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5 things to watch: Browns vs. Raiders

Either the Cleveland Browns or the Oakland Raiders will be sitting pretty at 2-1 late Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Here are five things that will play a major role in determining the outcome.

Josh McCown vs. the Raiders defense


No, there won't be a leash on McCown, but the Browns and the fan base are counting on the 36-year-old to consistently move the chains and put points on the scoreboard. The timing of the concussion was unfortunate for McCown because he's done everything Cleveland asked of him and more since signing in February. He prides himself on protecting the football and his stone-cold execution of the offense. The pressure will be real Sunday for the starting quarterback as the Browns hope to go 2-1 against an Oakland team riding high off its upset victory over Baltimore.

Look for more of the same you've seen from McCown against the Jets and the Buccaneers in the preseason – heavy doses of quick-hitting passes. Oakland is using a similar scheme to the Seattle Seahawks, packing linebackers into a tight 4-3 and trusting zone coverage from corners and safeties. 

The Raiders dare you to throw deep on offense, so we could also see McCown show off his deep ball accuracy, something that startled teammates as a strength in training camp. Before his concussion, McCown had developed synergy with Brian Hartline. After going without a catch a week ago, the wide receiver could play a heavier role against Oakland.

DBs Tramon Williams and Joe Haden vs. WRs Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper


The argument can be made Williams has been Cleveland's best player on defense two games into the season. He's one of the most physical tacklers on the team and receptions on his side of the field were rare from the Jets and Titans. Haden also had a bounce-back week with a fumble recovery and a near one-handed interception of Marcus Mariota.

The challenge in Week 3 will be amplified, though. A new city and team seem to have refreshed Crabtree while Cooper will be an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate if he continues to pile up big plays. Oakland's offense looks much different than a year ago. The Raiders will try to stretch the field and expecting 40 pass attempts from quarterback Derek Carr has become the norm. "Lockdown on the Lake" will be a necessity this week for Cleveland.

WR Travis Benjamin vs. DB Charles Woodson


Will Benjamin's sizzling start to the 2015 season continue against the Raiders? Only one player has as many receiving touchdowns as Benjamin's four: Rob Gronkowski. The 25-year-old is downright scaring opposing secondaries as one of the best deep threats in the NFL.

He may be 38 years old, but Woodson is still regarded by many as the second-best player on the Raiders defense. Benjamin's straight-line speed likely will force Woodson to play as a deep, ball-hawking safety instead of closer to the line of scrimmage marking tight ends. If Benjamin doesn't put up gaudy numbers for the third consecutive contest, he can still impact the game by luring Woodson away from other duties.

Paul Kruger vs. the Raiders offensive line


Armonty Bryant was hitting the piñata during his sack party against the Titans last week. Now, it's Kruger's turn. A season ago, the 29-year-old feasted on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, sacking him to the turf three times while setting up shop in the Oakland backfield all game.

But Oakland's offensive line is one of the more massive units in the league. Left tackle Donald Penn is 340 pounds and right tackle Austin Howard is 330. The Raiders have allowed only three sacks in two games, but Cleveland's defense could use a jailbreak game from Kruger off the edge to add to that total.

The Dawg Pound effect on Raiders QB Derek Carr


It was so loud last week at FirstEnergy Stadium, Joel Bitonio and the offensive linemen were having trouble hearing each other on the sidelines. Defensively, Joe Haden and the defensive backs gladly resorted to using hand signals to communicate before the snap.

Tennessee coach Ken Whisenhunt said "the noise element made it tough" last week, and played a part in the Titans' three pre-snap penalties and communication issues along the offensive line, some of which led to sacks.

It's clear Carr has progressed as a quarterback but it's also clear he still has a ways to go before being considered in upper echelon. This Week 3 matchup will be Oakland's first road game of the year. The Dawg Pound must be ready to play its part in giving the Raiders a rude welcoming.

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