Four Down Territory: Closing the Black Hole

There’s really no time to look back on last Sunday’s debacle in Jacksonville. Another bad NFL football team is next on the docket for the Cleveland Browns, and in the interest of not repeating anything that happened in Jacksonville, it’s best to just look ahead.

The Oakland Raiders are in town today, which means that we have to cater to their fans and have a late kickoff so they don’t have to watch football before noon on the West Coast. In honesty, if I were in their position, I wouldn’t want to have to roll out of bed and be game ready either, so I’m glad we’re doing this for them. All football fans were created equal. Except for the ones in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati. They were created enemies.

Besides, after last weekend, maybe the extra three hours of preparation will do the Browns a little extra good heading into this late afternoon/evening tilt. OK, that was the last time last weekend will be mentioned, I promise.

Today is a new day. The Browns are a smidge healthier, a week wiser and ready to right the ship against another winless team, this time in the friendly confines of FirstEnergy Stadium. It’s time for Four Down Territory, where we’ll discuss three keys to the game and then give a far-too-detailed prediction that will definitely not come exactly true. Here goes nothing.

FIRST DOWN: The running game will be pivotal for both sides. Again. 

Oakland’s defense is abysmal against the run, allowing 145.3 YPG, good for (bad for? bad for.) 29th in the NFL . Cleveland’s defense is even worse against the run, allowing 155.5 YPG, bad for 32nd (worst) in the NFL. The difference between these two teams that should be good for Cleveland is that the Browns also rush for 133.5 YPG, sixth-best in the League. Oakland’s offense matches its defense’s ineptitude in the category, rushing for an NFL-worst 69.3 YPG. This has made the Raiders rely on rookie quarterback Derek Carr and his unexciting arsenal of receivers, which has (obviously) helped them arrive at their 0-6 record.

In theory, the Browns will pound the run with Ben Tate and Isaiah Crowell, who have been one of the top tandems in the NFL to date. This should give them a distinct advantage against a rush defense that is close to last in the NFL. Conversely, the Browns’ defense will hope to have a better day against the run, since the Raiders are the worst at running the ball. The importance of this particular battle is augmented a bit by the fact that Oakland is pretty good against the pass, ranking just outside the top ten in passing yards allowed per game.

Since this Browns team lost to the Jaguars, though, it’s possible that what should be an advantage for Cleveland will get completely flipped for no logical reason. Man, that Jacksonville thing just keeps coming back.

SECOND DOWN: Taketh away, don’t giveth

This is starting to look a lot like the game plan for the Steelers game (the one the Browns won). Today, though, turnovers and takeaways have the potential to be even more critical. The Browns and Raiders are on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to giveaway/takeaway ratio. Cleveland is one of six teams in the NFL with a ratio of +4 or better, while Oakland is one of seven teams with a ratio of -3 or worse. The gist of this story is that while the Browns’ defense may not have anyone shaking in their boots, the team as a whole has done a good job creating more turnovers than they surrender. Oakland has not.

This battle will feed off of what we talked about above. If Cleveland can continue the league-wide trend of stuffing Darren McFadden and the rest of the Raiders’ rushing attack, Derek Carr will be forced to throw the ball. In Carr’s defense, he hasn’t been awful this season, but the more a rookie quarterback is forced to throw, the greater the chances will be of him making a mistake. The Browns’ secondary has snagged seven interceptions this season (tied for eighth in the NFL), so this could be something to pay attention to when Cleveland is on defense.

Finally, while the offense has finally committed a few turnovers this season (four to be exact), they’re still second in the NFL in the category in a good way. They’ve held up their end of the bargain on the whole, which should continue against an Oakland defense that isn’t exactly scary as an entire unit.

THIRD DOWN: Be prepared 

Scar sums it up. Terrance West admitted that the Jaguars wanted it more last weekend (I’m a bold-faced liar, this nightmare will never not keep coming back), and there’s just no excuse for that. Now is the time for the Browns to make their hay and pick up victories, and they’re finally a team that has proven to be competent enough to do it. They need to take care of business today, particularly since they’re at home, and get back on the winning track. This falls on everyone from the coaching staff to the players. Be prepared or get attacked by Scar and his annoying but kind of hilarious band of hyenas. That’s the bottom line.

FOURTH DOWN: Prediction time

Mike Pettine won’t let his team be their opponent’s first win of the season two weeks in a row, even if he has to scare them into playing well enough to win with a fiery speech that is further enhanced by his bald head, manly goatee and Oakley sunglasses. Brian Hoyer will have a modest day, throwing for 221 yards and tossing a touchdown to Taylor Gabriel for his first NFL touchdown reception. Despite the sting of the loss of Alex Mack still feeling fresh, the running game will dominate behind a more settled offensive line. We’re talking three total rushing touchdowns, two to Ben Tate and one for The Crow. Combined, they’ll rush for 192 yards and control the clock, keeping the defense from being on the field for long periods.

When the defense does have to take the field, they’ll play well. Derek Carr will throw a touchdown to James Jones, but since the run defense will stymie the Oakland rushing attack, he’ll have to throw so much that he’ll also throw two picks. Joe Haden will finally get INT number one, while Tashaun Gipson will get number five, taking the NFL lead for interceptions on the season. Add it all up, and we’re looking at a 28-7 victory for the good guys. This will all but certainly be wrong, but it feels so right.

The return of Victory Monday will taste so sweet. See you next week.

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