Browns-Raiders: Game Scout

The data you need to get ready for Sunday's match-up at Cleveland Browns Stadium

Oakland Raiders (5-9) at Cleveland Browns (3-11)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET

GAMEDATE: 12/27/09
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS (Don Criqui Randy Cross)

PREDICTION: Raiders 19-13

KEYS TO THE GAME: QB Charlie Frye is expected to start for the Raiders as long as he overcomes a concussion, but it was the Michael Bush-led ground game that kept Oakland in last Sunday's game long enough to knock off Denver. The Browns also uncovered a new lead back last Sunday in Jerome Harrison, who lacks size but has agility and deep speed. Along with versatile WR Josh Cribbs, Cleveland has two big-play threats for Oakland to keep tabs on. QB Derek Anderson's job is to primarily protect the ball with Brady Quinn out for the season.

FAST FACTS: Bush has the last three 100-yard rushing games for the Raiders. ... Cribbs has an NFL-record eight career kickoff returns for touchdowns.

PERSONNEL NEWS
Raiders:

--FB Luke Lawton was suspended for the final two games of the 2009 season and the first two games of 2010 for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances.

--TE Zach Miller was cleared to practice, but must pass one more test to be able to play against the Browns. He was limited in practice Thursday.

--WR Darrius Heyward-Bey missed practice with a foot sprain is likely to miss his fourth game.

--G Cooper Carlisle was limited in practice with a knee injury.

--RB Justin Fargas missed practice for the second straight day with a knee injury and may miss the Browns game, meaning Michael Bush could get additional work.

--TE Brandon Myers has not been cleared to practice after suffering a concussion against Denver.

--DE Greg Ellis did not practice, resting a sore knee, but is expected to face Cleveland.

Browns:

--RT John St. Clair missed practice Thursday because of an ankle injury that knocked him out of the game against the Chiefs.

--DE Kenyon Coleman did not practice Thursday. He has knee and elbow injuries and he is battling a cold.

--DL Corey Williams practiced on a limited basis Thursday. A thigh injury prevented him from practicing Wednesday.

--K Phil Dawson was added to the injury list Thursday. He had full participation, but he has a sore left hamstring.

--LT Joe Thomas was limited in practice Thursday with a thigh injury.


INSIDE THE CAMPS
Raiders:

Kick the ball to Joshua Cribbs? On purpose?

The Raiders say yes. They kicked to Devin Hester two seasons ago when Hester was tearing up the NFL and lived to brag about it. Oakland limited Hester to 14 yards on six punt returns and 34 yards on two kickoff returns.

"We're going to do exactly what we did to Hester, what we did to Dante Hall four years ago when he was at Kansas City," punter Shane Lechler said. "When you do that, it goes to show that you don't trust your guys. I'm willing to put my guys up against anybody. I like my guys. My punt team is outstanding, they play their butt off every Sunday."

Cribbs is fifth in the NFL at 27.8 yards per kickoff return and has three touchdowns and eight for his career. He had scoring returns of 100 and 103 yards in a 41-34 win over Kansas City. He ranks second in punt returns at 13.3 yards and has one touchdown, and returns virtually everything, with just three fair catches.

Linebacker Isaiah Ekejiuba, who earned a three-year contract in the offseason by virtue of his special teams play, can't imagine the Raiders doing anything else than kicking to Cribbs and taking their chances.

"Shane is not a directional punter. He's going to let the ball go, and we're going to go down and cover the way we need to cover."

Sam Williams, another core special teams player, took it a step further.

"On special teams, we're not afraid of any challenge, we don't back down, we kick to anybody, we have the best kicker in the league and we feel like we have one of the best cover teams in the league," Williams said.

Cribbs said that's the reverse of what he usually hears, as opponents tell him during warm-ups they won't be sending anything his way.

"If that's true, then they've got egos and we've got to prove it to them like we've got to prove it to everybody else," Cribbs said.

Not that the Raiders don't have a healthy respect for Cribbs. Lechler called him "the best we've faced -- ever -- in my 10 years here."

At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Cribbs presents an entirely different target than did Hester, who was smaller and faster.

"He's doing now what Devin Hester did a couple years ago, but in a very different way," Ekejiuba said. "He has great vision. He sees where the holes are, it's like he guesses where the holes are and he hits them before they even form. That's what makes him so good.

"He gets to places where a lot of returners can't do, and he breaks a lot of tackles."

Browns:

Whether opponents kick to Josh Cribbs, shorten their kickoffs or even surrender by kicking the ball out of bounds, the Browns figure they will come out ahead.

"The tough thing is there are not a lot of great options," Browns coach Eric Mangini said. "You could pop it up, but usually that's going to result in field position. You can squib it. That usually results in field position. You could try to kick it at an angle. Sometimes that goes out of bounds and the ball is at the 40. Overload, some teams will do that. We've seen a lot of different combinations of trying to defend it and some teams have done a really good job with it."

The Browns host Oakland on Sunday. Raiders coach Tom Cable is not wimping out. He plans on having Sebastian Janikowski kick the ball to Cribbs. He is confident the Raiders' coverage units will get the better of the Browns' return teams.

"There'll probably be wind and weather and all of those sorts of things so when you have it, you take advantage of it," Cable said in Oakland. "And when you don't, you still have to kick it. So we're going after it. We have to. He's a heck of a player, a heck of a returner, but we have good coverage teams and good kickers."

Cribbs was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for returning kicks of 100 and 103 yards for touchdowns against the Chiefs when the Browns won, 41-34. He has returned three kicks for touchdowns this season and has returned eight for TDs in his career, an NFL record.

Cribbs smiled when asked why in the world teams would still kick to him after what he has done. He said the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals, whom he faces twice a year as division opponents, are wising up, but other teams think they can stop him.

"You've got teams across the AFC and NFC that don't play the Browns on a regular basis and just don't know," Cribbs said "They have an ego. They see one or two games and think they got a catch on our team.

"The teams I play against the most tend to kick away from me. They know what I can do. I've made big returns on all the teams in our division and they're quite aware of that and they're determined not to let me and our kickoff and punt return units beat them."

Janikowski has drilled 17 kicks for touchbacks, ninth best in the league. Cribbs thinks Janikowski will try to stop him by kicking so deep he won't be able to return it, but he predicted the weather will work against the Raiders' kicker.

"His ability to break tackles is what makes him so unique," Cable said. "When you turn on the film, it looks like you got him. And then he breaks through and breaks hand tackles and you've got to wrap him up and drive your feet and do all the fundamental things to tackle this guy because he's very good at it."

The Raiders rank 31st in the league in kick coverage and seventh in punt coverage. Cribbs' kick return average of 27.8 ranks fifth. His 13.3 punt return average of third.



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