and the Cardinals never looked to be in danger of losing the lead.

    The Raiders' play against Arizona was similar to what it had been prior to Week 6, and the result was the same. As Week 6 concluded, Oakland found itself as the final winless team in the NFL.

News and Notes

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    David Seelig/Associated Press

    Hayden's Return

    The D.J. Hayden watch continued this week, and head coach Tony Sparano stated (via ESPN.com's Bill Williamson) the cornerback is close to returning. When exactly that happens remains to be seen, but Williamson suggests it could be as soon as this week against the Browns.

    Whenever Hayden does return, he'll be immediately inserted into the lineup. The Oakland secondary has struggled and is in desperate need of reinforcements. Hayden will be in the spotlight as he tries to justify the high pick Oakland used on him last season.

    It's too soon to call him a bust, but he's spent most of his time with the Raiders injured. As soon as he returns, he'll have to get to work proving the critics wrong.

     

    Oakland Offensive Line a Bright Spot

    As poorly as the Raiders have played this season, there have been a few bright spots. One of those is the offensive line, which has been efficient all season.

    According to Williamson, Derek Carr has been blitzed on 35.6 percent of his dropbacks, the fourth highest percentage in the league. But despite the constant pressure, the offensive line has held up well. Carr has only been sacked four times.

    The run blocking has left a lot to be desired, but at least in pass protection the offensive line has been among the best in the league.

     

    Is Fatigue the Defense's Biggest Problem?

    The Oakland defense has taken plenty of criticism, but the offense has been at least partially responsible for this. Head coach Tony Sparano pointed out against the Arizona Cardinals the defense was on the field for 78 plays. No matter how good a defense is, it's going to wear down under that many snaps.

    There's no question the defense is flawed, but the offense needs to do its part. This means putting together sustained drives throughout the game that result in points. The offense has scored more than 14 points only once this season and has continuously struggled to get first downs. No matter how well the defense plays, it's hard to be successful when it's constantly on the field.

    The Season's Only Going to Get Tougher

    It's already been a long season for the Raiders, but it looks like things are only going to get tougher from here. Per Williamson, Oakland's opponent's the rest of the season have a winning percentage of 58.7. This is the second-toughest remaining schedule of anyone in the league.

    This makes this Sunday's matchup that much more important. Cleveland has played well at times, but it has also looked bad, including last week. This could the Raiders' last "winnable" game for awhile, and they need to take advantage of the opportunity.

Injury Report

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
    PlayerPositionInjury status
    Usama YoungSSOut for season
    LaMarr WoodleyDEOut for season
    Keith McGillCBDoubtful
    David AusberryTEDoubtful
    Carlos RogersCBQuestionable
    Marcel ReeceFBQuestionable
    Vincent BrownWRQuestionable
    Justin TuckDEQuestionable
    Khalif BarnesOLProbable
    Austin HowardOLProbable

    Injury statuses taken from CSN Bay Area's Scott Bair.

    McGill and Ausberry are both likely out again this week, but their absences won't be felt as neither has been a factor this season. This could also signal the end of Ausberry's time in Oakland. At this point, there doesn't seem to be any sense in holding on to a player who has proven he can't stay healthy.

    Young and Woodley were both lost for the season in the game against the Cardinals. Young had struggled at times this season, but he had begun to develop a nice rhythm alongside Charles Woodson. He'll be replaced in the starting lineup by Brandian Ross, who the Raiders cut prior to the season.

    Woodley is also out, but given how poorly he's played, his absence could be addition by subtraction. Brought in to bolster the pass rush, his season will end with him failing to record a single sack. He'll be replaced by Benson Mayowa this Sunday.

    Whether the second-year man can produce better results remains to be seen, but with how poorly Woodley played, giving another player a chance to make an impact can only help the defense.

    Reece, Tuck and Brown all missed last week's game, and they've all been limited in practice this week. All three are looking like game-time decisions at this point. Brown is buried on the Oakland wide receiver depth chart, but Reece and Tuck are key components of the Oakland game plan.

    If Reece and Tuck can't go, they'll once again be replaced by Jamize Olawale and C.J. Wilson, respectively.

    Barnes is set to return to action, but for now it seems like he's lost his starting spot to Menelik Watson. Barnes has played well, but the coaches have seen enough from Watson to let him stay at right tackle.

    The plan was always for Watson to start and for Barnes, who can play every spot on the offensive line, to be available in reserve. Watson's improved play will allow this to happen.

    Howard has been a key part of the offensive line, which has arguably been Oakland's best unit this season. He'll be at his right guard spot on Sunday.

X-Factors and Matchups to Watch

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Miles Burris vs. Jordan Cameron

    Burris, a weakside linebacker, has been a tough competitor since being forced into action at middle linebacker due to injuries. But he's clearly playing out of position. He's often left one-on-one against opposing tight ends, and these matchups have exposed his shortcomings in pass coverage. Opposing quarterbacks have exploited Burris' lack of speed and quickness in the open field against receiving tight ends.

    This week, he'll be tested again by Cameron. Fortunately for Burris, the Cleveland tight end hasn't been a major part of the passing attack, totaling only 10 receptions in five games this season.

    Still, the Oakland defense has allowed big performances from unexpected players. But this will also provide Burris the opportunity the succeed as he's looking at a situation in which he's not totally outmatched. Burris needs to take advantage of this chance and shut down this option for the Cleveland offense.

    Derek Carr vs. Tashaun Gipson

    Despite his struggles, Carr has shown an ability to beat defenses over the top. Even in last week's disappointing performance, he still had a 55-yard pass to Brice Butler, setting up Oakland's only touchdown. Continuing that success will be especially tough against the Browns as Carr will be challenged by Gipson, who's tied for the NFL lead with four interceptions.

    Even with such a dangerous defender, Carr still has to test the defense deep, but he'll need to be especially aware of where Gipson is on the field. The free safety is coming off a two-interception performance, and he's proven himself to be a ball hawk. Carr needs to be careful to not let his confidence draw him into too many dangerous passes in Gipson's direction.

    Benson Mayowa vs. Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz

    LaMarr Woodley's disappointing season has come to a fittingly disappointing end. CSN Bay Area's Scott Bair reports the defensive end suffered a biceps tear, and he'll be placed on season-ending Injured Reserve. Woodley's season ends with a paltry five tackles and no sacks in six games.

    Per Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Gate, Benson Mayowa has been tabbed to replace Woodley in the starting lineup. The second-year player is inexperienced, but he has impressed the coaches with his athleticism, according to Tafur. He was one of the Seattle Seahawks' final roster cuts this preseason, and he has real potential at the position.

    He'll get his first chance to make an impact this week against the Browns. At the very least, he can't do any worse than the player he's replacing.

    Oakland defensive tackles vs. John Greco

    The loss of starting center Alex Mack, arguably the NFL's best center, was immediately noticeable last week for Cleveland. Quarterback Brian Hoyer was sacked three times, and the running game produced a mere 69 yards while averaging only 2.3 yards per attempt. Greco stepped in for Mack, but the Cleveland offensive line clearly struggled to cover up for the absence of their Pro Bowl center.

    The Raiders have to capitalize on this. The responsibility will fall on the defensive tackles: Pat Sims, Antonio Smith and Justin Ellis. The Oakland defensive line has been the team's weakest unit this season, but going up against an offensive line with such a major absence in the middle could provide the opportunity for this group to finally have an effective game.

    The Oakland defensive tackles have zero sacks between them this season. This Sunday will present a prime opportunity to pick up the first one. 

    X-Factor of the Week: Darren McFadden

    It's not a coincidence that McFadden's most productive game and the Oakland offense's best overall performance occurred on the same day.

    The running game has been non-existent for the Raiders this season. But the one game it did show up, Oakland almost took down one of the NFL's best teams. McFadden has a chance to have another good game on Sunday against Cleveland, which is ranked 29th in the league against the run.

    This is a Browns team that is trying to figure out what went wrong in an embarrassing Week 7 loss to the previously winless Jacksonville Jaguars. Beating them up on the ground would knock the Browns off balance and give Oakland an immediate advantage. For this to happen, McFadden needs to be effective for four quarters.

Prediction

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    The Raiders have to win on Sunday. They know this, and they'll play like it. 

    Sunday's game is going to come down to the play of Darren McFadden. Although the results haven't been there—he's averaging only 3.8 yards per carry—he has shown signs of the player Oakland drafted. His running has been strong and violent, and he's shown the ability to make tacklers miss. As long as he gets enough carries, he'll be able to exploit Cleveland's weak run defense.

    This will have the same effect that it did against San Diego. The secondary will have to push up in run support, which will open up the passing game for Derek Carr. He won't be spectacular, but he will be efficient.

    After a solid start to the season, Brian Hoyer showed last week why the Browns drafted a quarterback in the first round. He went 16-of-41 (39 percent) with an interception, no touchdowns and was sacked three times. The Oakland defense has struggled, but they'll be able to find some success against a Cleveland offense that has overachieved this season. 

    This game is going to be a battle of attrition. Oakland and Cleveland will be fighting each other, as well as themselves. The difference will be McFadden's play, which will provide enough of a boost to keep the offense on the field, the defense on the sideline and ultimately generate just enough points.

    Prediction: Oakland 20, Cleveland 17

    Unless otherwise noted, all stats taken from ESPN.com.

    Share your thoughts and opinions on Twitter @BrianJ_Flores.

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