An 0-3 start can seem daunting, especially for a 16-game schedule. However, the Raiders know they aren’t a true personification of the winless start to their season.
Derek Carr certainly isn’t fazed:
“I’ve been 0-10 before. I know that feeling. I’ve seen the look on people’s faces. It’s not the same look that our team has. Maybe it has to do with our coaches or maybe it has to do with veteran players, I don’t know. But we understand that we’re doing some really good things on both sides.”
One area the Raiders have excelled in so far is identifying and exploiting matchups on offense. Jared Cook, Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson have taken tuns having dominant, 100-yard receiving games in each of the first three weeks. Consistency throughout the game, particularly from half to half, has been a weak point for this team.
Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther is still trying to remedy his group’s inability to sustain its effort from the first half to the next, he said it is something he has never seen anything quite like what has happened:
“You hold a team to, I think the first game was like 90 yards or 80 yards, the Rams. Then the second game was 84 yards. Last week I don’t know what it was, but it was under 100 at halftime. The plays and the calls weren’t much different. We defended them good in the first half. I don’t know if it’s us running out of gas or mental lapses because we’re new and everybody is new in this thing. I think we’ll work through that and that’s something that we’re going to emphasize this week.”
Oakland may be facing its second-most challenging opponent thus far this season in the Browns. Cleveland has played at a level that warrants them an undefeated perception through the first three weeks.
They tied the Steelers after a potential game-winning field was blocked near the end of overtime in Week 1, and they lost on a last-minute field goal to the Saints in Week 2. That was all before rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield stepped in for the injured Tyrod Taylor to help them get their first victory since 2016.
The Heisman Trophy winner definitely sparked the Browns in Week 3, but Week 4 will be his first career start, which means he will be a focal point of the opposition’s game plan for the first time.
Head coach Jon Gruden wants to make life as difficult as possible for Mayfield:
“He just makes a lot of plays when nothing is there. He’ll dive for first downs. He’ll extend plays. He’s got a really good, competitive spirit about him. I love the way he plays. I know he’ll be very excited for his first career start. We have to do a great job giving him some looks and getting some pressure on him.”
The Raiders will also be facing yet another powerful defense. The Browns are tied for the league lead in sacks (14), are 12th in yards per game (338.3), and are 11th in points allowed per game (19.7).
Gruden is preparing his team to expect everything:
“It’s not just a four-man rush. It’s a six-man rush. It’s a seven-man rush. It’s a two-man rush. They have a lot of different blitzes. They have a lot of different fronts. Numerous coverages. (Cleveland Defensive Coordinator) Gregg Williams is one of the best. I call them ‘muddy coverages.’ You might pick up the blitz but you don’t know what coverage it is. It might be man-to-man over there. It might be rotation over there.”
The Raiders keep reeling in potential victories before snapping the fishing line right before getting them on board. I want to keep an optimistic attitude, but this Cleveland Browns team is finally legitimate, because of their defense. They’ve held both Pittsburgh and New Orleans to 21 points a piece, which is extremely difficult for even top-tier defenses like the Rams and Vikings to do. Couple that with a fearless quarterback who won’t let mistakes hinder his first career start, and I just don’t see Oakland winning this game. I’m at the point where they have to prove they can play well for all 60 minutes.
I’m going 27-17 Cleveland for this one.