Week 3: Top 10 Raiders, Browns to watch
Opportunity to get above .500
The Raiders completed a two-game home stand with an even record. They start a road trip of equal length on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. This is a winnable road game upcoming, but victory will be based more on matchups than location. Starting the season 2-1, with a road win among them, would help head coach Jack Del Rio’s case that this isn’t the Raiders of old. They’ll have to get the job done against an improved Browns team looking for the same fast start...
10) TE Mychal Rivera
Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave hopes to get his tight ends more involved in the passing game. That should be Rivera’s territory. He has just four receptions for 19 yards and no touchdowns in two games, and needs to provide options in the middle of the field. Sunday’s an important game for Rivera, especially after rookie Clive Walford had his best practice since regaining health following hamstring and knee injuries. Rivera should produce to ensure he remains a primary factor.
9) WR Travis Benjamin
The Browns receiver wasn’t considered a major receiving threat when the season started. Then the first two games happened. Benjamin has used breakneck speed to make game-changing plays. He has 204 yards and three touchdowns on just six catches, with a whopping 34 yards per reception. He’s exceptionally quick, and the Raiders secondary can’t lose track of him downfield. He’s also an excellent return man, with a 78-yard punt return touchdown to his name.
8) DC Ken Norton Jr.
The Raiders defensive coordinator is in his first season calling plays. He has mixed things up trying to generate quarterback pressure, barely blitzing in Week 1 while sending plenty of extra men on Sunday. Norton is trying to find a balance and get his players in shape to make better plays on the ball in the secondary. Scheme might help these Raiders get on track defensively -- put athletes in position to win matchups and make big plays.
7) WR Michael Crabtree
The veteran pass catcher has been excellent in this early season, providing a reliable outlet for quarterback Derek Carr. Crabtree has been targeted 24 times in two games. He already has 14 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown. Even with Amari Cooper on the other side, Crabtree has become a go-to receiver in important situations.
6) CB Joe Haden
The two-time Pro Bowler has become one of the NFL’s true shutdown cornerbacks. He’s an excellent cover man who can take a receiver out of the game without extra coverage. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has shown a willingness to throw at top corners, but he can go away from Haden with so many receiving options. Haden could deal with a few different receivers, but his matchups with rookie Amari Cooper will be a sight to see.
5) OLB Paul Kruger
The Raiders protected quarterback Derek Carr well last week, allowing the offense to find early rhythm and keep it. They’ve handled tough pass rushers in the recent past, and have another one coming up on Sunday. Kruger is an animal off the edge, someone who delivered the biggest hit of Carr’s rookie year while coming in unblocked from the blind side. The offensive line and tight end Lee Smith will have their hands full with someone who tallied 11 sacks in 2014.
4) DE Khalil Mack
Mack’s second season hasn’t started as planned. He doesn’t have a sack or a forced fumble, the type of game-changing efforts that give defensive players a national profile. Mack can dominate when going well, something that might be tough when matching up with top-flight Browns tackle Joe Thomas. The Browns have great respect for Mack, who will have to deal with double teams until other players start producing.
3) QB Josh McCown
The Browns named McCown this week’s starting quarterback over Johnny Manziel, a polarizing second-year pro who led Cleveland to victory in Week 2. McCown suffered a concussion in the season opener, and was given his starting gig back after being cleared. The veteran and former Raider is more of a pocket passer with intermittent periods of success. He can manage a game well, but Cleveland’s home crowd may clamor for Manziel if things don’t go right early on.
2) S Charles Woodson
The 38-year old dislocated his right shoulder in the season opener, but managed to play 81 snaps the following week. The ironman strengthened a thin secondary despite his ailment, stepping in at free safety with Nate Allen out. Tackling is certainly harder for Woodson, but he helped solve the team’s tight end problems and remains an effective player in pass defense. He’ll need to watch the deep ball well against a Browns receiver corps with tons of speed.
1) RB Latavius Murray
The third-year pro has been efficient with 36 touches over the first two games, though he hasn’t yet been the focal point of the Raiders offense. That could change on Sunday against Cleveland. The Browns sport the NFL’s worst run defense early on, allowing 160 yards per contest over two games. This should be a good time to let Murray loose, capitalize on play action opportunities and grind out a win. Murray has been solid gaining yards after contact as a rusher and receiver. Cleveland’s defensive strengths lie elsewhere, meaning Murray might be key to a 2-1 record.