Week 15 Preview: Las Vegas faces Cleveland after schedule shuffle

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The Las Vegas Raiders travel to Cleveland to face off with the Browns in a game that will either make or break the season for the Silver and Black. The Raiders are coming off of a devastating loss to Kansas City in which the Chiefs blew out Las Vegas 48-9. Since the Raiders needed to win in order to keep pace in the race for the AFC West, the loss to Kansas City effectively ended any chance the Raiders had at winning the division. But with a record of 6-7, Las Vegas is still very much in the playoff hunt.

To keep pace with other AFC playoff hopefuls, the Raiders must win out the rest of the season in order to have a shot at the post season. That makes this game against the Browns a critical one. The Browns are sitting at 7-6 and in the thick of the playoff race themselves. Both teams will look to close in on the postseason and a win this weekend will go a long way towards accomplishing that.

However, as a result of the massive COVID-19 outbreak, the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed to postpone the game until Monday, Dec. 20th with kickoff at 2:00 PM PST. The game being pushed back gives Cleveland a chance to have some of their players come back healthy and ready for the contest with the Raiders. As of this writing, the Browns have 23 players and three coaches on the reserve/COVID-19 list, including QB Baker Mayfield and head coach Kevin Stefanski.

The Offense Must Score

At the risk of sounding obvious, the Raiders must score more points. After an explosive start to the season, the Las Vegas offense has become stagnant over the second half of the season. The Raiders have scored more than 16 points only once in their last six games, a 36-33 overtime win over Dallas. The Raiders are 1-5 in that span.

“The main thing is that we’re too inconsistent… instead of doing the same thing right over and over again,” quarterback Derek Carr said on Dec. 14th. “As a whole. We have to better as a whole. If we can be consistent, we have shown that we can put up a lot of points and put up a lot of yards against some really good teams.”

The Raiders are currently ranked 26th in run defense and will be going against arguably the top rushing attack in the league led by Browns RB Nick Chubb. With QB Baker Mayfield’s status up in the air, the Browns will most certainly pound the rock and control the time of possession. With that knowledge, the Raiders offense will have to make the most of its opportunities since offensive possessions may be few and far in between.

Containing the Pass Rush

Even though the Browns may be depleted for Monday’s game, this is still a dangerous team, particularly on defense. The Browns boast one of the most ferocious and persistent pass rushes in the league. The Browns defense currently rank 5th in both total sacks and quarterback hits, thanks largely to EDGE Myles Garrett. Garrett has been an unstoppable force, registering 15 sacks so far this season and putting himself firmly in the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year.

The pass rush is the strength of this Cleveland defense and that lines up perfectly with the weakness of the Las Vegas Raiders, which is pass protection. Derek Carr has been under consistent duress over the last several weeks, and that has clearly affected the Raiders’ offensive output. If the Raiders offense wants to return to the high octane force that it was at the beginning of the season, Carr must have better protection.

Carr will be without his top weapon in TE Darren Waller, which means the quarterback will have to continue relying on other receivers. That rapport will be difficult to build throughout the game if the Cleveland defensive line is continuously crashing into the backfield.

“It’s going to be a fight,” Carr said. “A great challenge for us as an offense to see if we can not only move the ball. I think we can move the ball, not saying we can just move it on anybody, but I feel like we’ve done that well. We’ve got to score points and to do that against this defense is going to take all 11 because these guys are good, not just on the d-line, but they are really good everywhere.”

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