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Browns-Raiders matchup of the day: Thursday

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Posted Oct. 13, 2011 @ 4:04 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Here's a matchup to watch in Sunday's Browns-Raiders game:

Cleveland's running game vs. Oakland's run defense

Can the Browns exploit the Raiders' shaky play vs. the run? And will Cleveland run more than it has early this season? Indeed, the Browns' execution and intent in the running game bear watching.

The majority of the Browns' rushes have been up the middle and off right and left guard this season, a strategy that appears wise vs. Oakland. According to NFL statistics, the Raiders are allowing 7.38 yards per rush off left guard (21 plays) and 8.10 yards per attempt off right guard (10 plays). They have defended middle runs better (3.85 yards per attempt / 26 plays). 

However, the Browns could be without C Alex Mack, who had his appendix removed last week and has yet to practice. Mack is a Pro Bowl-caliber performer. The Browns' left guard, Jason Pinkston, is a rookie, while right guard Shaun Lauvao is in just his second season. If Mack is out, Steve Vallos will start in his place.

Through four games, the Browns have dropped back to pass 179 times vs. only 101 rushes. RB Peyton Hillis (just 10 carries in Week Four) will start and figures to get the bulk of the work, with Montario Hardesty also getting some carries in relief. Let's see if the Browns lean on the ground game more than they have. Also, keep an eye on whether the Browns make any adjustments in the running game if Mack is out. The Browns have had success running off left tackle this season, but Oakland is allowing just 2.18 yards per carry on those rushes this season, tops in the NFL.

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