Friday, October 14, 2011

Emotional tidal wave

Only the Browns could be this unlucky.

Who knew when the National Football League schedule was drawn up that week six would have them in Oakland. Not Baltimore or Cincinnati or San Francisco or Houston. Oakland.

The Raiders’ first home game following the passing of Al Davis will be against the Browns. The Coliseum will be an emotional cauldron for the better part of three hours Sunday.

Davis was beloved in Oakland He wasn’t the founder of the team, but he might as well have been. He came along two years after they were formed and became an icon, an institution.

He helped produce three Super Bowl championships and numerous appearances in the postseason for the city of Oakland. He made the phrases “commitment to excellence” and “just win, baby” part of the sports lexicon.

Davis was revered in the Bay area in spite of a dearth of victories the last 10 years. He was the Oakland Raiders until his death last week.

And now the Browns, through the fate of the schedule, will take on the daunting task of playing the Raiders on this special day. They’re certain to feel the wrath of the denizens of the famed Black Hole, four sections of the Coliseum reserved for the rowdiest Raiders fans.

They make members of the Dawg Pound in Cleveland look like choir children by comparison and have no problem living down to their reputation. They should be amped to ridiculous heights Sunday.

That’s what the Browns can expect. The adrenalin flow on the Oakland side of the field for this one could reach extremely high levels.

Football is as much a game of emotion as it is talent. This game will be a good litmus test for Pat Shurmur, whose Browns haven’t played with extreme emotion yet this season. The rookie head coach, it seems, likes his club to play on an even emotional keel.

That’s why it’s so hard to look for anything that would give them an edge against the Raiders. The fact they’re coming off a bye and have had an extra few days to prepare for this one might be the only glimmer of hope.

But then you notice the Raiders are the third-highest scoring team in the AFC. Look again and you see only three AFC teams have surrendered more points, which more than balances that scale.

The Browns, on the other hand, have had those few extra days off to smooth out their considerable problems on offense. And the defense, which collapsed in the last game against Tennessee, had better regroup in a hurry because the Oakland offense is formidable.

Expect running back Darren McFadden to test the Cleveland front seven early and often. McFadden, who averages 5.7 yards a carry, just might be the best running back in the NFL.

If there is a weakness to the Raiders' offense, it lies with the passing game, but Darrius Heyward-Bay and Denarius Moore have busted a few long gainers this season. The Browns most likely will be without the services of cornerback Joe Haden (knee). So count on the Raiders pounding the ball until the Browns show they can stop the run.

The Cleveland offense, meanwhile, will face an Oakland defense that loves to pressure the quarterback. Which means Colt McCoy once again probably will be forced to scramble most of the afternoon.

That is, of course, unless Shurmur has installed a quick-hitting passing attack that features three- and five-step drops and allows McCoy to get rid of the ball quickly, offsetting a pass rush that averages nearly three sacks a game.

We should see more – hopefully, a lot more – of Peyton Hillis, whose relative non-use has resulted in a stagnant Cleveland running game. The more touches he gets, the more effective he and the offense becomes.

That’s a lot to ask of an offense that has shown very little imagination and creativity this season. Especially against a defense that’s going to be extra buzzed considering the deep emotional meaning of this game.

I’d like to think the Browns can take advantage of the Raiders being perhaps too emotional, too overcharged on Sunday. I’d like to think Shurmur will have a surprise or two for Hue Jackson, his coaching counterpart.

I’d like to, but I can’t. Make it:

Raiders 33, Browns 10

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