Ravens @ Browns – Game #9 Preview
The Browns were successful in getting revenge on the Bengals following their earlier defeat. On Sunday they will have a chance to do the same thing to the Ravens, as the team dropped the prior meeting at Baltimore. For the second week in a row, the Browns’ opponent will be coming off of a bye week – hopefully Cleveland Browns Stadium will yield a similar result as the home team looks to head into their bye week on a positive note.
Offense: Ball security was one of the bright spots in Brandon Weeden’s most recent performance. This must continue against an opportunistic defense like the Ravens. Last time the two teams played, the rookie threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown (which proved to be the difference in a seven-point contest). In their most recent game, a contest against the Texans, the Ravens were unable to force a turnover and were defeated soundly (43-13). Weeden’s game continues to progress well, and I have confidence he can avoid a costly interception that puts the team in a bind. The batted passes still concern me – the opponent will try to keep their hands up during throws in order to snag an interception or two. Diminishing the number of sacks is another important aspect for the Browns; Weeden has done his part over the past few weeks. Matt Schaub was taken down twice against the Browns’ nemesis two weeks ago. I believe the home team’s offense should be set up to be successful Sunday, provided their protection rivals that of the Texans.
I do not expect Trent Richardson to have twenty-four carries this week, but I envision him being just as efficient as he was against the Chargers. He is still not 100% healthy, but the rusher did not take any huge shots (from defenders) last game and should be feeling better by Sunday. Arian Foster put up almost 100 yards on just nineteen carries, while Ben Tate added forty-seven on the ground against the Ravens two weeks ago. It appears the unit can be run upon – it will be up to Richardson and the offensive line to put the team in situations conducive to moving the football. Looking at the opponent’s last performance, the Browns could employ multiple runners as well. This was not the case against the Chargers, but Montario Hardesty has shown he can get the tough yards while carrying the ball, and Chris Ogbonnaya is able to catch passes out of the backfield and make plays.
I enjoy watching the development of the Browns’ receivers, including their defining their roles. Josh Gordon is beginning to stand out as the team’s number one target, while youngsters Greg Little, Josh Cooper, and Travis Benjamin frequently contribute. The loss of Lardarius Webb appears to have really hurt the secondary of the Browns’ opponent. The Texans had four receivers combine for twenty-two receptions and two touchdowns. I have faith that Gordon can lead the way and make several lengthy catches for the team. The drop that occurred (in the end zone) during the last meeting may be motivation for Greg Little. I hope the veteran can play with a chip on his shoulder and prove he is a reliable target. Cooper and Benjamin are the wild cards – the former was inactive for the first contest (Jordan Norwood had four catches for fifty-six yards as the slot wide out). The latter had a pair of grabs for twenty-six yards at Baltimore; if either can have a breakout performance, the chances of a great passing day increase significantly.
The offensive line for the Cleveland Browns continues to get better each week. The 2012 season began with the unit struggling to run block while doing an adequate job in pass protection. As the season progresses, the line gives Weeden time to throw and reduces opportunities for sacks. The running game is finally coming around, as evidenced by last week’s output. I look forward to the challenge on Sunday – will the offense improve from the first meeting? Weeden was sacked only once, while Richardson carried the ball for forty-seven yards. The first stat is hard to enhance but the running attack can be much stronger. A few, big differences in this contest, are that the Ravens will be without their defensive leader Ray Lewis but will have all-pro Terrell Suggs available (who is likely still not 100%). Which will outweigh the other; not having the face of the franchise on the field, or getting his protégé back (after missing most of the season).
Defense: It was definitely frustrating watching the Browns being able to get to Philip Rivers consistently on passing plays (recording just one sack). The defense did take down Joe Flacco four times in their last meeting however; the same feat was accomplished two weeks ago by the Texans. The opponent’s offensive line is putting the team in dire situations, and the Browns must capitalize on these. Pat Shurmur has stated that Phil Taylor and Athyba Rubin may see some playing time Sunday – this will give the interior of the defensive line much needed depth. Assuming the veterans can command double teams, ends like Jabaal Sheard, Frostee Rucker, and Juqua Parker can have an easier path to the quarterback. The two defensive tackles possibly returning would give the run defense a shot in the arm – the team made strides last week in the nasty weather, but the front four needs all the help when facing a great running back like Ray Rice. The two-time Pro-Bowler did not have a tremendous outing last contest (forty-nine yards rushing) on a short week, but he now has had a week of rest before the game in Cleveland.
The linebacker that has seen the most improvement this season (for the Browns) has been James Michael-Johnson. The rookie was inactive for the first contest against the Ravens but is coming off a ten tackle performance; he is not dominating but is a part of a unit that is preventing offenses from making big plays. Kaluka Maiava took some playing time away from Craig Robertson last week and performed rather well. A healthy rotation will continue to be necessary, as the Browns play many physical teams – like the Ravens. Dennis Pitta continues to be one of the better receivers for the Ravens, and the Browns must mask the tight end (similarly to what they did against Antonio Gates last week). I look forward to this group being active in the running game and again leading the team in tackles. One shortcoming from the last contest was the Browns inability to garner an interception. The linebackers (mainly D’Qwell Jackson) have stolen a couple passes from opposing quarterbacks this season; I hope to see a repeat performance against Joe Flacco.
Joe Haden was in the middle of serving his four-game suspension the last time the Browns played the Ravens, and it was evident. Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith combined for fifteen catches for 228 yards – an inexcusable total for the Browns’ secondary. The veteran will fortunately be available this week, and I look for more meager totals by the opposition. Buster Skrine has been playing better as of late and will likely be called upon to help in passing situations. I enjoyed seeing Usama Young in coverage last week – this improved performance is what the Browns need from their free safety. Hopefully, teams will become gun-shy when thinking about going downfield in their passing game. T.J. Ward came up well in run support and put pressure on Philip Rivers (from the edge) on passing plays. I hope his coverage skills can get better; the veteran has struggled and remains inconsistent in this department.
Special Teams: Winning a tough, divisional game includes coming out ahead in the field position battle. Reggie Hodges must have one of his better games of the season – he will be needed to flip the field on Sunday. Phil Dawson did not have a field goal opportunity last game but could be called upon to give the team points in critical situations. The play of a couple rookies (i.e. Trevin Wade and Johnson Bademosi) has made the Browns’ coverage units a strength of the team. It appears the special teams are playing better, albeit at an inconsistent basis. They almost got a turnover last week – this could be a game-changer if they are successful at doing that on Sunday.
Coaching: In Pat Shurmur’s post-game press conference, he stated that last week’s game was one that favored defense and the running game. After going against his offensive philosophy, I will be curious to see how play calls are divvied up this week. The Ravens’ historically have a stout run defense but (as stated) has given up yards in bunches. The Browns are the team that can continue that trend, given the opportunity. I hope they can pounce on their opponent and salt the game away with their rookie running back. Defensively, I loved seeing pressure applied – even though it could have been more successful. I want to see multiple blitzes from linebackers, cornerbacks, and safeties. Flacco has improved considerably this year but can still turn the football over.
Prediction (My Record: 4-4): Following the Browns’ recent victory, the locker room appeared to be rejuvenated – whether that leads to future success remains to be seen though. The roster has played hard in every contest, and this game will be no different. Another winnable contest for the Browns, but I think the combo of Joe Flacco and Ray Rice will make one more play and earn a 24-17 victory.