A closer look at the Oakland Raiders matchup against the Cleveland Browns with help from Jared Mueller of the Orange & Brown Report.
Jared Mueller: Last year Derek Carr seemed to have happy feet when pressured, have you seen improvement in this area?
Chris McClain: Second-year quarterback Derek Carr has improved in many spots, including his footwork. That said, he can still suffer from poor footwork when he is pressured, as was the case during a late-game interception against the Baltimore Ravens last week. If you compare film from last year to this year, you can certainly see improvement but Carr still has problems setting his feet sometimes which leads to some high throws, which as been the case at times this season.
JM: Khalil Mack was a stud last year as a rookie, what area has he improved the most on? Has he taken the next step on his way to superstardom?
CM: Second-year linebacker Khalil Mack put on 15 pounds of pure muscle this offseason, and it hasn't slowed him down one bit. The added weight has given Mack more ability while having a hand down as a pass rusher. While his stats don't show it, he has certainly improved heading into this season showing different pass-rush moves than is iconic bull rush.
Mack only finished with four sacks last season, but saw a lot of double teams which has been a problem again this year. The addition of defensive end Aldon Smith has helped relieve the problem but not all the way.
Mack was also one of the best run-stopping linebackers last season, something that has continued this year. The second-year linebacker continues to be a strong tackler in the running game.
JM: Aldon Smith was a big name addition late this year, how has his transition to Oakland been so far? Expectations for him this Sunday?
CM: The Raiders added defensive end Aldon Smith late in the offseason with hopes that he would help provide a pass rush and alleviate the pressure on Khalil Mack. Smith has been able to get some pressure, but the Raiders still are without a sack after two weeks.
That said, the Raiders showed more pressure last week and hope to do so against a stout Browns offensive line. I expect Smith to get more chances on third and long situations this week against the Browns and wouldn't be surprised if he records his first sack in the Silver & Black this week.
JM: The Browns have a great secondary, how might they best attack Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree on the outside?
CM: Amari Cooper's greatest assets are his speed and his footwork. The rookie wide receiver has a great burst of speed and the Browns secondary needs to make sure that they tackle him. If the Browns secondary lets him get free, Cooper has great run-after-catch ability. He also has the speed to break free, so the Browns secondary will likely need to keep a safety over the top to help avoid the big play.
Michael Crabtree had a great week last week, especially on third down. The veteran uses crisp route-running to get open against defenders. Cleveland's secondary should look to disrupt his timing by getting physical with him at the line of scrimmage.
JM: How has the Raiders running game fared this season so far? Where are they best? Where do they struggle?
CM: The Raiders look to have a capable rushing attack, averaging 4.2 yards per carry with starter Latavius Murray. That said, Murray has rushed the ball just 26 times over the two weeks, though gaining 109 yards on the ground along with one touchdown.
It was believed that the Raiders would run the ball more in offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense, but Murray only has a high of 15 carries (last week). It's likely the Raiders will look to establish the run more to set up their play-action passing.
The Raiders are certainly much stronger running to the left side of the offensive line behind Donald Penn and bruiser second-year left guard Gabe Jackson. Jackson is probably the Raiders best run-blocker.
The right side of the Raiders offensive line is certainly a work in progress. They struggle to run behind guard J'Marcus Webb and Austin Howard, who has become the starter after Menelik Watson ruptured an achilles.