This was the game many expected to feature two prized rookie quarterbacks with the Raiders Jamarcus Russell and the Browns Brady Quinn. Rookie holdouts have pushed that match-up into the future but there will be plenty of excitement in this one as the Browns look to acquire their first back-to-back victories since September of 2004 while the Raiders look to avoid a 0-3 start. The Raiders can't help but to be looking back as they managed to lose two games that they should have won. Rob Chudzinksi versus Rob Ryan, what more could you ask for?
Quarterback Josh McCown will lead the Raiders offense Sunday but another poor performance like last week and Daunte Culpepper will make his Raiders debut. McCown actually reminds me a great deal of Charlie Frye with a much stronger arm. He is extremely mobile and arguably throws better on the run but his accuracy can be erratic especially if you can get to him early in the game. He will try to do too much and make the bad decision.
The Raiders have offensive weapons - especially at the receiver position. Gone is Randy Moss but Jerry Porter appears ready to rejuvenate his career under rookie head coach Lane Kiffin. Porter is a crafty receiver that has a knack for getting behind the secondary. He is averaging 24 yards per reception this year but has only posted 3 receptions in two games in large part due to the quarterback position.
Porter's counterpart Ronald Curry appears to finally be healthy. He is off to a stellar season as he has posted 12 receptions for 145 yards. Curry is physically talented and he has shown a willingness to put his body on the line by going across the middle and making those tough catches in traffic. He also possesses a tremendous vertical leap.
Running back Lamont Jordan looks fresh as he is running with power and explosion. Jordan used those big thick legs to run all over the Denver defense last week and should be licking his chops with the thought of going against the Browns. Jordan is a terrific downhill runner. As long as he is going north and south he is a terror but if you can force him into going left and right, you can stop him behind the line of scrimmage.
Rookie tight end Zach Miller is more of a sure handed possession receiver in the passing game but his ability to block makes him extremely valuable, especially with the Raiders struggles at the line. Miller has excellent technique as he plays with good extension and can often seal the edge by himself.
The Raiders offensive line is vastly improved under new line coach Tom Cable but it is a work in progress. They employ a great deal of zone blocking in their scheme which seems to be a much better fit for their personnel. Robert Gallery has moved back inside to guard and that is where he should have been all along. The tackles Barry Sims and Cornell Green are vulnerable to the quick edge rushers in the passing game but they are solid run blockers.
The Browns defense has been consistent in every facet of the game. 31st in points allowed, 32nd in total yards, 30th in passing yards and 29th in rushing yards is about as consistent as you can get. There is no way to sugar coat the fact that this is one of the worst defensive units the Browns have fielded despite an abundance of talent. Similar to what I said last week about the offense, there is too much talent for this team to be this bad defensively. There is individual talent, but as a team, they have yet to put it together.
The front two of the Browns have played well with Robaire Smith and Orpheus Roye. They are making plays in the running game and getting pressure in the pocket. They are thus far the Browns two best defenders. I can't call it a front three since Orpheus and Robaire are the only two up front getting it done. The nose tackle position has been so bad that the play is often over before Ted Washington gets out of his stance and the two backups have been equally ineffective.
The keys to this game are outside linebackers Antwan Peek and Kamerion Wimbley. Defenses have adjusted to Wimbley by using the tight end to help the left tackle to take Wimbley out of the game. The Browns should look at moving Wimbley around and forcing the offense to adjust. When they know where he is coming from on every play, it is much easier to block him. Peek is ripe to have a very big game against the Raiders.
The inside linebacker combo of D'Qwell Jackson and Andra Davis will have their hands full against the Raiders. Their job is incredibly difficult as they have to overplay the interior gaps due to the poor play at the nose position. This slows their reaction time when they have to slide. It is even more difficult due to the fact that they are often facing off against a guard. This will be an even greater challenge this week as the Raiders are all about creating multiple running lanes by spreading out the defense.
The Browns secondary is once again becoming a very thin group with Leigh Bodden playing through a groin injury while Daven Holly and Brodney Pool recover from concussions. The secondary has been exposed in both games so far and it won't be any easier with injuries starting to mount. Rookie corner Eric Wright leads the team in tackles and that is not what you want to see as a defensive unit. The rookie has played fairly well but the lack of pass rush is leaving this secondary exposed. Free safety could be a nightmare for the Browns with starting safety Brodney Pool and backup Mike Adams likely out for the game.
The Raiders were confident going into the season that their defense would carry them. Although the defense has been decent it hasn't been nearly as dominant as expected. The likely loss of defensive end Derrick Burgess will not help matters as Burgess is one of the premier pass rushers in all of football. Taking over for Burgess will likely be the rookie from Ohio St. Jay Richardson. Jay has shown exceptional explosion coming off the edge but he will be in for a difficult day matched up against the Browns rookie left tackle Joe Thomas.
Former Browns tackle Gerard Warren appears to finally have found a home in Oakland. He, along with monster tackle Terdell Sands and Warren Sapp, have been solid up front. Sapp is in the best shape of his career and must be accounted for on every play. For those of you who are fans of trench warfare should find this be a great game to watch.
The Raiders linebackers are all about speed. There is a true gang mentality with this group of young talented linebackers led by Kirk Morrison. Morrison has great instincts as a linebacker. He is one of those throwback players that has that instinct for the game. Outside linebacker Thomas Howard may be the best coverage linebacker in football. He has the speed to cover most receivers and the strength to cover the tight end. He should find himself matched up against Browns tight end Kellen Winslow early and often in this one.
The strength of this defense is the secondary led by Nnamdi Asomugha. Nnamdi is a big physical corner that can bang with the larger NFL receivers but he also has the speed to cover the smaller speedy receivers. Fabian Washington mans the other corner position. Fabian is more of your typical speed corner who can play aggressively due to his excellent recovery. He will have his hands full with the size of the Browns receivers.
Safety Michael Huff is another of those play-making safeties that are taking over the NFL. He possesses the physical aggressiveness of a linebacker with cover corner abilities. Avoiding Michael Huff in the passing game would be advisable. This young man is on his way to becoming an elite NFL safety.
Rob Chudzinski's offense is working. Chud has brought an aggressive mentality to this offense that we haven't seen for some time. As good as quarterback Derek Anderson's performance was last week, there were many plays still left on the field. This scheme creates confusion and mismatches and the battle of wits between Chud and Rob Ryan is a battle I am looking forward to seeing.
Derek Anderson is coming off of a career game against the Bengals. Derek has cannon for an arm and he gets the ball out fast which is a nice combo for any quarterback. He must avoid locking onto his intended target. This secondary will make you pay when you telegraph your throws. Anderson must also improve upon his accuracy. If Derek can improve upon those two areas, he may just have an outstanding NFL career.
The greatest beneficiaries of Chud's offensive philosophy are the Browns receivers. Off of a play-action fake, Chudzinski will have 5 receiving options for the quarterback to work with. This creates mismatches all over the field as the linebackers and safeties must respect the ability of Jamal Lewis. As they creep up, tight end Kellen Winslow now owns the middle of the field and Braylon Edwards spreads them out wide with his speed and deep ball mentality. Winslow and Edwards are averaging 18 yards per catch.
Their talent is also creating space for the sure-handed but slow-footed Joe Jurevicius. Joe brings the mental game to the table by finding the open spot in the defense. Wherever the defense abandons coverage, Joe is soon to follow. He could have a career day against the undersized Fabian Washington.
Jamal Lewis was used to rumbling through defenders at Cleveland Browns Stadium and last week, he managed to do it for the good guys. Jamal is a beast once he gets going and with the vertical passing game working, Jamal has seen a return to form. Look for Jamal to see a bigger role in the passing game this week with the screen pass. Anytime you face a Ryan-coached defense, you know the blitz will be coming and that is when you can use that aggressiveness against them. Use the screen and dump down passes to exploit that aggression.
The MVP of the Browns offense could very well be full back Lawrence Vickers. Vickers made one great block after another last week to free up Lewis for his huge runs but Vickers ability as a pass catcher forces the defense to come up and play the dump down pass. This is one of the reasons the Browns receivers are finding themselves in single coverage down field.
The Browns have invested a large fortune into the offensive line and that investment is beginning to pay dividends. Last week, Anderson's jersey after the game looked like it had just been delivered from the cleaners. The most impressive part of this line is how quickly they can spread out a defense with their shield and trap blocks. Eric Steinbach and Joe Thomas are masters at creating running lanes without power but instead by using great technique and excellent footwork. They simply use the defenders momentum against them and allow the player to push himself out of position to make the play. Keep a close eye on the battle between center Hank Fraley and Terdell Sands. This will be a classic battle of technique versus brute strength. Fraley has been excellent in getting into the second level.
Josh Cribbs may be the best kickoff return man in football. He was great last year and may be even better this year at following his blockers as well as reading the defense. Sebastian Janikowski has a tremendous leg but occasionally he will kick a low one. If this happens, Cribbs could be taking one to the house. He is averaging over 31 yards per return.