What a ride. The Raiders went into Cleveland and fought hard to pull out their first win in the Eastern Time Zone in six years. They jumped out to a 17-3 half time lead in part from playing efficient football, but also being the beneficiary of the Browns making some dumb mistakes.
A nice looking opening drive by the Raiders resulting in a field goal to open the game. In the second quarter, the Raiders took advantage of a roughing the kicker penalty to drive for their first touchdown of the day. They would add another touchdown to take a 17-3 half time lead.
The Browns made a strong comeback in the second half, scoring 17 of their 20 points, but another costly mistake on a muffed punt help the Raiders to cling to their 27-20 lead late.
With 98 yards to travel in just over 2:00, the Browns drive was stopped when Charles Woodson picked it off with :38 seconds left. And with that, we present this week's Ballers and Busters.
After being used about half as much as he should have been in the first two games, the Raiders leaned on their workhorse and it paid dividends. They gave the ball to Murray 26 times and he churned out 139 yards and a touchdowns. That's 5.3 yards per carry.
In the first half, even with the Browns focusing on stopping the run, Murray still managed to run for 51 yards on 14 carries. On the Raiders first touchdown drive, he had a 7-yard run to set them up at the 8-yard line. Two plays later, on third and 3, he picked up the first down on a 4-yard run to put the Raiders in first and goal at the 4-yard-line. They would get the touchdown two plays later for an early 10-0 lead.
Murray once again played a key role in the Raiders adding their second touchdown before half time. On the first play of the drive, he shot up the middle for 20 yards to set the Raiders up at the 50-yard line with a 1:19 left in the half. It was plenty of time for the Raiders to drive for the score and a 17-3 half time lead.
The second half was when Murray really exploded. He eclipsed his entire first half rush total on his first carry of the second half, taking off for 54 yards to set the Raiders up in scoring position at the 33-yard-line. He added a 4-yard run on third and one to keep the drive alive, but the Raiders would get no closer and they added another field goal for a 20-3 lead.
The Browns answered with a touchdown to pull to 20-10. And on the ensuing drive, Murray picked up another short yardage third down conversion in to put the team in first and goal from the 8-yard-line. He had the final three runs of the drive, finishing it off with a 6-yard touchdown to widen the lead at 27-10. That 27 points turned out to be all the Raiders would need. Big day for the Raiders big back. Oh, and Murray was also perfect in pass protection.
Welcome back, Mack. And what a return it was. From the first Browns series to the last, he was a handful. He bulled his way into the Browns' backfield on their first series to draw a holding penalty on the offensive lineman. They couldn't pick up the lost yardage and were forced to punt. He added a tackle for loss on the next series to help end that one as well.
He had another run stuff for a loss in the second quarter to help hold the Browns to just 3 first half points. Then he had a run stuff on the very first play of the second half to help end that series with a three-and-out.
Early in the fourth quarter, Mack bookended the Browns' series with sacks. One on the first play for a 7-yard loss, and one to end it on third and 10 with a strip sack that was recovered by the Browns for a 6-yard loss. The Browns were lucky to escape the series with a field goal.
He finished with 4 tackles (3 solo), 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, 2 QB hurries, and a forced fumble.
Smith was flying all over the field in this game. He ended the Browns' first series when he came flying in to lay out the running back on a dump pass for a loss on third and 12. On the Browns only scoring drive of the first half, he helped keep it at a field goal with a tackle for loss and a pass defended on the tight end (yes, someone made a play vs a tight end) on second and goal at the one-yard-line.
The first series of the second half ended with Smith getting his first sack as a Raider. The next Browns drive Smith gave up a 6-yard catch on 4th and 2 early on but then had another hustle stop for no gain and a stuff for a short gain on a pitch play. The Browns would get their first touchdown on a long pass play.
Smith finished leading the team with 7 tackles (6 solo) along with a sack, two tackles for loss, a QB hurry, and a pass defended.
YAC. Yards after catch. That's probably the part of Amari Cooper's game that makes him truly special. He knows where the defender is at all times and either gains separation, shakes them out of their shoes, or lays a stiff arm to get his yards. I can't imagine being a DB trying to tackle him.
On the Raiders' game opening drive, he had three catches for 54 yards. The third pass Cooper broke a tackle and took it for 23 yards. The next drive he had another catch for 9 yards. All four of those catches were on Browns' Pro Bowl cornerback, Joe Haden.
Cooper's next catch came early in the second quarter. This one went 15 yards in the air and Cooper took it for 40 yards and set the Raiders up at the 15-yard-line and soon their first touchdown of the day.
The second half Cooper's biggest play was not even a catch, but a block. He laid a key block on his defender down the field to allow Marcel Reece to pick up 55 yards and lead to the Raiders' third touchdown of the day.
He began the next series with a 17-yard catch in which he again broke a tackle and shot up the field. He added a 7-yard catch a few plays later. But the series ended when on third and 11, he was trying to fight for the first down and had the ball knocked out. The Browns got the ball at the Raiders' 44-yard line and drove for a touchdown to pull within a score at 27-20. He finished with 8 catches for 134 yards.
Donald Penn, Gabe Jackson, Rodney Hudson, Austin Howard
This is four of the five Raiders offensive linemen. J'Marcus Webb is not here, not because he was terrible, but he wasn't Baller material as the others were.
First of all, Derek Carr wasn't sacked once I this game. The line didn't even give up a hurry so Carr was nice and comfy back there the whole day. Several of the lineman also laid key blocks in the run game as well.
On the Raiders' first touchdown drive, Penn and Jackson paved the way for Murray to get four yards on third and three. That put the Raiders in firsts and goal at the 4-yard line and they scored two plays later.
The second touchdown drive for the Raiders began with Jackson and Hudson driving their blocks down the field and Murray broke off 20 yards.
The first big play of the second half was a 54-yard run by Murray on which Howard laid a key block to spring him through the line.
The Raiders' final touchdown drive was finished off with Hudson and Penn blocking for Murray to get 5 yards on third and one. Then Penn pushed his defender into the end zone and Murray followed him to pay dirt. The left side of this line is as advertised and Austin Howard has been stepping up big time lately, earning his job as this team's starting right tackle.
Roberts had a couple drops in this game. But he more than made up for them with his overall play. One of those drops came on the Raiders' final drive of the first half. But beforehand, he had a 36-yard catch and run and a few plays later, he got behind his man to catch a perfectly placed pass in the back left of the endzone for the touchdown from 13 yards out.
On the Raiders' final touchdown drive, he and Cooper both laid blocks on their defenders to help Marcel Reece pick up 55 yards. A couple plays later, with the Raiders at the 20-yard line, Roberts caught a seven-yard pass to set the Raiders up in third and one. They picked up the first down and a few plays later, the touchdown.
While Josh McCown was worried about Khalil Mack from one side, he had Aldon Smith bearing down on him from the other. Smith's contributions weren't just in the pass game, but the run game as well. He had a run stuff to help end the Browns' first series. Late in the second quarter, he shot around the right tackle to tackle the running back for a 4-yard loss.
In the third quarter he pressured McCown into an incompletion and a few plays later, knocked the running back back where he was tackled for no gain. Then on the Browns' final drive, he pressured McCown into throwing the ball away.
He had two field goals to make and made both of them (23, 35). He also allowed just one return that was stopped inside the 20. The other five kickoffs were all touchbacks. He probably should have been given a shot at a 55-yarder, but that's another discussion.
He wasn't giving up much in the middle in this one. The Browns picking up 36 yards on 10 carries is proof of that. And when the Browns needed it the most, it was Williams who was there to say ‘not through me'. Williams had two tackles in this one. The first stopped for 2 yards. The second came on arguably the most important play of the day.
The Browns were in third and goal at the one-yard-line and sent Isaiah Crowell up the middle. Williams converged on the gap Crowell tried to squeeze through and stopped him for no gain to force a field goal. Energized by the big stop, the Raiders' offense marched down the field to add a touchdown before half time. That's momentum.
Though he played just 4 snaps on defense and 20 snaps on special teams, he made two huge plays for the Raiders; both in the final minutes of the game. With just over four minutes left, the Raiders went three-and-out and were forced to punt from their own 23-yard-line. Browns' return man Travis Benjamin set up under the punt near midfield, but when it got there, he couldn't handle it. He muffed the punt and Ball recovered it to give the Raiders the ball at the Browns' 43-yard line.
The recovered fumble also gave the Raiders a chance to run more time off the clock and perhaps even add a score to put the game away. They were able to take a minute and a half off the clock, opting to go with field position over trying to add a long field goal. They got that field position with a punt that was downed at the Browns' 2-yard line.
Even with the field position, the Browns went on a long drive. And near the end of the drive, Ball stunted inside to sack McCown for a 6-yard loss. It put the Browns in third and 14, and needing to make something happen, McCown put up a desperation throw where it was picked.
He gave up just two catches in the game for 12 yards. One of those was a crazy catch by Brian Hartline in which due to Carrie's coverage, he bobbled it several times and ended up securing it between his ankle. Yes, that means Carrie's only other catch ‘given up' went for 2 yards. He also had 4 tackles (3 solo) and 2 passes defended. And he did it all moving from cornerback to safety.
On the first play of the Browns' final drive, Carrie raced over from his safety spot to knock the ball down along the left sideline. Later in the drive, with :53 seconds left, he tackled the receiver for a two-yard gain, keeping him inbounds to keep the clock ticking and forcing them to burn a timeout.
Andre Holmes - Had a touchdown catch and laid a key block on the Latavius Murray 54-yard run.
Marcel Reece - Also laid a key block on the Murray 54-yard run and had a 55-yard catch and run of his own.
Taiwan Jones - Made a couple nifty runs on offense and saved the Marquette King punt from going into the endzone to be downed at the 2-yard-line. He also had a 35-yard return to put the Raiders at the 30-yard line.
Marquette King - He had one punt that was muffed and another that the aforementioned Taiwan Jones saved to have downed at the 2-yard line. Two key plays in the game.
28 completions for 341 yards and 2 touchdowns are some pretty good numbers. Those were the numbers Josh McCown had put up just before he was intercepted in the final seconds. Carr actually had 20 completion for 314 yards and 2 touchdowns. Pretty similar numbers and yet one of them had to come out victorious in the end.
I'm not sure many would have watched that game and say McCown set the world on fire. I don't mention this to try and take anything away from Carr, but to add perspective and show that numbers don't often tell the story. So, let's look at that.
Carr was on fire early on. From the first snap, he was slinging it, driving the Raiders down the field, converting two third downs along the way. But they needed to convert one more third down and despite the great drive had to settle for a field goal.
The next three series all ended with punts. First on ended when Carr underthrew Michael Crabtree on a deep route. The next one was a three-and-out that ended with Carr throwing behind Cooper. The third one ended when Carr dumped the ball off short on third and 15.
He would catch a big break when on the punt, the Browns were called for roughing the punter. Now with a short field from their own 40-yard line, he got back on track. The big play was a 15-yard pass to Cooper he took for 40 yards. Carr finished this drive off with a 3-yard pass to Andre Holmes for the score.
Following a Browns' field goal, a nice kick return gave the Raiders decent field position again at their own 30-yard line. After a 20-yard Murray run, Carr hit a wide open Seth Roberts in the flat and Roberts sprinted for 36 yards. Carr would finish this one off as well with a perfect throw over the top of the defender to Roberts in the back left corner of the end zone.
A 54-yard run in the third quarter put the Raiders in business at the 33-yard line. But a high incompletion by Carr followed by a shot pass on third and long and they were settling for a field goal again.
Another big run-after-catch play from Reece who took a 15-yard pass, broke two tackles and ran for 55 yards, put the Raiders in scoring position again. This time the Raiders went to the ground and picked up the next first down and the touchdown to get to 27 points on the second play of the fourth quarter.
The next drive ended with the Cooper fumble, the series after that with a short pass on third and long, and after a muffed punt gave the Raiders the ball back, Carr overthrew a wide open Cooper for another three-and-out. That was a huge missed throw by Carr. Had he thrown that ball anywhere near Cooper, they pick up the first down and the game ends right there. Instead they punted and the Browns very nearly drove down to tie the game.
Jack Del Rio, Bill Musgrave, Ken Norton Jr
Whenever the team wins, the fans see the coaches as heroes. And when they lose, they are blamed. This was a win, which they deserve credit. I give Del Rio credit for preparing these players to not come in overconfident and come out with a big win in the Eastern time zone. I credit Musgrave with leaning on the run as they needed to do against the worst run defense in the league. And I credit Norton with dialing up the pressure, resulting in the team breaking out of its sack funk. But there were still a few questionable moments.
First and foremost, when did lining up Sebastian Janikowski to try a 55-yard field goal too much of a risk? Jack Del Rio thought so. And it very nearly backfired on him. Twice. Late in the fourth quarter, the Raiders had the chance to let Janikowski try a 55-yard field goal. Had he made it (which he is known to do from that distance), that would have put the game away. Had he missed it, the Browns would have been at their own 38-yard-line with 2:36 left. That was too much of a risk for Del Rio who opted to punt instead.
That punt was a pretty good one that bounced inside the five and headed toward the end zone where Taiwan Jones made a nice move to bat it back out where it was downed at the 2-yard line. That's a tough play that he very nearly didn't make. It was so close, it needed to be reviewed. Had it been overturned, it would have been a net 18-yard punt. I would take a 55-yard field goal attempt that could end the game to an 18-yard punt any day.
That great punt was rendered meaningless pretty quickly as the Browns drove to the Raiders' 29-yard line in just over a minute and a half. That's when McCown thought he had a wide open Travis Benjamin, but Charles Woodson made a break on the pass to pick it off at the 12-yard-line. And to think, all that drama could've been avoided if the biggest legged kicker in the NFL were given a shot.
I give Musgrave props for going with the run against the Browns and sticking with it. But yet again there were far too many short passes on third and long. Of the six third and long plays the Raiders had, they converted just one and their last four third and longs all ended with a pass short of the sticks.
The biggest play of the day for the defense was a stop they made on third and goal from the one-yard-line late in the first half. The defense deserves a lot of credit for that. Not just for the stop but because there were ten players on the field. That is unacceptable in such a critical position. Had the Browns capitalized on the mistake, it would have been a very different game.
There was a play in the third quarter where Browns' speedster was covered by Malcolm Smith. Luckily for the Raiders it was only an 8-yard catch and not much worse. Then in the fourth quarter that lineup without a defensive tackle showed up again as it had last week. The Browns saw the gaping area in the defensive line without anyone there and ran the ball right up the gut for a 13-yard gain. The defense once again almost gave up the lead as it did four times last week.
It's really tough not naming Woodson a Baller for this game. After all, he had the game-sealing interception. He was also third on the team with 6 tackles (4 solo) and added two passes defended. But it's hard to give him too much credit for the interception to save the win when it was a huge touchdown he gave up that contributed to putting the Raiders in that position in the first place.
Both of Woodson's passes defended came on the same series early in the second quarter and resulted in a three-and-out. The next Browns' possession they were lined up in third and 14 facing another three-and-out. Then Woodson let the tight end get behind him and he went for 40 yards into Raiders territory. Later in the same drive, Woodson missed a tackle on a 17-yard run that put the Browns in first and goal at the one-yard line.
Late in the third quarter, Woodson once again let the tight end get past him. This time it was in zone and Woodson was late getting over and the play went for a 28-yard touchdown. It was the first touchdown of the day for the Browns, giving them a chance heading into the fourth quarter.
Woodson left the game hurt on the next drive. He returned for the following series and promptly gave up an 8-yard catch. The Browns would pull within a score on that drive, down 27-20. His final play was the big pick to end it.