The Oakland Raiders are still looking for win numero uno on the season, and their next opportunity to earn that win will come Sunday afternoon back at home against the Cleveland Browns.
The resurgent Browns, now with Baker Mayfield at the helm, certainly seem to have a bit of juice behind them at the moment, but they’ll have their hands full against a Raiders team hungry for a “W.”
Kickoff at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.; here are six storylines to follow when the two teams hit the field Sunday afternoon.
1. Is the moment too big for Baker Mayfield?
Alright, we have to discuss the reigning Heisman Trophy winner straight off the tp.
After an impressive debut last week against the New York Jets, Hue Jackson has given Mayfield the keys to the car, and No. 6 will now make his first NFL start against the Silver and Black.
“He just makes a lot of plays when nothing is there,” said Head Coach Jon Gruden. “He makes plays happen when there is something there, in the pocket when it’s clean, he can hit the open receivers. When nobody is open and he has to move around, he has a lot of [Jeff] Garcia in him. He’ll dive for first downs. He’ll extend plays. He’s got a really good, competitive spirit about him. I love the way he plays. I know he’ll be very excited for his first career start. We have to do a great job giving him some looks and getting some pressure on him.”
Look, I’m not here to deny that Mayfield is an intriguing talent. The man possesses a certain type of energy, and the Browns certainly seem to be feeding off of it, but at the end of the day, the Raiders defense is going to have to find a way to make the rookie uncomfortable.
Will the moment be too big for him? We’ll find out in a hurry on Sunday.
2. Speaking of making Mayfield jittery…
One way to make a rookie quarterback uncomfortable? Put some pressure on him.
Although the Raiders have just tallied three sacks through three games, the young nucleus of defensive linemen have had their moments, but they’ll need to have a lot more of them if they really want to keep Mayfield on his toes during his first NFL start.
Is the team’s defensive pressure exactly where the Raiders want it to be? Likely not, but it’s been encouraging to see Maurice Hurst Jr., Arden Key, and the rest of the team’s defensive line get better and more comfortable week after week.
Getting pressure on the quarterback is key every week, but this week, I think it might prove to be one of the most important storylines we watch unfold.
3. Will a pair of rookies return to action?
We just talked about getting pressure on Baker Mayfield, and P.J. Hall is definitely a guy who can do just that.
The Raiders second-round draft pick has missed the past two games dealing with an ankle injury, but after being a limited participant in practice the past several days, I’ll be interested to see if big No. 92 is able to give it a go Sunday afternoon.
Working in tandem with Hurst throughout the preseason, the pair of rookies showed to be a formidable duo on the interior of the Silver and Black’s defensive line, so if Hall is indeed back to work, I’m excited to see if they pick up where they left off.
Also, keep an eye on rookie cornerback Nick Nelson.
After missing the first three weeks of the regular season, the former Wisconsin Badger was a full-go in practice this week, so it sure looks like there’s a chance we see him make his debut Sunday afternoon.
4. Keep Myles Garrett at bay
Myles Garrett is just a different type of dude.
Now in his second season, and with four sacks through three games, I think it’s time we start putting No. 95 in the upper echelon of pass rushers, including him with the likes of Von Miller, Aaron Donald, and Cameron Jordan.
Give the Raiders offensive line credit; with just five sacks allowed in 2018, the Silver and Black rank No. 6 in that metric, and that’s against some pretty legitimate competition too.
Kolton Miller – the team’s first-round selection earlier this year – had been thrown into the fire at left tackle, but he really has had a nice start to his pro career as a Raider. That said, he – along with the rest of teammates up front – will have their collective hands full stopping Garrett.
5. Stop the run
Last week the Raiders squared off against a Miami Dolphins offense that ranked No. 6 in the NFL running the ball. Well, this week, Paul Guenther’s group will go toe to toe with a Browns offense that loves to pound the rock as well.
Headed into Sunday, the Browns are averaging north of 134 rushing yards per game, and Carlos Hyde has found the end zone four times already.
A good running game is a quarterback’s best friend – especially one making his first NFL start – so it’ll be key to make the Browns offense one-dimensional at the OACC.
The Raiders defense did a heck of a job stopping the run last week; let’s see if they can do it again back home.
You all know the stats at this point.
You all know that the Raiders have led at the half in all three games this season, and they’ve held leads in the fourth quarter in the past two.
All of that has resulted in zero wins for the Silver and Black, so it’ll be imperative that the team puts together a complete, 60-minute performance Sunday afternoon against the Browns.
Offense, defense, and special teams, the Raiders need a result in a big way; Week 4 is going to be a lot of fun.