For the first time in 40+ years, the Raiders will play a home game without Al Davis there to cheer his team to victory.
Davis passed away last Saturday at the age of 82. The following day the Raiders defeated the Texans, 25-20, in an extremely emotional game for the entire Oakland organization, as well as it’s fan base. On the final play of the game in Houston, and with the Raiders’ backs against the wall, Oakland took the field with only 10 players on defense. As Matt Schaub scrambled to his left, he debated on whether or not he should take off for the end zone. He should’ve.
Shaub attempted to lob a pass over Michael Huff’s head for the game winner, breaking the hearts of Raider Nation and the Oakland organization. Instead, Huff intercepted Shaub’s pass, sending anyone, and everyone, who was watching to stand-up and applaud the Raiders’ effort.
Now, a week after their long-time owners death, the Raiders return home to the Coliseum in what’s sure to be an extremely emotional match-up against the Cleveland Browns. The Browns are going to be a part of NFL history on Sunday. Sunday’s game is certainly going to be a memorable for the Raiders and their fans.
Come Monday morning, the headlines in the local newspapers are going to express the outcome of the game one, of two, ways. The headlines will ever speak of how the Raiders rode the wave of emotion all the way to victory, or, they’ll express sincere sympathy for an organization in mourning. They’ll explain how the emotion of the game seemed to be just too much for the Raiders, who buckled under the pressure of trying to “Just Win Baby..”. (One of Al Davis’ most memorable quotes.) How the Browns are remembered for their part in Sunday’s game, however, is entirely up to them.
Either headline will be justified. Players feed off of different things in the atmosphere on game days, and emotion is a big one. It can be a huge motivating factor to get the Raiders to victory. At the same time, you understand how, and why, the emotion might have been too much for the Raiders to overcome.
One thing is for sure, Raider Nation will be out in full force on Sunday, doing anything they can to will their team to victory in these difficult times.
Nevertheless, the game must be go on, and it will. As anyone who knew Al Davis and they’ll probably tell you that Al wouldn’t have settled for anything less.
There’s drama in Cleveland as well, though it’s for far different reasons than what the Raiders are experiencing right now.
Browns’ star running back Peyton Hillis has been the talk of the town around Cleveland, for all the wrong reasons. It all started for Hillis shortly after the 2011 season got underway.
Rumors started surfacing that the Browns front office was interested in signing their leading rusher from last year to a contract extension. When nothing came to fruition on either side, even more rumors started to swirl. Hillis elevated those rumors when he opted to sit-out the team’s home game against the Dolphins, citing strep throat as his primary reason.
Montario Hardesty replaced Peyton for the Miami game, and done a pretty solid job. Hillis returned the following week against the Titans. Watching that game, you would’ve never guessed that Hillis was Cleveland’s number one running back. Instead, it appeared – somewhat – that title belonged to Hardesty. Since then, Hillis stated that he sat-out the Miami game as a result of the advice he received from his agent. The statement added even more fuel to the fire and it probably won’t disappear until Hillis signs, or walks.
Both teams can really use a victory on Sunday. Of course, the Raiders want to win for obvious reasons, not so much to improve their win/loss record. The Browns, however, need a win to erase memories of the embarrassing loss the team suffered at home to the Titans just before their Bye Week. Here are keys to victory for the Cleveland Browns.
Take the crowd out of the game early, start fast.
Raiders fans are going to swarm to the Coliseum to support their team on Sunday. Clearly emotion is going to be a key factor and the crowd will be a huge part of that. If Oakland comes out inspired and motivated, they could potentially ride the emotion, and crowd, all the way to victory.
So far the Browns offense has failed to start a game on a positive note in all four games. Colt McCoy and the rest of the offense has often waited until the second half, or until the team is down big, to finally put it all together and move the football. If they do that on Sunday, this game could be over by halftime.
Pat Shurmur has talked about getting Evan Moore, an opposing defenses nightmare from the tight end position, and Peyton Hillis more involved on offense. Rookie Greg Little has finally replaced Brian Robiskie as starter opposite of Mohammed Massaquoi. If McCoy can get the ball to his playmakers early, and they play mistake free football, the Browns can hit the Raiders in the mouth and take the crowd out of the game.
Balance on offense.
Colt McCoy set records for completions and attempts against the Titans, but 95% of those completions were 3-5 yards down the field. This is somewhat acceptable, if you’re not down more than two scores throughout the game. If McCoy insist on dinkin’ and dunkin’ his way down the field, Peyton Hills – not Montario Hardesty – needs to get the ball in his hands more in the passing game. Since last season, Hillis (at least at one point this season) was 6th in the NFL in receptions by a tailback. In other words, he should be a legitimate target for McCoy out of the backfield.
In Cleveland’s most balanced game of the season (at Indianapolis), Shurmur called two-more running plays, than passing plays. Cleveland’s most balanced game, was also their most impressive victory.
Shurmur needs to go back, and look at that game-film. Hillis rarely – rarely, rarely, rarely – gets tackled for a loss. His YPC average is lower than usual this year, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Simply put, he’s not getting the ball enough in the run game. I understand that Shurmur wants a New England – Green Bay style of offense, but we don’t have the personnel for it right now. Shurmur should be smart about the players he has right now. If he is, the Browns would be just fine.
Like always, the front seven needs to get pressure up-front.
One of the things I’ll be most excited about heading into next season, is Cleveland’s defensive line. They’re young, but they’re extremely talented. I think if the team turns to youth in next year’s draft at linebacker, with the emergence of D’Qwell Jackson, the Browns have an extremely talented front seven for a long time.
But as for Sunday, the front seven is going to be relied heavily upon throughout the game. Jason Campbell has done a solid job for the Raiders offense this year, but played poorly last week against Houston. Campbell has never proved that he can consistently bounce back from his poor play from the week before.
The Browns haven’t been consistent with their pressure up-front, but they’ve shown flashes of greatness during the first four games. Chris Gocong is one of the better blitzing linebackers around the league. With the hogs up-front, it should allow Browns DC Dick Jauron to utilize the zone-blitz to its full potential.
Try, at least, to contain Darren McFadden.
The one thing the Browns defense has been consistent at doing week in and week out, is that they allow the opposing running backs to put-up big numbers. That absolutely can not happen on Sunday, as the Raiders have one of the more electrifying backs in the league in Darren McFadden.
McFadden leads the NFL in rushing with 519 yards. He’s averaging 103.8 YPG on the ground, and nearly 30 YPG on 3 receptions through the air. In other words, he’s exactly the kind of back that has given the Browns nightmares this season. Every single time McFadden touches the ball, he’s a threat to take it to the house with his illusiveness and speed.
Although the Browns are ranked 9th in the NFL in total defense, they are 25th in the NFL against the run and are allowing 124.5 YPG. They’ve only given-up one touchdown via the run, which is a nice stat.
Containing McFadden, at least for the most part, will give the Cleveland offense more opportunities on the field, which is something I think is necessary in order for McCoy to build confidence.
Cleveland’s Secondary Needs to Step-Up.
The Browns ‘D’ could potentially be without one of the top corners in the league for their match-up against Oakland.
Joe Haden, who is a rising star in the NFL from his corner position, injured his ankle during the game against Tennessee. All year Haden has stood-out on a Browns ‘D’ that, for the first time in a long time, has more than one ‘potential’ NFL star. Haden has been called upon to shut-down the opposing team’s best receiver and has done an outstanding job so far.
Should Haden be sidelined for the game Sunday, Dimitri Patterson and Buster Skrine are going to have to step-up big time. The coaching staff has been high on Patterson ever since he signed with the team this off-season. He has played in every game thus far for the Browns, recording 7 tackles and 3 passes defended.
Skrine is one of the many rookies the Browns have relied on this season. A 5th Round pick for the Browns in this year’s draft, Skrine impressed coaches during the off-season and fans during the preseason. He’s a bit undersized compared to the average NFL corner, but he plays bigger than he actually is.
Patterson and Skrine combined still wouldn’t be on Haden’s level, but they are more than capable of filling in. With his aggressiveness, it’ll be key for Patterson to jam the speedy Oakland receivers at the line of scrimmage. Skrine is one of the fastest players on Cleveland’s roster and should have no problem keeping-up with the likes of Murphy and Heyward-Bey.
We Need Mack!
One of Cleveland’s stars on the offensive side of the ball, Alex Mack, could also miss Sunday’s game in Oakland. After the Tennessee game, Mack had to have an appendectomy. He spent much of the bye week resting-up, but did practice some this week. Both Mack and Haden are critical parts of their perspective units, but I believe it’s harder to replace Mack than it is Haden.
Mack, coaches believe, is closer to playing than Haden, though his status is still in doubt. If Mack can’t go on Sunday, it’ll be up to Steve Vallos to take his place in the starting line-up. Vallos has been inactive for all four games this season.
Prior to the Tennessee game, the Browns offensive line had only given-up 3 sacks, which put them in the top five in the NFL. The Titans were able to get to McCoy 4 times in their win over the Browns. If Shurmur hopes to give McCoy plenty of time to throw the ball, it might be a better idea to roll the pocket and allow him to make plays that way.
Oakland’s Richard Seymour is a 32 year old defensive tackle that is playing more like he’s 23. Cleveland’s offensive line will need to do a better job protecting McCoy against Oakland than they did against Tennessee.
Rookie Receiver Greg Little Needs to Play Big
Most Browns fans have been calling for Little to replace veteran receiver Brian Robiskie since the season began. Robiskie, as a starter, didn’t make his first catch of the year until the Tennessee game where he had 3 receptions for 25 yards. Little, a rookie, has 14 receptions on the year and had 6 for 57 yards as the team’s leading receiver against the Titans.
Now that he has another opportunity to start (his second of the season), he needs to make the most of it. It shouldn’t have taken this long for Shumur to make the switch to Little, or anyone for that matter, over Robiskie.
Little is a well-rounded receiver. He does the little things, like blocking, that offensive coaches love. At 6’2, 220 pounds, Little possesses the size he needs to go up and snag the ball from smaller corners and has the ever important ‘YAC’ ability. It’ll be interesting to see what Little can do now that he has the confidence of the coaching staff, most importantly Pat Shurmur. Shurmur should look to get Little involved on offense early in the game to help build the rookie’s confidence even more.
The Browns have had to answer questions from the media all season long about their receiving core, but have maintained that they are confident in the receivers they currently have on the roster. MoMass has stepped-up this season, at least in terms of making big plays when nedded, but he has been about the only one.
Hopefully Little really flourishes in the starting role, and gives McCoy a legitimate, consistent threat at wide receiver.
Player Under Most Pressure on Offense: Peyton Hillis
I almost went with Colt McCoy here, but I’ve come to understand that McCoy is going to be under pressure all season long since he’s a kid playing QB in the NFL. Not to mention, McCoy puts a ton of pressure on himself as well, which is part of his problem I do believe.
With all the drama Hillis has produced as of late, it’s time to put-up, or shut-up. (Maybe it’s the Madden Curse) Rumor has it that the disagreement on Hillis’ contract situation isn’t guaranteed money, but, in fact, guaranteed length. To me, this means that the coaching staff and front office aren’t comfortable that Hillis fits into offense that Shurmur is hoping for. I think he is, but Shurmur doesn’t seem to be using him correctly.
If Shurmur finally utilizes Hillis correctly, like he did against the Colts, I think he’ll find that Hillis is one of the biggest threats Cleveland’s offense has. It’d be nice to see Hillis play with a chip on his shoulder, and play wanting to prove to the powers that be that he is, in fact, a back capable of playing in Shurmur’s offensive scheme.
Montario Hardesty is a decent back, but he needs to be brought along slowly. For now, Shurmur should stick to Hillis when he wants to make some noise on the ground.
Player to Watch on Offense: Evan Moore
Remember during the off-season, when all we heard about was how great of an athlete Even Moore is as a tight end? We heard all about his play-making capability, and how he was McCoy’s favorite target in the red zone. When the preseason finally got underway, we saw glimpses of that. Sure enough, when the team got inside the 20, McCoy seemed to always be looking for Moore.
Since the regular season has started, however, we’ve not seen much of Evan Moore at all on offense. He currently has 7 receptions on the season, for 85 yards and 2 touchdowns. Both touchdowns came in the first two games of the season.
After the debacle against Tennessee, Moore and Hillis reportedly expressed their displeasure with the offenses lack of production. Both felt that they should be involved more on offense, and really, they weren’t wrong.
Moore is a match-up nightmare of opposing defenses because of his size and play-making ability. He’s 6’6, 250 pounds and has hands that would make most receivers jealous but for some reason, Shurmur hasn’t utilized Moore…more.
Look for Moore to be involved more on offense against Oakland, he has too if the Browns want to improve on offense. It’s possible Shurmur could take a look at Moore as a receiver against Oakland, a move that I believe will really give Oakland’s 30th ranked passing defense all kinds of problems.
Player Under Most Pressure on Defense: Dimitri Patterson
Although it hasn’t been confirmed just yet, Patterson is likely to replace the injured Joe Haden in Cleveland’s starting line-up. Replacing Haden is nearly impossible, and the coaching staff, and Browns fans as well, shouldn’t expect the same kind of production out of Patterson.
However, Dimitri is a solid replacement. Oakland has some athletic freaks at the receiver position, and would’ve been a headache even for Haden. Darius Heyward-Bey has really come along for the Raiders, and Louis Murphy is a speed demon.
It’ll be up to Patterson, and rookie Buster Skrine, to contain that speed and not allow Oakland’s receivers to get behind them. Jason Campbell isn’t the best QB in the NFL, but he has the ability to get the ball in his play-makers’ hands. If the Browns want to have a successful day on defense, Patterson will be relied on to really step-up in place of fan-favorite, Joe Haden.
The coaching staff is confident that Patterson can step-in for Haden and do a sufficient job for the defense. Let’s just hope they’re right.
Player to Watch on Defense: Auston English
When Marcus Benard decided to pull his best Kellen Winslow, Jr. impression, wrecking his motorcycle and ending his season, the Browns turned to practice squad player Auston English to take his place.
English was impressive for the Browns in just about every single preseason game. He led the team in sacks during that time, and really played with a high motor and intensity every game. I, for one, felt English should have been apart of Cleveland’s 53 man roster to begin with, but at least he’s there now.
Both Pat Shurmur and defensive coordinator Dick Jauron believe English is more than capable of playing at this level, and should see a fair amount of playing time against Oakland.