Browns @ Ravens – A Preview of Game #16
It has finally come to this; the Browns conclude their 2014 campaign at the cesspool known as M & T Bank Stadium. Success for the orange and brown there has been few and far between (I recall close wins in 2002 and 2007 – their only winning seasons since 1999). Expectations are low for the visitors, according to national and local pundits. However, they have a shot to make an impact on the AFC playoff picture. Let’s break down this matchup against the purple and black.
Offense: Despite the fact that the Ravens are ranked 30th in the league against the pass, you can bet that they will be baiting Brian Hoyer to throw plenty in this contest. The opponent will be bringing pressure and disguising coverage in order to confuse the passer on drop backs. Can the signal caller make snap decisions and execute plays correctly? I have my doubts, but he at least led a touchdown drive last game. At a minimum, I want zero turnovers and at least one touchdown by the signal caller.
On the other hand, the opposition has been stout when stopping running backs – surrendering less than ninety yards per game on the ground. That should not be a deterrent from the Browns’ game plan though. I envision the coaching staff putting a plan of attack together similar to the one against the Raiders. Despite rushing for only 1.6 yards per carry, the Browns toted the ball twenty-five times and let the quarterback make some big plays (in that contest). I hope Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West can slip through the defense for some long gainers – that might be the best bet for a solid offensive output.
What to make of this receiving corps; their success has been largely dependent on the play of the quarterback (which should come to no surprise). Over the last month, the play of Taylor Gabriel, Jordan Cameron, and Josh Gordon has greatly diminished. There must be some sort of rapport building between Manziel and his wide outs. I firmly believe Hawkins and Gordon can be a part of an exceptional trio going forward – provided they pick up a stalwart opposite Josh. For the time being, I just want to see some longer receptions and, even more importantly, tough grabs made in traffic.
Will the offensive line get it in gear for this contest? All five must be in synch to excel in both the running and passing games. The Browns have struggled when trying to pick up those “tough yards” in the past few contests – i.e. third down and one. This will not be cleaned up for this contest; even without the services of Haloti Ngata for the Ravens. The Browns will pass to set up the run – which could be a scary thought for Browns fans. Ryan Seymour and Mitchell Schwartz are the keys for the unit – they have allowed defenders to cross their face in some contests when the entire offense was failing.
Defense: The thought of the run defense facing Justin Forsett terrifies me. The veteran has been rushing the ball well all season long, while his counterparts have been extremely disappointing a majority of 2014. Even if John Hughes returns for this contest, I do not have a great deal of faith that the defense can slow down the home team’s running attack. With the future of Ahtyba Rubin still in doubt, the nose tackle must put everything into this contest – if he wants to return to this team next season. Billy Winn will want to prove he can be a full-time starter beginning in 2015; this final meeting could be an early glimpse into his expectations with a large workload.
Will the improved play of Barkevious Mingo continue at Baltimore? The second-year pro is standing out primarily as a pass rusher, but he is much more reliable now than he was in week one. Paul Kruger will try to put on a show against his former squad, and there’s a good chance that he can make some plays. A turnover forced is what I want to see from the former University of Utah standout. Both of the younger inside linebackers are becoming mainstays for this defense. Are they both exceptional, top-tier talents? Not at this point, but give them more playing time and their developments ought to continue.
This contest will be a litmus test for some of the youth in the secondary. This refers to Justin Gilbert, Pierre Desir, and K’Waun Williams. Two of these three rookies have made solid plays in this campaign, while Desir has been battling injuries since training camp. I would love for one to haul in an interception and be a part of multiple pass breakups – thus providing hope going forward. This might be Jim Leonhard’s final NFL game; I want to see him go out in a blaze of glory. He has been a tremendous safety, who does many things well. Why not a recover a fumble and return a punt for more than ten yards?
Special Teams: Can Garrett Hartley hold up if this contest is a close one? He has not had a big kick in quite some time, but he should still (hopefully) be an improvement over his predecessor. The return game has been non-existent for the Browns all season long; just take a knee on kickoffs! As long as the coverage teams limit Jacoby Jones, I would feel content with that part of the team.
Coaching: It’s time to be aggressive and see how the young guys respond. Pettine and Shanahan must put the offense into unpredictable situations (for the defense) where Hoyer can succeed. Defensively, it will continue to be about putting pressure on Flacco. Send a few safety blitzes, as well as some edge rushes – whatever it takes to make the pocket uncomfortable.
Prediction (My Record: 10 – 5): I believe the Browns keep this one close for most of the way, only to see the home squad recover a turnover and expand their lead. The Ravens turn away the Browns by the score of 27 – 16.