By Sam McPherson
Generally, road games are tough propositions for the Oakland Raiders these days. The Silver & Black have lost a franchise record ten straight road games, and now they head to Cleveland in Week Eight for a matchup with the Browns. Can the Raiders finally win a game in 2014?
Cleveland just lost by 18 points to the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road—and the Jags had been winless previously. Now, either this means the Browns will be down and out emotionally, or it could mean they will be furious and ready to beat up the Raiders. This could depend on whether you’re optimist or a pessimist.
For Oakland, they have been playing better under interim Head Coach Tony Sparano, but if the Raiders can’t beat Cleveland in Week Nine, they could end up 0-10 in the blink of an eye with the upcoming schedule.
That sense of urgency might be enough to get Oakland fired up to break its road losing streak.
Cleveland is 3-3 this year, coming off a 24-6 loss to the Jags. The Browns split two games with the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier in the season, and they’ve played some very close games in 2014.
In fact, their first four games this year were all decided by three points or less. Cleveland lost to Pittsburgh on the road, 30-27, before recovering to beat New Orleans at home, 26-24. Then, the Browns lost to Baltimore at home, 23-21, but they bounced back to beat the Tennessee Titans on the road, 29-28.
That last win was the greatest road comeback in NFL history, actually, as the Browns trailed 28-3 at one point in the game.
Cleveland broke this close-game pattern by beating Pittsburgh, 31-10, at home before they dropped the game to Jacksonville last weekend. The Browns are all over the place, obviously, so who knows which version of the team will show up next weekend against the Raiders?
Browns on Offense
Quarterback Brian Hoyer has been the guy keeping Johnny Football on the bench, and even with the loss to the Jags, he’s played pretty well. His seven touchdowns and two interceptions are very solid, and Hoyer’s effort in the comeback against Tennessee can’t be undervalued. Eventually, Johnny Manziel will see the field; maybe it will be against Oakland if Hoyer lets the game get away from him again like he did last week in Jacksonville.
The Browns do have an impressive, three-headed rushing attack with Ben Tate, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West. The trio has combined for 179 carries and 777 yards so far this season, which is just stunning for a six-game total. Oh, and they’ve also rushed for eight combined TDs, too.
The receiving corps is loaded, too, even without the suspended Josh Gordon: three players are averaging at least 16.4 yards per catch. This offense will be tough for the Raiders defense to slow down if it’s clicking right.
Browns on Defense
Cleveland brought in some free agents to load up their defense, and it’s paid off so far this year.
Strong safety Donte Whitner—formerly of the San Francisco 49ers and endless penalties—has 42 tackles, while former Arizona Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby leads the team with 48 tackles and three sacks. He also has one interception this year.
Linebacker Chris Kirksey has added 32 tackles and two sacks, while free safety Tashaun Gipson already has four interceptions this season.
Browns Players to Watch
Even though he only has 10 catches this year, tight end Jordan Cameron is a beast to cover downfield. He averages 21.0 yards per reception, with a long of 51 yards this year. If he gets loose, the Browns offense becomes that much tougher to stop.
The three running backs all need to be contained, or else the Raiders may never see the ball on offense. And since Oakland’s defense has been on the field for 74+ minutes over the last two games combined, that’s exactly what the Browns will be trying to replicate.
At times, this has looked like a winnable game for the Raiders, but now, it really doesn’t. Cleveland has a Top 10 offense with Hoyer at the helm, and that doesn’t bode well for the 22nd-ranked Oakland defense.
Since the Browns defense currently ranks 28th in the league, winning a shootout might be the best shot for the Raiders. But they need to score 28 points like they did against San Diego a few weeks ago—or more. They’re not going to win this game scoring 14 points or less, as they have in five of their six losses so far in 2014.
The Oakland defense will have its hands full on the road, and the pattern doesn’t look for the offense to score a lot. Look for Cleveland to win another close game here, sending the Raiders readily along to 0-7 on the year.
For more Raiders news and updates, visit Raiders Central.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.