Game #5 Preview – Browns @ Ravens
A rested team coming off a big win ten days ago goes against a team that lost a heartbreaker and has its second consecutive road game – that is this week’s storyline. From that alone, the Browns’ odds of winning are not great; toss in the fact this contest is in Baltimore and another loss appears obvious. However, the team will still go out there and compete this Sunday; can they actually pull out a victory?
Quarterback: Can Josh McCown make it three games in a row, in terms of surpassing the 300-yard mark through the air? The odds are not in his favor, but I am intrigued to see if he can get many guys involved the way he has been doing. This, in turn, has led to the defense being off-balance and McCown being able to attack all over the field. I have a bad feeling about him turning the football over in this matchup. Last week, he had one fumble but the defense rose up to prevent any points being surrendered. I feel that the Ravens’ defense will be a bit more opportunistic.
Running Back: Hopefully the duo of Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell can continue to work their magic. Two capable backs who are weapons in both the run and passing game? We have not seen that in Cleveland for quite some time – and that should give defenses enough to think about on a consistent basis. Like last week, I would expect to see at least one score out of this unit and do not care how it comes about. A key will be playing keep-away if the Browns have the lead late and want to work the clock while still moving the chains.
Wide Receiver: Will Brian Hartline return to the lineup this week (after exiting following the first series with an injury)? Will that mean a lot to this offense and receiving unit? Travis Benjamin continued where he left off a few weeks earlier, while Taylor Gabriel and Andrew Hawkins were frequently involved last contest. Ideally Hartline will continue to play the role of chain mover on third down. I would like to see at least one touchdown from a wide out in this meeting. I get a sense that Dwayne Bowe’s time in Cleveland is nearing a close – as the disappointing veteran has yet to record a reception.
Tight End: The roles for Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge are pretty much pronounced – the former is the blocker, while the latter is the pass catcher (and is doing a fine job at that). Barnidge has already surpassed his season-high in receptions and has a pair of touchdowns. Rob Housler has been useless, so now is the portion of the blog where
I insert my weekly plea to insert rookie E.J. Bibbs into the active lineup and deactivate Housler. Who knows, maybe he can be another playmaker for this offense – there’s only one way to find out.
Offensive Line: Improvement was finally on display last contest, but the offensive line is still a ways from where many expected them to perform. Mitchell Schwartz is clearly getting beat on pass rushes, but at least the number of times is reducing. I guarantee that the home squad will throw the kitchen sink at the guys upfront – and I would love to see them rise to the challenge. It has not occurred many times this campaign, but the Browns have utilized a lineup with Cameron Erving as an additional blocker. This should be witnessed on Sunday; if they can get a result like the touchdown versus the Titans (or even close to that) then using it will have been a brilliant call.
Defensive Line: Up to this point, the first three things I think about this defensive line are slow, out of place, and uninspired. They have picked up where the 2014 defensive line left off – and that is worst in the league. Danny Shelton was drafted to help
tremendously in this department, but that has not been the case over the first quarter of the season. I hope he can find his way and quickly, as the unit needs a leader to rally around. Having Desmond Bryant return from injury would not hurt this group either; of course he still has got to make plays once he gets back on the field.
Linebacker: There’s a chance that Scott Solomon can be active for this contest – the outside linebacker group seriously needs some good news. Paul Kruger is in coverage (not his strength), and the guy opposite of him (be it Mingo, Orchard, or Armonty Bryant) was nowhere to be found in San Diego. A 3-4 Defense is predicated on their linebackers; they must help in the run game, perform in pass coverage, and (most importantly) get to and sack the quarterback. None of the three are currently happening for the Cleveland Browns. The guys on the inside were of little help as well last week. Karlos Dansby made a couple nice plays early on, but that was it for the inside linebackers. Jim O’Neil has his hands full with trying to make this unit a productive one.
Secondary: The performance the secondary put forward (in San Diego) was appalling – they could not stop or cover anyone. Joe Haden being inactive was a bit of a disappointment, perhaps he can return and somewhat resemble a solid cornerback this matchup. I would have thought that this group would be one of the better parts of the team, but the opposite has been true. People want to see Ibraheim Campbell, and it’s only two more weeks until Charles Gaines comes off the PUP list. Unless K’Waun Williams can return this game and really help out in stopping the pass – it could be another long day for the Browns’ defensive backs.
Special Teams: I don’t expect to see much of a difference between these two franchises’ special teams. Both have solid kicking and return units. It might be one great return or costly turnover that could tip the scales between the Browns and Ravens’ units. I am pulling that the visitors come out on top.
Coaching: All eyes are (and have been) on defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil – will Mike Pettine assist his protégé in the game plan and play calling? I don’t care how it happens, just fix the defense please. The Browns will not win another game if their defense continues to be a sieve against the run and out of position against the pass.
Prediction (My Record 1 -3): I expect another loss by the Browns this week, this time by more of a wider margin. The Ravens beat up the orange and brown to the tune of 26 – 13 and leave the Browns limping home at 1 – 4.