Ravens @ Browns – A Preview of Game #3
How will the Browns respond to the tremendous outing last week? That’s the million-dollar question – especially because those types of wins have been few and far between. In comes the Ravens who are just off both a win over the Steelers and the Ray Rice fiasco. A low scoring, tight contest should be expected. Can the home team pull out another one? Time will only tell, but let’s see what to look for…
Offense: Last week was a typical Brian Hoyer game, a score and just over 200 yards through the air without a turnover. If he replicates that this week, I like the Browns’ chances. The Ravens will likely watch tape of the Saints game and crowd the line of scrimmage – forcing Hoyer to look for deeper tosses. This was not the strongest part of the veteran’s game, but he must improve in this area or else the offense could easily sputter. All that said, I still would want the ball in Hoyer’s hands in crunch time.
It’s beyond refreshing to see a coaching staff that actually knows how to utilize a rushing attack, and with multiple athletes. The pair of rookies will shoulder the load again on Sunday, and I love the flexibility they give this offense. An eight-yard scamper on first down really opens up the playbook for the Browns. Will one of these guys break a long run? I can definitely see that occurring, as the zone-blocking scheme has been excellent thus far. Multiple touchdowns would not be the worst thing either.
I saw more production than I could have imagined last week by the receivers, especially without the services of Jordan Cameron. These athletes were not blazing defenders for eighty-yard touchdowns, but they caught the ball relatively well. Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins have pulled ahead as the leaders of the gang, and are now expected to keep this up (at least until a suspended player potentially returns). I’m intrigued to see how the receivers match up with the Ravens’ secondary – but my guess is that they hold their own.
The offensive line will have more of a challenge than they did a week ago. Multiple defenders are expected to shoot into gaps and get to Brian Hoyer before the guys upfront realize what just happened. Early on, there might be a couple screen and draw plays called by this Browns’ offense. This would obviously use the rush by the defenders against themselves, and I firmly believe those plays would work well. Following that, it’s all zone blocking and three or five-step drops.
Defense: I predict that this is where the defensive front picks it back up. They have, surprisingly, had their issues attempting to slow down opposing running backs. I have confidence that Phil Taylor, Billy Winn, Desmond Bryant, and Ahtyba Rubin can halt Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett. Creating pressure on passing plays was something also lacking against the Saints. Fortunately Joe Flacco’s release of the football is a little bit slower than Drew Brees’s. I’d like to see Armonty Bryant take advantage of this.
While Paul Kruger is looking more and more like the 2012 player than the 2013 one (that’s a good thing), the outside linebackers could use the play of Barkevious Mingo. Even when he is not the main blitzer on a play, the second-year pro must be accounted for at all times. That’s where another guy, maybe even a Karlos Dansby, can come free and sack the quarterback. He has been the only visible man in the middle, as both Craig Robertson and Chris Kirksey have cooled since their strong preseason campaigns. Perhaps blanketing a Dennis Pitta or Owen Daniels could the a start to a successful year.
Joe Haden has not had the type of start many would expect the veteran to have. He has surrendered three touchdowns in two games and now has to defend athletes like Torrey Smith and Steve Smith this Sunday. Justin Gilbert improved significantly from his first NFL game, while Buster Skrine has been reliable. In the safety spots Tashaun Gipson is picking up where he left off in 2013; intercepting passes. If Donte Whitner can make a few more plays here and there, then this secondary can become really good.
Special Teams: For the first time in awhile, Browns’ fans have not been obsessed with their special teams. That’s large in part due to the offense being somewhat reliable. However, the performances of Spencer Lanning and Billy Cundiff have been solid and welcomed. I would like to see a long Travis Benjamin punt return this Sunday.
Coaching: What can Kyle Shanahan and Jim O’Neil dial up in this contest? The Ravens are built more like the Browns and much less like the Saints, so I bet both the offensive and defensive game plans will be more like the one for the season opener (with hopefully better execution).
Prediction (My Record: 1 – 1): I really want to buy into this team, and think they are much improved from a season ago. I’m not sure they can go 2 – 1 however, so I will select the Ravens as the victors by the score of 23 – 17 – and the Browns hang their heads going into their bye.