Browns @ Ravens – Game #2 Preview
Now it’s time for the team to go on the road to face the defending Super Bowl champions. The Ravens are coming off a tough game against the Broncos but will have ten days to prepare for their home opener. The guys in purple are also expected to receive their rings for winning the title – emotions will be high and the crowd will be rowdy. The Browns will have a very difficult task if they want to get their first victory of the season.
Offense: I never thought I would be saying this, but perhaps the way Brandon Weeden can get back on track is to face the Ravens’ defense. Granted, he’s no Peyton Manning (who had 462 yards passing and seven touchdowns last week), but I hope to see Weeden sling a couple of touchdowns and avoid costly interceptions. The signal caller should be able to move the ball downfield and find his multiple targets. However, taking off my homer glasses, I think he will play better than he did against Miami – but not by much. I see him reducing his interceptions to just one, but I cannot see the quarterback getting more than two scores through the air.
This Trent Richardson thing (a.k.a. his ineffectiveness) is definitely a head scratcher. The Browns have limited his carries in games, and when given opportunities the runner has struggled to find big gains. The Ravens did an excellent job of limiting their opponent last week (to sixty-five yards) on the ground. Maybe the Browns’ coaching staff is worried the back will not make it out of a game healthy if he has thirty carries in a game, but I think Richardson will be limited again on Sunday. The rusher will be bottled up (I see less than seventy yards) – his only hope of success will be a short touchdown burst.
I hope Greg Little and Travis Benjamin magically become better football players this week. The duo had a couple catches, but they also had a few passes bounce off their hands. This is the final game without Josh Gordon, and the wide receivers will likely struggle to generate yards and points. Both Tori Gurley and Josh Cooper had a catch last week – they are currently reserves, but if Little and Benjamin play poorly then either might get a shot at additional opportunities to be involved in the game. The success of Julius Thomas for the Broncos last week proves that Jordan Cameron can have another big day. The tight end rescued Weeden multiple times last week; I expect him to keep it up in Baltimore.
Not much more needs to be said about Oniel Cousin’s play last week – if the coaches stick with him at right guard then help will be need by either Alex Mack or Mitch Schwartz. The team must also try to move Weeden out of the pocket (likely to the left) to keep him from being sacked over and over. I am one for inserting Garrett Gilkey at right guard, but Chud defended Cousins during his press conference on Monday. The offensive line will have to game plan against Elvis Dumerville and Terrell Suggs – the pair of pass rushers are excellent, and the Browns must be better than surrendering six takedowns of their quarterback. I would not be surprised with a bounce back performance by the line, but they will not dominate the Ravens by any means.
Defense: The front three of the Browns played exceptionally last week, even with in the absence of Ahtyba Rubin. I would be surprised if they do not put up a similar performance against Baltimore – Ray Rice will get some yards on the ground and via quick passes, however. They will not be gashed regularly, and the defensive line will put pressure on Joe Flacco. The rotation held up very well last week, as some of Desmond Bryant’s best plays were late in the game (including his sack). If somehow this is a close contest, fresh defensive linemen could tilt the scales in the Browns favor.
This is the game where Paul Kruger should be extra amped up; the former Raven will attempt to prove why he deserved a huge contract. Joe Flacco is coming off a performance where he was taken down four times; the opportunity is there for the Browns to put heavy pressure on their opponent. Regardless of Mingo’s status, it should be status quo for the outside linebackers. They have looked very good so far, but Jabaal Sheard must improve for them to be considered great. The home team has several receiving targets (in their backfield) who have to be accounted for. Ray Rice, Vonta Leach, and Bernard Pierce are all capable of catching and running for several yards. The two inside backers failed in coverage last week – if they do not improve, the entire passing game for Flacco will open up. That would make for a very long day for the Browns.
If Chris Owens and Buster Skrine are not picked on regularly, the Ravens aren’t doing their homework. Joe Haden will be draped on Torrey Smith all game long – I look for similar success as he had facing Mike Wallace. The (potential) loss of Jacoby Jones in the receiving game really hurts the home team, as the talented wide out regularly makes huge gains for his offense. Marlon Brown and Brandon Stokley are the two targets who must be shut down. The former is a rookie and the latter is an aging veteran; I do not envision a Brian Hartline type of day (nine grabs for 114 yards and a score) by either of these two. The Browns should not get burned in the passing game, but if they cannot get off the field it will not matter. The reigning Super Bowl MVP has shown a great ability to convert third downs against the visitors. The safeties played adequately last week, but I want to see them make a couple more plays in both the running and passing game – Tashaun Gipson and T.J. Ward still have room to improve.
Special Teams: After a few subpar preseason performances, the special teams for the Browns played well (outside of a few short kickoff returns). I have confidence in the punting game and coverage units, and Billy Cundiff has not given me a reason to doubt him. This is another area where the visiting squad can have an advantage, but the home team will get the W if it comes down to a Justin Tucker field goal attempt.
Coaching: Coach Chud pulled a Pat Shurmur last week – that is never a compliment. Going pass heavy is fine if you are equipped with an Aaron Rogers or Tom Brady. However, Brandon Weeden has not proven himself to play mistake-free football. That said, the team must run the football more and get more offensive players involved. The defense was coached well last week; the only adjustment I would advocate is rolling up coverage on the outside. Giving up too much room really hurt the team – many out routes were caught and Hartline’s touchdown was on an out-and-up where Buster Skrine allowed the former OSU star to breeze right by him.
Prediction (My Record – 0 – 1): After a miserable opener, this team will have to prove to me that they can play well enough to win. The Browns have struggled so mightily within the division over the past couple of years, and I cannot find a reason why that trend stops. The Browns lose in Baltimore 24 – 13 and limp to yet another 0 – 2 start.