After last week’s huge win in San Diego, and with a date against Tom Brady and the Pats in Foxboro looming on the horizon, the Ravens enter Sunday’s home match-up against Cleveland looking to avoid a “let-down game.” The Browns, meanwhile, are in a neck-and-neck (and neck) dogfight with St. Louis and Detroit for “worst team in the NFL” bragging rights. First year head coach Eric Mangini’s squad has managed just a single offensive touchdown in 2009, and even that came during junk time of a blowout loss to Minnesota.
The Ravens’ defense looks to get healthy against the worst offense statistically in the league. All eyes will be on cornerbacks Dominique Foxworth and Fabian Washington, whose poor days in San Diego have been relived ad nauseum. They draw another big, strong receiver this week, the Browns’ Braylon Edwards, who always seems to play well against the Ravens. Edwards had only one reception in Week 1, but last week caught 6 passes for 92 yards against Denver. Braylon may be looking to make amends for his gaffe in Cleveland against B’More last year, when he dropped what likely would have been a game-sealing TD pass, by duplicating the success he saw Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers have last week.
Edwards’ quarterback, though, is not going to be confused with Philip Rivers any time soon. While he may evolve into a star in the NFL, Brady Quinn has yet to win either the hearts of Browns’ fans or the confidence of his coaches and teammates. For the season, Quinn has completed 59% of his throws, for 366 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INT. What really jumps out though, is that he has been sacked NINE times in only two games. The Ravens’ pass-rush also caught some heat after the Chargers game, when they didn’t get to Rivers at all after the 2nd quarter. Rookie center Alex Mack (no, not her, much to my chagrin) has struggled early, and will have his hands more than full with Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata. On the outside, tackle Joe Thomas “ate up,” Jared Allen of the Vikings, according to Brian Billick, so watch the match-up between him and T-Sizzle closely. If Thomas can handle Suggs on his own, then the Browns’ running backs and tight ends will be able to help out Mack in the middle, and Greg Mattison will have to blitz more than he might like to – leading to more of those dreaded 1-on-1 matchups with the Ravens’ DBs.
On the ground, Jamal Lewis has 95 yards on 25 carries in 2009, but appears to be excusing himself from action this week. Lewis has yet to practice, so backups Jerome Harrison and James Davis (rookie) could see extended action Sunday. It won’t matter who gets the ball, the Browns won’t be able to run on the Ravens, and don’t be surprised if, like the Chargers, they don’t even really try (despite what Quinn said in his conference call with Baltimore media this week).
Cam Cameron spoke highly of the Browns’ defense this week, calling them the most stout front 7 the Ravens have faced yet. Pro Bowl DT Shaun Rogers is a bit hobbled in practice this week, but is expected to play. Ravens’ center Matt Birk is very familiar with Rogers, having matched up with him several times when they both played in the NFC North. Former Maryland LB D’Qwell Jackson led the NFL in tackles last season, and intercepted Joe Flacco during this game in 2008.
Ray Rice had his best game of 2008 against Cleveland, when he ran for 154 yards, so don’t be surprised if he gets the lion’s share of the carries this week. Willis McGahee is making a strong push for more touches though, currently leading the AFC in rushing touchdowns. Maybe this is the week Rice finally gets his first NFL score, but with McGahee likely remaining the goalline option, “Mighty Mouse” will have to break one from 10 yards or more if he wants to find paydirt.
Joe Flacco is off to a sizzling start to his sophomore campaign, trailing only Drew Brees in touchdown passes after two games. He has thrown one interception in each contest though, and last week’s could have been costly (we’ll ignore for now the terrible non-offsides call on that play). Flacco has been spreading the ball around admirably, as 7 Ravens have 5 or more receptions. Kelley Washington leads the bunch with 7 for 101 yards and a touchdown, and has settled into the #3 WR role nicely. This has served to push Demetrius Williams down the depth chart, though the coaches insist he will still be a big part of the offense moving forward.
We’ll believe it when we see it, “Completrius.”
To be sure, the Ravens SHOULD win this one going away. However, there are a few things that worry us:
- Josh Cribbs. Cleveland’s return man seems to put one in the end zone every time these two teams meet. The Ravens’ coverage units have gotten off to a slow start (again) this season, and last week Darren Sproles ran wild on them. Special teams need to step it up, and contain Cribbs this week. Cribbs may also take some snaps in the Wildcat, or catch some flare passes out of the backfield – please, Ravens, don’t let him go uncovered like you did to Sproles on that 80-yard score last week.
- Mother nature. Although the forecast calls for sunny skies by gametime Sunday, Friday evening and Saturday are set to see a significant amount of rain in B’More. We need only think back to Week 1 against, Kansas City, when players were sliding all over the place because of rain in the days leading up to the game (water was being said to “seep up through” the turf when the players stepped down). Weather is the great equalizer, and it’s a shame that we might even have to worry about it without a cloud in the sky.
John Harbaugh’s team has made a pretty good living beating up on lesser opponents during his tenure though, and Sunday shouldn’t be much different. Even if Cribbs does break one, this new high powered Ravens’ offense will keep Cleveland at bay, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll see a defensive performance reminiscent of the Ravens of old.
Ravens 31 Browns 10