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NFL Preview - Oakland (5-9) at Cleveland (3-11)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Cleveland Browns have been long overdue for a makeover and may have found their patriarch in Mike Holmgren. Years of futility and front office inadequacy eventually led to Browns owner Randy Lerner recently announcing that Holmgren has agreed to become team president.
Holmgren brings a litany of credibility to the Forest City, having won a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers before building the Seattle Seahawks into a winning franchise. The new executive is not expected to dabble in head coaching discussions yet, but will most likely bring in a new general manager.
Current head coach Eric Mangini is off to a rough 3-11 start in his first season at the helm, and has two more chances to impress Holmgren starting with Sunday's showdown versus the visiting Oakland Raiders.
Mangini may have temporarily taken himself off the hot seat with last Sunday's 41-34 triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, thanks to record-breaking performances by running back Jerome Harrison and kick returner Josh Cribbs. Harrison ran for 286 yards and three touchdowns to break Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown's team record of 237 rushing yards established back in 1957. Harrison, whose rushing total is the third-highest in a single game in NFL history behind only Minnesota's Adrian Peterson (296) and current teammate Jamal Lewis (295), had a previous career high of 129 yards set earlier this season.
Harrison will most likely not earn half of those yards this week against a surprisingly-stingy Raiders defense, but Cribbs is more than capable of wreaking havoc on any given Sunday. He proved that there is some sort of semblance and direction under Mangini by producing kickoff returns of 100 and 103 yards to give him eight return touchdowns for his career, a new Browns' record. Both Harrison and Cribbs will have their game-used jerseys donated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The 3-11 Browns appreciate the attention, but are more focused on trying to stretch their current winning streak to three games and getting quarterback Derek Anderson back comfortable under center. Starter Brady Quinn was placed on injured reserve this week with a foot injury suffered against the Chiefs. Anderson hasn't played since a Week 8 loss at Chicago, while Brett Ratliff will serve as his backup.
Oakland has been a Jekyll-and-Hyde team all season under head coach Tom Cable and is coming off a hard-fought 20-19 road victory over the AFC West-rival Denver Broncos. Benched quarterback JaMarcus Russell came off the pine to rally the Raiders to victory, with his 10-yard touchdown pass to Chaz Schilens with 35 seconds left putting the Black and Silver ahead for good.
Russell, though, is not expected to start with Charlie Frye set to make a healthy return. Frye took over the starting role when Bruce Gradkowski went down with knee injuries, but was knocked out of last week's game in the fourth quarter when he struck his head on the ground after a hard hit from Broncos linebacker Andra Davis. The injury wasn't serious, however, and Cable announced on Wednesday that Frye would start this weekend's game.
If there's a sure thing heading into Sunday's battle in Cleveland, it's the hot play of Raiders running back Michael Bush, who ended with 133 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries against the Broncos. Bush had one of the best performances of his career for an Oakland backfield that has struggled with Darren McFadden and Justin Fargas sharing the load as well.
As the season winds down the Raiders have a few pictures for the memory books, with wins over Kansas City, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Denver. Two of those teams are likely heading to the playoffs (Eagles, Bengals), while Pittsburgh and Denver are still in the hunt.
Much like Mangini in Cleveland, Cable is also pondering his future as a head coach after another losing season and enduring off-the-field issues that haven't put him in a respectable light. Either way, a seventh straight losing season may not fly for legendary owner Al Davis and a fan base starving for a breath of fresh air.
Oakland has a 10-7 lead in its all-time regular season series with Cleveland, including a 26-24 home victory when the teams last met, in Week 3 of the 2007 season. The Browns won the previous three meetings, including a 24-21 win in Oakland in 2006 and a 13-7 triumph when the clubs last met in Cleveland, in 2003. The Raiders are 0-1 in Cleveland since last winning there in 1985.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have met twice in the postseason, with the Silver and Black winning both a 1980 AFC Divisional Playoff (14-12) and a 1982 AFC First-Round Playoff (27-10).
Mangini was 1-1 against the Raiders during his tenure with the Jets (2006-08), including a 16-13 overtime loss at Oakland last season. That game marked the first victory as a head coach for the Raiders' Cable, who is thus 1-0 head-to- head against Mangini.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Frye (68 passing yards, 1 INT) appears healthy enough to return on Sunday and be the starter. He didn't impress against the Broncos, however, and his injury may have been a blessing in disguise. Cable had to rely on Russell (1185 passing yards, 3 TD, 10 INT), whom he benched for ineffectiveness earlier this season, and the former No. 1 overall pick responded by throwing his first touchdown pass since a win over Philadelphia back in Week 6. Gradkowski (1007 passing yards, 6 TD, 3 INT) is out indefinitely with knee problems. Cable is really caught in a bind no matter who takes the snaps on Sunday, because the Oakland offense is dreadful this season. The team is 31st in both passing and points per game and last in the NFL in total yards. Tight end Zach Miller (50 receptions, 2 TD) leads the team in receiving yards (657) and receptions, but missed the Denver game because of a concussion. He hopes to return this week. Schilens (17 receptions, 2 TDs) led the way last Sunday with five catches for 37 yards and a touchdown, while Louis Murphy (26 receptions) is tops on the team with four touchdown receptions. Rookie receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (9 receptions, TD) has missed three straight games with a foot injury and is listed as questionable for this week.
Cleveland displayed no defense whatsoever in its recent battle with the Chiefs, as Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel threw for 331 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Cleveland is facing another lower-level quarterback this week and must not get into a shootout with the Raiders, who have average receivers at best. Safety and top tackler Abram Elam (81 tackles) and Mike Adams (56 tackles) must avoid giving up the big play against Oakland's young receivers, while top cornerback Eric Wright (55 tackles, 2 INTs) matches up well with Murphy, Schilens and Miller. He led the Browns with eight tackles against the Chiefs. Brandon McDonald (52 tackles, 1 sack) plays on the opposite end of Wright and will provide solid coverage in the secondary.
Bush (519 rushing yards, 3 TD), Oakland's leading rusher, gashed the Broncos for 133 yards and a touchdown on 18 touches last weekend, and hopes to continue his newfound success against the Browns. He'll most likely have to split his carries with both Fargas (491 rushing yards, 3 TD) and McFadden (325 rushing yards, 1 TD) for an Oakland ground attack rated an admirable 18th in the league. Bush enjoyed his most productive day since rushing for 177 yards and two scores on 27 carries last year against Tampa Bay, and owns the last three 100-yard games by a Raiders running back dating to last year's season finale against the Bucs. Cable is pegged to have success running the ball no matter who carries the pill against Cleveland's porous run defense.
Cleveland is 29th against the rush this season, allowing 144.1 yards per contest, and was scorched by Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles, who burned the Browns for 154 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Poor tackling and lack of communication killed the Browns last weekend, while a lack of pressure up front enabled Cassel to have one of his outings in a KC uniform. Mangini has a solid group of linebackers in David Bowens (69 tackles, 5 sacks) and Kamerion Wimbley (65 tackles, 6.5 sacks), with newcomer Jason Trusnik (44 tackles, 2 sacks) coming into his own as a starter. Fellow outside linebacker Matt Roth (22 tackles, 2.5 sacks) has been getting better by the week and owns 22 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks over his last four games.
WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL
Quinn (1,339 passing yards, 8 TD, 7 INT) started nine games for the Browns this season and recorded a 53.1 completion percentage along with a 67.2 passer rating. Unfortunately his season was cut short in the fourth quarter of Sunday's win over Kansas City. The former Notre Dame star was embroiled in a quarterback controversy the entire season before winning the starting job over Anderson, who has a chance to show that he can still play at this level and may even be showcasing his skills for another franchise. He went 1-4 in five starts and had a 36.2 quarterback rating after replacing Quinn in the lineup in Week 3. Anderson hasn't played since throwing for 76 yards and a pair of interceptions in a loss at Chicago on November 1. Chansi Stuckey (18 receptions, 1 TD with the Browns) was Cleveland's top wideout last week with 41 yards on five receptions, but Mohamed Massaquoi (30 receptions, 2 TD) leads the Browns in receiving yards. Harrison is a threat out of the backfield as well, having made a team-high 32 catches. Cribbs (20 receptions, 1 TD) does most of his damage running the ball, but is no slouch when it comes to hauling in passes for Cleveland's worst-rated pass offense. The Browns are 30th in points scored and 31st in total yards.
Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton threw one touchdown pass in Sunday's loss to the Raiders, who held mercurial wideout Brandon Marshall to 73 yards and a score on seven catches. One of the best receivers in the game, Marshall did not have the type of results he most likely anticipated entering the game. Raiders Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (34 tackles, 1 INT) is still stuck on one interception, but that should serve as a compliment since opposing teams avoid passing his way. Cornerback Chris Johnson (66 tackles, 3 INT) suffered an ankle injury in Sunday's win, but Cable said it wasn't anything serious. Massaquoi and Harrison won't strike fear into the Oakland secondary, especially with safety and leading tackler Tyvon Branch roaming the defensive backfield. Branch (110 tackles) led the team with 11 stops against the Broncos, while safety Michael Huff (55 tackles, 3 INT) posted two passes defense. Huff and Johnson are tied for the team lead with three picks apiece.
Harrison (587 rushing yards, 3 TD) will be searching for an encore performance after shredding the Kansas City turf for 286 yards on 34 carries. He'll be facing a mediocre Raiders run defense that is allowing 148.9 yards per contest, so he still has a shot for more greatness. Mangini opted to run more often last week because of Harrison's hot hand, but the likelihood of the Browns being as successful running the ball this week is a reach. Plus, Anderson is most likely anxious to get this one started so he can prove Mangini made the wrong choice at quarterback. The offensive line has to keep playing solid football and did not allow a sack last week. In fact, Quinn ended his season with three sacks taken over the last three games. Oakland has a few players that would love to triple that total on Sunday.
The Raiders are 28th against the run, but held the Broncos to 80 yards on the ground last weekend. Denver rookie phenom Knowshon Moreno was limited to only 42 yards on 19 carries against an Oakland defense that pulled off a goal-line stand in the waning minutes of Sunday's game. Defensive end and sack leader Greg Ellis (27 tackles, 7 sacks) came away with two sacks, while Matt Shaughnessy (23 tackles, 4 sacks) had one to push his 2009 total to four. Strongside linebacker Trevor Scott (33 tackles, 6 sacks) is second on the team with six sacks. Scott and fellow linebackers Kirk Morrison (109 tackles) and Thomas Howard (72 tackles, 2 sacks) hope to stop Harrison on contact in order to avoid the same embarrassing showing the Chiefs had. Defensive tackles Tommy Kelly (52 tackles, 1 sack) and Gerard Warren (31 tackles, 1 sack) hope to stuff Harrison's running lanes and force Anderson into making mistakes.
Harrison had a fantasy performance of the ages on Sunday, but don't get too excited about his chances of a repeat showing. Quinn was never a reliable option in most fantasy leagues, so inserting Anderson as the starter for this week is a worthy option. Anderson most likely wants to prove Mangini and the rest of his naysayers wrong after he was benched for Quinn, and it's too bad that Braylon Edwards is with the Jets now. Cribbs is a definite starter for this week, since Cleveland doesn't have too many talented players who touch the ball on a frequent basis. As for the Raiders, give Bush a shot since he is headed for a favorable matchup and is coming off a strong showing last week. The pickings are very slim in this showdown, but go with Schilens or Murphy if you're desperate, since the Browns are not a stellar pass defense. Miller's concussion leaves him as a questionable play for this week.
Backup quarterbacks, especially ones that were in the running for a starting spot, usually have insignificant returns to the football field when called back to duty. But in the case of Cleveland's Anderson, the familiar voice in the huddle will get a new regime off to a promising start in front of a still-hungry fan base and new president Holmgren. Like Mangini, Anderson will be showcasing his worthiness at this level for Holmgren, who now has a strong say in what goes on with the organization. Luckily for Anderson, he has the energized Harrison to fall back on when things get rough Sunday versus a Raiders bunch that can't seem to find an identity and is headed for another 10-loss campaign. In Oakland's big wins this season over the likes of Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, it's been the defense that has risen to the occasion. Granted that Gradkowski played a big part in the road win against the Steelers, but Cable's defensive foundation is starting to form and it showed in each of those wins. Unfortunately for Cable, the recognizable dignitary who signs his checks may get another estimate at season's end on the value of his head coach's construction plan.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Browns 23, Raiders 16
12/24 09:11:08 ET
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