Game #2 Preview – Ravens @ Browns
It only took one week, but the Browns are already in the cellar of the AFC North. Speaking of which, they face their first divisional opponent on Sunday – a team who defeated the Bills a week before. The Browns looked pretty bad in the season opener (what’s new?); can they turn it around at First Energy Stadium? We will analyze this matchup.
Quarterback: Coming off a poor performance (and an injured left shoulder), signal caller Robert Griffin will be missing at least several weeks of action. In comes veteran Josh McCown, who also has an injury history. The Ravens’ defense held their own last week – so the assumption would be that the Browns would not be able to move the football with ease. I expect McCown to enter this game make a few smart plays down the field and actually find the end zone this week. However, the opposition will bait him into a mistake as well. Hopefully the next signal caller can be precise on his throws – or this contest can get away from the team in a hurry. McCown did not sparkle in the preseason, but that’s not necessarily a true indicator for the regular season.
Running Back: It is time for this offense to feature Duke Johnson in a more prominent role. The second-year veteran had some nifty moves last week, and could cause problems in the passing game (for the defense). Isaiah Crowell proved he can still run the ball rather well (provided the offensive line can pave the way). I wouldn’t mind seeing the runner garner early carries in the matchup to soften up the defense. Getting to one hundred yards on the ground will not come easy, and I envision the Browns being bottled up until they are down a couple of scores.
Wide Receivers: The slant route, albeit juggled, was something I was glad to see hauled in from Terrelle Pryor last contest. He is beginning to show he is more than a one-trick pony – and I am anticipating on him to continue to grow in this offense. Corey
Coleman struggled a bit but snagged a deep pass in the second half; he should see more targets this week. Andrew Hawkins continues to disappoint in his role with the offense. I would like to see him get back on track, as the team could surely use another threat in the passing game. At the end of the day, outside of some nice grabs I do not expect too much from the wide outs.
Tight Ends: Gary Barnidge desperately needs to shake off last contest and get back to his 2015 form. Not catching a pass is just as unacceptable as is dropping easy throws which killed offensive drives. He will more than likely get a couple of early targets (to build confidence), then should be available for underneath routes to complement longer passes. This offense is not too far from being reliable, but all hands must be on deck for that to occur.
Offensive Line: The two problematic positions for the offensive line reared their ugly heads in Philadelphia. Can Austin Pasztor and Cameron Erving get out of their funks and solidify this unit? Pasztor got blown up a few times (and got away with holding a time or two), he cannot afford to continue to play this way. Meanwhile, Erving did improve at pass protection from a season ago – however his high snap was embarrassing. If this is not cleaned up soon, the Browns might be looking for the replacement of the replacement for Alex Mack soon.
Defensive Line: The team took a step forward last contest – in terms of their run defense. They were not spectacular, but they were also not nearly as horrendous as they have been. I was actually watching Danny Shelton get up the field a time or two in the contest. Should he continue this on a regular basis, as well as Carl Nassib being a threat on the edge, and the Browns’ defensive line might be a respectable unit in 2016. John Hughes needs to step up on the opposing edge, otherwise the Ravens will exploit this time and time again.
Outside Linebackers: If Emmanuel Ogbah, Nate Orchard, and Joe Schobert could not get to a rookie quarterback – then I do not envision this trio making life tough in the pocket for Joe Flacco. Granted they are young and can improve, but I would be surprised to see them make a jump this early in the campaign. The only saving grace is the old adage that “teams improve the most between weeks one and two”.
Inside Linebackers: Despite not making any tremendous plays in the opener, both Demario Davis and Chris Kirksey graded out well. Being dependable is something that is necessary for inside linebackers – however I want to see them blow up offensive plays now and again. The Ravens’ tight end situation is one riddled with injuries, so this duo should not have to worry about many guys crossing their face trying to catch passes (the way Zach Ertz did). I could see a big play coming from this position group on Sunday.
Safeties: Derrick Kindred displayed some tenacity in his first NFL game, and then turned his ankle. The Browns need a thumper at safety – and hopefully the rookie can come back healthy for this game. Otherwise the team will have to turn to Ibraheim Campbell, who is capable but not a standout safety. Jordan Poyer was all around the ball last contest but could not come away with the big interception. He will likely need the assistance of teammates (via a tipped pass or help in coverage) in order to generate a turnover from the opposition. Overall the safety spot has not been great, but they are an improvement from the guys on the edge.
Cornerbacks: This is easily the worst unit of the Browns – they were unable to cover any wide receiver last week. That said, I figure more of the same at First Energy Stadium and a boatload of passing yards surrendered by the orange and brown. I do not know what it is going to take for the coverage to improve (and apparently neither do the Browns). I’m hoping they can simply get lucky and one of Haden, Taylor, or Williams can be at the right place at the right time for a change.
Special Teams: Can the Browns change momentum in this game on a single play? That would be great, and perhaps special teams could be the spark the team needs. Whether it is a long return or a key stop, the Browns need to be the beneficiaries of a big play and use it to their advantage.
Coaching: I can assure you that fake punts and offensive linemen split out wide will not be a part of the Browns’ game plan this week. Neither worked last Sunday, and Hue Jackson and company must be smart in trying to pull a fast one over the opposing coaching staff.
Prediction (My Record: 1 – 0): I look to keep my record perfect and choose against the team that has not come out ahead in five tries. Joe Flacco will make one too many great throws and the Ravens will come away with a 27 – 13 victory at First Energy Stadium.