Friday, October 24, 2014

Getting it right this time

Here we go again.

A week later and the scenario is virtually the same for the Browns as they try to bounce back from an embarrassing loss last Sunday in Jacksonville.

The only differences between the Jaguars and Oakland Raiders, who arrive on the lakefront this Sunday, are the teams’ locales and their colors. Otherwise, they are almost the same team.

Both winless, both with problems running the football and stopping the run, both with rookie quarterbacks, both with defenses that can be scored on with relative ease and offenses that struggle to score, both with rookie linebackers who some day will emerge as stars.

The similarities are so striking, it’s almost as though warning signs should be placed all around the stadium that used to be called Cleveland Browns Stadium when the Browns arrive Sunday morning.

Remember Jacksonville, they should read. This is a game you are not supposed to lose. You are the better team. Play like it.

Because of what happened last Sunday, pundits around the National Football League are calling this a trap game for the Browns, a loss away from slipping dangerously close to becoming irrelevant again.

The Oakland game rightfully belongs in the must-win category. We’ll find out soon enough whether the Browns’ come-from-behind ability and thrashing of the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple of weeks ago were merely flukes, aberrations.

Or was their performance in northern Florida the aberration, somebody’s idea of a cruel joke just to see if the fans were paying attention?

You can bet the Raiders, who have played better, albeit losing, football since Tony Sparano took over for the fired Dennis Allen a couple of games ago, noticed what the Jaguars did to the Browns.

The only difference is the Raiders have to travel cross country, whereas the Browns were the road team last week. The Raiders have been terrible road warriors, their 2-16 record since the 2011 season a jolting testament to their woes away from home.

So what do the Raiders do well? How about only five sacks allowed in six games. And . . . and . . . and . . . that’s about it. Unless, of course, one considers how well, comparatively speaking, they have done on the road.

In four home games, they have been outscored, 123-69. Their two road losses were 19-14 against the New York Jets and a 16-9 setback in New England against the Patriots. Playing away from the Black Hole seems to bring out their best.

Maybe that’s what Mike Pettine should stress when emotionally preparing the Browns for another battle against a winless team. Based strictly on what transpired down in Jacksonville, there appears to be some sort of a psychological barrier that needs to be hurdled.

Pettine should not tell his men the Raiders average only 69 yards on the ground. That’s good enough for 32nd place in the NFL. Then again, the Browns are worst in the league in stopping the run, allowing 155½ yards a game. This could turn out to be a battle featuring the resistible force against the movable object.

Pettine should also avoid telling his guys the Raiders have reached the end zone just nine times (reminder: in six games), just twice infantry style. Make rookie quarterback Derek Carr look like the second coming of Brett Favre, not his brother David.

Let them know Raiders running back Maurice Jones-Drew once rang up 5,386 yards from scrimmage, 4,321 on the ground, and 37 touchdowns from 2009 to 2011. That’s All-Star stuff.

Hand surgery early in the season has limited the stocky running back to just 18 carries thus far, but he has been pronounced “as healthy as he has been” by Sparano, who hinted he would get more touches against the Browns, sharing the position with Darren McFadden.

And for goodness sakes, do not tell the team the Raiders average 15.7 first downs a game, own the ball for just 25 minutes an outing, allow the opposition to convert 60.5% of their third-down plays, convert just 38.4% of their own third downs and might be worse than the Jaguars.

Make James Jones and Andre Holmes, who have each scored three touchdowns this season and combined for 666 receiving yards, sound like the best wideouts the Raiders have had since Cliff Branch, Tim Brown and Fred Biletnikoff.

This also will be the Raiders’ first road game since Sparano, an assistant under Chris Palmer in the expansion years with the Browns, was named the interim coach. Don’t think or a minute he won’t want to impress the front office in an effort to remove the interim from his coaching status.

It all adds up to a Cleveland victory. A big-time Cleveland victory. That, of course, is  what we said here last week. Somehow, some way, lightning will not strike twice. Nervously dipping the toes into the predicting waters, the Browns score early and often and render the Jacksonville loss just a blip on the radar. Make it:

Browns 34, Raiders 13

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