Three to Focus on – Browns @ Raiders, Week 6

| October 14, 2011

After an inspired performance in Houston last week, the Raiders find themselves over .500 after five games for the first time since 2002, when they made their last Super Bowl and Playoff appearance. They have an opportunity to distance themselves a little further from mediocrity and pick up a half game on the division-leading San Diego Chargers this Sunday when they host a Browns team that has had two weeks to stew on a beat-down suffered at home at the hands of the Tennessee Titans.

Cleveland has had trouble finding consistent success on offense this year—partly because they’ve struggled to adjust to an offensive scheme that doesn’t rely solely on Peyton Hillis—and have scored more than 20 points only once in four tries. Oakland, on the other hand, has failed to reach that plateau only once in five games and produced more than 30 points twice.

Will the Browns find a way to string together drives and actually finish them, or will the Raiders continue the process of restoring the franchise’s relevance in honor of the late Al Davis?

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1) Browns offensive line vs. Raiders defensive line

The Browns have expressed that Hillis will have a heavier workload than had been normal so far this season and if the Browns intend to win this game through Hillis’ power running, they’re going to need to get better offensive line play than they’ve managed. Tony Pashos (+4.1) had a great game against Tennessee, instilling hope for a Browns offense that suffered through some awful play at RT from Artis Hicks and Oniel Cousins. Still, other weaknesses persist on the line: rookie LG Jason Pinkston (-5.8) and second-year RG Shawn Lauvao (-4.3) aren’t excelling early on as starters, with Pinkston particularly struggling in the run game.

The youngsters on the line, including center Alex Mack, will need to be at their best against Oakland or Hillis will have a hard time finding much running room and Colt McCoy won’t be able to feel very safe in the pocket. The Raiders boast one of the best interior defensive fronts in the league with DTs Richard Seymour (+11.8) and Tommy Kelly (+10.4) playing at a level that will warrant Pro Bowl consideration if they keep it up, while also getting production from John Henderson when he rotates in. Seymour and Kelly can both apply pressure inside while also playing the run effectively and Lamarr Houston and Kamerion Wimbley can make an encore performance from Pashos difficult for the veteran lineman.

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2) McCoy in the face of pressure

Following up on the last paragraph, McCoy will need to demonstrate an improved ability to handle pressure if the Browns are going to become a more productive offense. The Raiders can certainly get to the quarterback, with their defense having racked up exactly 100 total QB pressures through five games and it would be surprising if they don’t get consistent pressure in this game. Pashos had a good game last week, but has never been known as a pass-blocker and DLE Houston and nickel-package replacement Wimbley are a tall order for any RT.

The important thing is what will happen once the Raiders do get that pressure? McCoy is currently our 23rd ranked QB in terms of overall grade and a significant factor in that grade has been his inability to make plays in the face of pressure. In 65 drop-backs under pressure, McCoy has completed 29 passes and has thrown two of his three interceptions. However, it’s not so much that he makes a lot of mistakes under pressure, it’s that often there’s a play to be made when the defense sends the blitz and McCoy simply hasn’t been able to make them. Recognizing those blitzes and being able to quickly find the open man for a big play instead of a negative play or short gain is something a guy like McCoy who lacks elite arm strength needs to be able to do.

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3) Which Campbell will show up?

Although the QB who’s inconsistency has earned him the set of nicknames “good Eli” and “bad Eli” isn’t featured in this game, the Raiders QB Jason Campbell may soon have to worry about similar accolades if his performances don’t level out. The problems are nothing new, as his inconsistency caused the Raiders to waver on their quarterback decision a few times last year, but now that the Raiders are in a position to contend for the division, they need to be able to know what they are going to get from Campbell on a weekly basis. For an idea as to how inconsistent he’s been, here are Campbell’s passing grades this season, in chronological order: +1.0, +7.0, +0.5, +4.5, and -1.

Sometimes, Campbell looks like a franchise quarterback. Others, the team is forced to win in spite of him rather than because of him, as was the case last week in Houston when Campbell struggled with some overthrows and general accuracy issues. The Browns aren’t the best team on the Raiders’ remaining schedule by any means, but Campbell needs to bounce back regardless. Teams with playoff aspirations have to have faith in their QB and no matter how good he plays in some games, if Campbell’s reputation as an inconsistent QB persist there will be doubts as to whether he can lead a team into and through the playoffs.

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