A year ago, the Raiders and Cleveland Browns were winless teams apparently headed nowhere when they met at the Coliseum in the third week of the season. The Browns won, 28-16.
This year, they meet again at the Coliseum in the third week but this time, with 2-0 records, they are two of the league’s hottest teams.
“The Raiders are definitely playing a lot better,” Cleveland Coach Bill Belichick said. “They are not making as many mistakes. They are a sound football team.”
The same could be said of the Browns. It is, in fact.
“From what I’ve seen on film, Cleveland is a very solid football team,” Raider Coach Art Shell said. “They are playing very well and are a very physical team.”
After finishing with a 7-9 record last season, the Browns opened with a 27-14 comeback victory at home against the Cincinnati Bengals before gaining national attention with an impressive 23-13 victory over the San Franciso 49ers on Monday night.
A key for the Browns has been the return of quarterback Bernie Kosar, who sat out most of last season because of a broken ankle. Kosar has completed 35 of 62 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns and has not thrown an interception.
“He’s an excellent quarterback who gets the ball where it has to be,” Shell said. “He uses all angles available to him to get rid of the ball, and he’ll also take off running if you give him a lane.”
Another key for the Browns has been running back Eric Metcalf, who burned the Raiders with four touchdowns last season. He’s averaging 5.3 yards per carry and leads the team in catches with 13 for 83 yards.
“I’m being used more in a lot more different ways this season,” said Metcalf, who is in his fifth season with the Browns. “It’s a matter now of finding me anywhere. I can be all over the field at any time.”
Second-year fullback Tommy Vardell leads the team in rushing with 101 yards in 29 carries. Michael Jackson, who changed his name back from Michael Dyson last week, and Mark Carrier are the Browns’ top wide receivers.
If the Raiders hope to slow Cleveland’s offense, they will have to pressure Kosar, who has been sacked four times. The Browns will have to find a way to keep defensive end Anthony Smith, who leads the league with six sacks, out of their backfield.
The Raiders will also have to stop Metcalf, who scored two of his four touchdowns against the Raiders last season on long passes.
On defense, the Browns beefed up during the off-season with the addition of tackle Jerry Ball, acquired in a trade with Detroit. Ball, a 6-foot-1, 315-pounder, and Michael Dean Perry, a 6-foot, 300-pounder, are known as the Browns’ “Rush and Crush.”
Belichick knows that the Browns, who have recorded eight sacks this year, will need pressure to slow Raider quarterback Jeff Hostetler, who has completed 41 of 60 passes for 420 yards and two touchdowns.
Belichick, who coached with the New York Giants when Hostetler played there, is a big fan of the Raiders’ new passer.
“I’ve always liked Jeff and I know what a talented and tough competitor he is,” Belichick said. “They’ve gone to more of a short-passing game, but they still throw the ball deep to go with that Raider tradition.”
Raider tackle Bruce Wilkerson, who sat out last week’s victory at Seattle, is expected to play today, but if he doesn’t, veteran Ken Lanier will start. . . . Special teams captain Elvis Patterson and running back Nick Bell were deactivated because of injuries and will not play. Patterson has a thigh injury; Bell a hamstring injury. A decision on whether to activate wide receiver/kick returner Rocket Ismail will be made today. Ismail had back spasms during the week.