NFL Preview – Oakland (0-6) at Cleveland (3-3) (ET)

By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) – It’s hard to find good things to say about the Oakland
Raiders.

The Silver and Black have gone 0-for-6 in their quest for a win so far in
2014, have dropped 12 in a row since a Week 11 win last season and have won
just two games in 18 tries on the road since 2012.

But if that’s supposed to impact the optimism of interim coach Tony Sparano as
the team heads into Cleveland for a Week 8 matchup with the inconsistent
Browns, it hasn’t.

Oakland enters the weekend after its latest missed opportunity for a streak-
ender, a 24-13 home loss to Arizona in which it was outgained by 145 yards and
saw rookie quarterback Derek Carr held to less than 200 for the third time in
six games.

“Nobody is handed the trophy at the end of six weeks,” Sparano said. “We have
10 games to go right now. I’ve seen teams get into this tournament with eight
wins, with nine wins, whatever the case is. That isn’t really our concern
right now. Our concern is getting one win and winning the next game. That
really has to be our focus, because if we look at the picture down the road
right now, the parade might pass us by.”

Carr is 29th among NFL quarterbacks with an 80.9 passer rating, and the team
as a whole joins him at or near the bottom of the barrel in statistics like
points scored (92, 32nd), yards per game (282.7, 32nd), red-zone drives (10,
32nd), first downs (94, 32nd), time of possession (25:01, 32nd) and average
points allowed (26.3, 25th).

The Raiders are also last in the league in rushing yards per week (69.3), but
that may be a wash against a Cleveland team that’s surrendering 155.5 on the
ground, worst in the league.

The intermittent signs of progress prompted Oakland defensive end Benson
Mayowa to deliver something of a guarantee for victory, though it fell a bit
short of Namath-level aplomb.

“We’re building,” he said. “Every week we come in and we’re building. We’re
getting close. We just have to get a W, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

As for the Browns, a little prosperity didn’t do them much good.

Cleveland’s unlikely 3-2 start put it center stage on the Sunday morning pre-
game shows last week, but the team responded with a 24-6 loss to a
Jacksonville team that hadn’t won since Dec. 5, 2013.

“We got our butts kicked,” quarterback Brian Hoyer said. “They handed it to
us.”

In fact, the degree to which it was handed – along with Hoyer’s inglorious
stat line of 16-for-41, 215 yards and two turnovers – prompted some Cleveland
fans to begin calling for coach Mike Pettine to pull the plug on Hoyer in
favor of preseason media sensation Johnny Manziel.

Hoyer had posted a 99.5 passer rating prior to last week’s nosedive, and it
was the effort through the first five weeks that caused Pettine to stand his
ground and announce Hoyer as the starter for this week, though he conceded a
moment of two of indecision had existed.

“Nothing’s changed,” Pettine said. “Each week when the offensive staff gets
together, and I’ll jump in with them, too, they put the (game) plan together.
It’s what gives us the best chance to win. So if the situation this week maybe
calls for (Manziel) to play some then that will be the case. But we’re not
going to hit the panic button after one loss. While we know that the
quarterback position needed to be more productive, it was more symptomatic of
the entire offense.”

Indeed, it wasn’t just Hoyer alone.

The Browns took the field for the first time without injured Pro Bowl center
Alex Mack and saw the running game plunge to just 69 yards on 30 carries.
Additionally, Cleveland converted just four of 17 third downs and didn’t score
in the second half of a game that was 7-6 at intermission.

“This one is going in a box and getting buried in the backyard,” Pettine said
after the loss. “We need to move on from it quickly. At the same time, we’re
not going to ignore it. It’s not going to be one of those where we gloss over
it and move on quickly because of the disappointment. There’s a lot to
learn from it and it’s critical for us to leave here today knowing what went
wrong, knowing how to fix it and moving forward to the next one.”

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Something’s Gotta Give

The presence of familiar names like Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew in
the backfield hasn’t translated to any success for the Raiders in the run
game. McFadden has averaged 13 carries per week in the last three games, while
Jones-Drew has just 18 attempts in the four games he’s played.

Either Oakland will find its run stride, or the Browns will leap out of the
league’s run defense cellar.

A New Wrinkle

The Raiders are 12th in the league in pass defense, but the Cardinals were
successful against them by going against the norm and using screen passes to
attack the linebackers rather than the defensive secondary.

Cleveland’s top three runners – Ben Tate, Terrance West and Isaiah
Crowell – have just nine catches between them, but it might not hurt Pettine
and Co. to incorporate that approach.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

These teams are probably a little bit closer than the three-game disparity in
their records might indicate.

The Browns took a step backward last week, while the Raiders have been good
enough to compete – albeit not win – in more than half of their defeats. It’ll
be incumbent on Pettine and his staff to get Cleveland back to the emotional
high it found after Week 6, and it figures to happen at home.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Browns 24, Raiders 17