Game #9 – Ravens @ Browns Preview
Another opportunity awaits the Browns to win a game in the division. The home team still has not defeated Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh – there is a chance that this could occur on Sunday, however. Jason Campbell has given the offense new life, and the defense turned the corner late last week. Everything will likely have to go right to score the upset; this includes avoiding careless penalties and costly turnovers. I firmly believe a victory is possible, although history does not dictate that. Harbaugh is undefeated in contests following his team’s bye week (including double-digit victories every year). Another tall order, but assuming they continue to progress, I will not count out the Cleveland Browns.
Offense: My opinion of the Browns’ offense improved after last week’s outing. Jason Campbell played a solid game against a tenacious Chiefs’ defense on the road. I look forward to the signal caller making quick reads, delivering spot-on strikes, and avoiding mind-numbing turnovers. The Ravens, coming off a bye, have lost three of their previous four contests. If Campbell can be marginally better Ben Roethlisberger’s numbers two weeks ago against the Ravens (seventeen of twenty-three for 160 yards and a touchdown), then I will feel confident about the offense. This will likely be another low scoring game, so two touchdowns, like last week, could be enough to get the “W”. I expect Campbell to make several nice plays here and there while reducing his errors; other aspects of the team and whether they execute will determine this game.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Ravens nearly surrendered 100 yards on the ground to rookie Le’Veon Bell – on just nineteen carries. I am not figuring that Willis McGahee and Chris Ogbonnaya will run wild over the defenders, but a four yards-per-carry pace would be sufficient (for me). A touchdown by either of this duo would not be surprising as well, as both have found the end zone. The Browns showed last week that they will pass to set up the run; that includes dump offs to Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whittaker out of the backfield. If the athletes can catch these, defenders will back off and space between the tackles would be created for the running backs. Something missing when Weeden was under center – among many things – is the ability of the quarterback to scramble. Campbell’s scurries keep defenders honest and prevent double teams and athletes from clogging running lanes.
Josh Gordon was suspended during the last time the Browns faced the Ravens, and the offense was rather pathetic. His insertion into the lineup has made the group a respectable one, and I envision the wide receiver to keep up his solid play. Ladarius Webb and Corey Graham are very good defenders, but they will likely only limit the combination of Greg Little and Davone Bess (assuming they don’t shut themselves down). Perhaps this is the week where Fozzy Whittaker gets more opportunities from the slot position; the shifty runner has shown an ability to secure passes. Obviously, Jordan Cameron will be targeted early and often – he may not have a spectacular grab like the one in Arrowhead on Sunday, but I like the rapport he and Campbell developed in their first game together. In goal-line situations, the tight end is a dependable option for six points.
The Ravens took down the opposing quarterback three times in their last contest – the offensive line will have another difficult challenge but Campbell should be kept clean. Once again the home squad will have to prevent Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Courtney Upshaw (to name a few) from blowing by them and making it difficult for the offense to operate. When facing one-on-one matchups, both tackles did an adequate job last week; not having to employ a double-team would be huge for the passing attack. Now playing at home, there is no excuse for anyone to be called for false start penalties, including veteran Joe Thomas. Hopefully something clicks this week and the offense refuses to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties. They currently have the second-most infractions in the league – last week it killed an opportunity for a score. The team does not have a dynamic offense to overcome these regularly.
Defense: Will this be the contest where reserve lineman Billy Winn returns to action? It’s unlikely, but the healthy rotation at defensive ends could return – preventing tired legs late in the contest. The Ravens will not dominate the time of possession battle the way the Chiefs did, but the Browns’ defense still has to do their part. I worry about the third-down defense and their continued struggles at getting off the field. If Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, and Desmond Bryant can keep a consistent push at the line of scrimmage, then the opportunities for the Ravens’ offense will diminish greatly. The visiting team is coming off a performance where they only accrued eighty-two yards on the ground (among four rushers). The defensive front should slow down Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, but as is the case with many contests preventing a rushing touchdown must be a priority.
I hope the resurgence of Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo last week carries over for the remainder of the season. Joe Flacco is a slightly slower runner than Alex Smith, but he can still escape from the pocket. As a result, I hope the near misses (from sacks) last week become takedowns this week at First Energy Stadium. Ray Rice is a viable target out of the backfield, but he does not possess the type of speed as a back like Reggie Bush, Jamaal Charles, or Dexter McCluster. Those rushers have torched the passing defense as of late, but hopefully Craig Robertson can keep up with the larger Rice. With Dennis Pitta still sidelined, the duo of Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark has not been able to replicate that type of output. Mingo got away with poor coverage last week; the coaching staff must figure out a good combination of defenders to mask the tight ends.
For the first time in a couple of weeks, the Browns will have to face more than one dependable wide receiver. Joe Haden should give Torrey Smith all he can handle (once again), but Buster Skrine will have a difficult task covering the taller Jacoby Jones. I would not be surprised to see the former Texan on the receiving end of a few lobs from their quarterback in an attempt for a big gain. It’s all about the quarterback’s timing; the Browns must speed up Flacco’s decisions to reduce pressure on the cornerbacks. Both T.J. Ward and Tashaun Gipson have been reliable in run support but have not been near the football in the passing game. I would like to see this get back on track, as correcting this weakness can transform the Browns’ defense to one of the tops in the league.
Special Teams: The season-ending ACL injury to Travis Benjamin puts Davone Bess squarely in the spotlight to perform. There’s no denying that the wide receiver has been struggling in every facet of the game this year. It appears that he is trying to do “too much” with the football before the play begins, thus leading to the athlete dropping the ball. I believe Chris Tabor will sit down Bess and tell him to stick to the basics. As far as the kicking and punting units go, Billy Cundiff outplayed Justin Tucker the last time these teams met; a game-winner would be great for the former Raven. Dynamic returner Jacoby Jones will be active in this contest – the Browns will have to focus on tackling, as he has several returns for touchdowns.
Coaching: The coaching staff has been doing a good job at getting multiple backs and receivers involved. The game plan should be set up more for Fozzy Whittaker, as Benjamin’s services are no long available. A more attacking offense will likely be present – the Ravens’ defense has not been as solid as last week’s opponent. Defensively, Ray Horton will do an excellent job at calling rushes and blitzes (of the quarterback). Pressure should come from both up the middle and from the edges; multiple athletes will make it hard on the opposing team’s passing game.
Prediction (My Record: 5 – 3): This contest is a tough one to call; like many games in the NFL, I would not be surprised by a victory or loss by the Browns. I got a feeling the home team rises up and ends three streaks on Sunday in a very emotional win – by the score of 24 – 20.