Here’s what will happen when the Ravens welcome the Cleveland Browns to M&T Bank Stadium for their third prime-time home game in the first month of the season and their 27th overall meeting (Baltimore holds a 19-7 lead) against the AFC North foe in regular-season history …
1. With Browns cornerback Joe Haden still suspended, Anquan Boldin takes advantage of the attention paid to the Ravens’ speed to have a big night. The Browns will be without their best defensive back and currently rank 27th in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 269 yards through the air per game. Knowing how much speed the Ravens possess on the outside with Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, defensive backs will cheat back a step, which will create more room underneath for Boldin and tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. It’s been a quiet start to the season for Boldin, who has just 10 receptions for 118 yards, but he’ll follow Smith’s cue last week in reemerging as a significant threat in the passing game. With the Browns so concerned with the speedy receivers and focusing more on Pitta underneath, Boldin will have a sneaky 75-plus-yard performance and grab his second touchdown catch of the season.
2. Rookie Brandon Weeden becomes the latest Cleveland quarterback to fall victim to Ed Reed in the defensive backfield. The Browns have fielded a laundry list of dubious names at the quarterback position, which is a major reason why they’ve only enjoyed one playoff appearance since reentering the league in 1999. Weeden has looked more comfortable with each passing week after a four-interception performance against Philadelphia in the Browns’ season opener, but he has never played in a hostile environment like M&T Bank Stadium. Entering the season, Reed had tormented the Browns more than any other team in the NFL with 10 interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns. Weeden has never encountered a safety with the same ability as Reed, who will be licking his chops against a rookie quarterback likely to be pressing with his winless team sitting in the basement of the AFC North. Even if the Ravens are unable to create as much pressure as they’d like, the secondary is too talented to fall victim to a group that could only manage 14 points in a home game against Buffalo last week. As he did against the Bengals in Week 1, Reed will intercept a pass and return it for a touchdown to continue his longtime success against the Browns.
3. With wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi out, running back Trent Richardson receives plenty of work and the Baltimore defense is ready for him. Making it even more difficult for Weeden, the starting wideout will not be on the field for a team that already has few attractive options in the passing game. The 6-foot-2 Greg Little has shown flashes of being a promising receiver but still drops too many passes to make head coach Pat Shurmur feel comfortable, meaning the Browns’ best bet is to ride the back of Richardson on the ground and see if he is able to crack the Baltimore defense. This seemed like a more feasible plan when the Bengals had early success on the ground against Baltimore in Week 1, but the Ravens like the progress made at both outside linebacker spots since then. The ability of Paul Kruger, Courtney Upshaw, and Albert McClellan to set the edge against the run has been helpful in slowing the opposition’s ground game. Richardson is a tremendous talent who will likely break off a nice run here or there, but envisioning him performing well against a defense keying on him even more than normal seems too ambitious. Richardson could run for roughly 75 yards with a high number of carries, but the talented back won’t see nearly as much running room as the Browns would like to create.
4. Ray Rice owns the Cleveland Browns and shows that dominance in the second half by going over the 100-yard rushing mark. In eight career games against the Brown, Rice has shredded their defense for 775 rushing yards and ran for a personal-best 204 yards against Cleveland last December. He won’t approach a rushing total like that, but Rice should see his opportunities in the second half against a run defense tied for 22nd in the league. The Ravens will be aggressive early trying to throw the football and will then offer the Browns a heavier dose of Rice in the third and fourth quarters after building a comfortable lead. The only one who might be able to prevent Rice from eclipsing the century mark is offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, but it’s difficult to envision the Ravens staying away from the Pro Bowl running back when he’s put up several strong performances against the Browns over the first four years of his career.
5. John Harbaugh has never lost to the Browns and continues that streak as the Ravens collect a 30-14 win over Cleveland. The Browns finally appear to have a promising nucleus after drafting Weeden and Richardson as cornerstones of their offense and may finally have light at the end of the tunnel. However, they are playing a Thursday night game on the road against a team that is clearly better than them and holds a distinct advantage in nearly every phase of the game. The Ravens last lost to Cleveland on Nov. 18, 2007 when Phil Dawson’s controversial field goal forced overtime and the Browns pulled out the victory in the extra period. It would take a set of strange circumstances to imagine the Browns pulling off the upset and with the regular officials returning to work Thursday night, the chances of that happening appear slimmer. The Ravens win their ninth straight game over Cleveland, their 10th straight against an AFC North opponent, and their 13th straight at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens pass the quarter pole with a 3-1 record, which is impressive considering how much of a work in progress certain aspects of the team continue to be.