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Matchup to Watch

Matchup to Watch: Browns pass coverage vs. Raiders TE Darren Waller

Containing Waller, especially on “money downs,” and in the red zone will be critical to keeping the Raiders offense in check

Simply put, Darren Waller is one of the best tight ends in the NFL and is the unquestioned centerpiece of an explosive Las Vegas Raiders offense.  

In 2019, Waller led the Raiders with 90 catches for 1,146 yards along with three touchdowns. Through six games in 2020, Waller leads the Raiders in targets (56), receptions (40), receiving yards (343) and is second with three touchdown catches. His dominance in terms of targets and receptions is so great that no two other Raiders combined can equal his target or reception share. The second- and third-most involved Raiders pass-catchers, wide receiver Hunter Renfrow and running back Josh Jacobs, have 54 targets and 39 receptions combined so far this year.

Waller is the go-to-guy for quarterback Derek Carr, especially on third downs and in the red zone. Waller has 24 catches for a first down this year, tied for 13th in the NFL overall, and tied for second among all tight ends with George Kittle, while trailing only Travis Kelce. Waller leads all Raiders pass-catchers with 10 red zone targets this season, while no other player on the team has more than four. It should be also noted all three of Waller's touchdowns have come from 5 yards or less, so he is every bit a prominent goal-line weapon that must be accounted for by the Browns.

After a slow start to the season, Waller has been playing his best football the last three weeks. Over the last three games, Waller is averaging 9.3 targets, 6.7 receptions, 65 yards and has scored in each of the last two. Stopping Waller should be priority No. 1 for the Browns defense on Sunday.  After allowing tight ends to score four times in the first four games of the season, the Browns defense has not allowed a tight end score in three straight games. For the season, only Dallas Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz has topped 60 yards and Mark Andrews, back in Week 1, is the lone tight end to score twice in a game against the Browns.  

Safety Ronnie Harrison Jr. has been playing lights out in coverage for the Browns and could be a factor in slowing down Waller. According to Pro Football Focus, Harrison is the No. 2 overall graded safety this year and the No. 3 safety in coverage. He has the length and the speed to keep up with Waller and could be among the options defensive coordinator Joe Woods deploys to limit the talented Las Vegas tight end.

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