Monday marks the beginning of the second half of the 2009 season, and we and the Ravens should be plenty eager to put the first half behind us. Going into their first prime-time action of the year, the Ravens are losers of 4 of their last 5 after starting off the season at 3-0. Although three of those losses came by a total of 11 points, the fourth one, last week in Cincy, was a thorough beat down by the Bengals. If the Ravens are to have any chance of salvaging their season, it needs to start in Cleveland.
Fortunately, the Browns look like the perfect team to help get the Ravens back on the right track. Their organization is once again in shambles, as General Manager George Kokinis was fired this month before even one full season on the job. First year head coach Eric Mangini appears to have his head firmly planted on the chopping block, as he seems to be losing not only games, but his players as well. Former Ravens Jamal Lewis this week accused Mangini of pushing his players too hard. With the Browns languishing near the bottom of the NFL in nearly every statistical category, no amount of “pushing” is likely to yield any tangible results.
The Browns announced this week that Brady Quinn will once again be their starting quarterback. Quinn, who last played in Week 3 in Baltimore, when he started and was replaced by Derek Anderson, is 46-77 on the season, with one touchdown and three picks. Going into that week 3 contest, there were really only two members of the Browns who scared Ravens fans. One of those two, wide receiver Braylon Edwards, was traded by the Browns to the New York Jets. The WR they got in return, Chansi Stuckey, has only 1 catch for 11 yards since joining Cleveland.
The other weapon the Browns have, returner Joshua Cribbs, was bottled up nicely by the Ravens in the first game. Kickoff and punt coverage have been pleasantly solid for John Harbaugh’s squad in his second season, but Cribbs’ 27.7 average on kickoffs is two yards higher than his 2008 average, and his 16.4 average on punt returns is his career high. He has 1 touchdown on both kickoffs and punts this year. As anemic as the Browns’ offense has been of late (late being roughly the last calendar year), keeping Cribbs in check is pretty much priority numero uno.
When these teams met last, in September, the Ravens spanked the Browns 34-3, and the game wasn’t the slightest bit more competitive than the final score reflected. B’More outgained Cleveland 479-186, and won the turnover battle 4-0 (all interceptions). Brown stain QB’s were a combined 17/27 for 126 yards.
Since that game, the Browns have lost by scores of 23-20 (OT), 27-14, 31-3, and 30-6, and WON a game 6-3, despite being outgained 288-193 in Buffalo. The Ravens should handle them easily, but some fans are still worried about another prime-time letdown by the purple and black.
Some gambling handicapper on the radio the other day mentioned that the Ravens have beaten the spread 8 consecutive times when they are 5 or more point favorites (or something to that effect – correct me if I’m wrong). Basically, during his tenure, John Harbaugh’s teams have had no problems with beating up on “inferior” teams. The Nest is confident that the trend will continue on Monday, but there are several areas where the team can improve from recent showings to maximize their chances.
- Tackle! – The sure tackling the Ravens displayed against Denver was nowhere to be found against Cincinnati. With guys like the elusive Cribbs and the still tough-to-bring-down Jamal Lewis toting the rock, the Ravens could find themselves in trouble if they are unable to bring down ballcarriers consistently once again.
- Start quick – As evidenced by 2 of their 4 losses including 14-0 first quarter deficits, the Ravens have consistently started games very slowly in 2009. Joe Flacco’s first few throws are always off the mark, and the defense seems to need two or 3 series to figure out what opposing offenses are doing before they can even hope to slow it down. The Browns aren’t much of a quick-strike threat, so a similar hole to dig out of seems unlikely. However, it would be great to jump out to a double digit lead of our own quickly, and commence to playing with a lead. Which brings us to the next point…
- Run the ball! Cam Cameron and his offense have struggled all year to establish any sort of a game-to-game identity. This is by no means helped by the fact that they have been given those aforementioned big deficits to overcome, but even in closer games, it’s impossible to know what to expect from one possession to the next. Flacco seems to be at his best in the hurry-up or no-huddle offense. But most Ravens fans would love to see a return to more of 2008’s ball-control style offense, and a running game that features Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le’Ron McClain all in prominent roles. The Browns seem like the perfect opponents to jump out early on, then use the rest of the game to reintroduce the power running game.
A final interesting story line to this game is the fact that a group of Browns fans are staging a “Free the Birds“-esque late walk-in to this nationally televised event. Check out the organizer, Dawg Pound Mike’s website here for more.
Seeing their fans show some additional passion and displeasure may inspire the Browns’ players to perform above their abilities. For about a quarter. This one won’t be close.
Ravens 34 Browns 6