What will the Ravens defense do for an encore?
After recording their first shutout since 2009 in a 20-0 victory over Cincinnati, the Ravens host Cleveland in M&T Bank Stadium’s 20th home opener. And a defense that picked off Bengals veteran Andy Dalton four times and collected five sacks will face a rookie quarterback. Under head coach John Harbaugh, Baltimore hasn’t lost a home game to a first-year quarterback.
A victory would give the Ravens their fourth 2-0 start in Harbaugh’s 10 seasons while the Browns are trying to avoid an 0-2 start that would put them in a last-place tie with Cincinnati. Both teams are on the road next week.
It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens look to improve to 17-2 against the Browns in the Harbaugh era. Baltimore swept the season series last year and is 27-9 against Cleveland and 14-4 against the AFC North opponent at home in the all-time series.
Below are five predictions for Sunday afternoon:
1. Buck Allen will lead the Ravens in receptions filling in for the injured Danny Woodhead. Much discussion this week has centered around the novelty of Michael Campanaro taking on Woodhead’s responsibilities, but a 191-pound receiver isn’t a threat to run between the tackles or pass block in the backfield. It’s easy to forget after Allen’s disappointing 2016 campaign, but he caught 45 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns in 393 offensive snaps as a rookie. He’s the best in-house bet to try to replicate Woodhead, and the Ravens need him to do a decent impression for the offense to click.
2. Baltimore will register its first defensive touchdown in nearly two years. Despite finishing tied for fourth in the NFL with 28 takeaways a year ago, the Ravens defense wasn’t able to take any of those back to the end zone, which hurt with a below-average offense that often struggled to finish drives. Lardarius Webb came very close last week with his interception off a batted pass that was returned to the Cincinnati 2. Given the ability and depth of this defense going against a rookie quarterback, Sunday feels like the overdue time for the first defensive score since C.J. Mosley’s fumble return on Sept. 27, 2015.
3. Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer will show some moxie orchestrating a touchdown drive despite being sacked four times. The second-round pick from Notre Dame had his moments against Pittsburgh, but the challenge is even tougher on the road against a defense vying to be the NFL’s best. Kizer was sacked seven times in Week 1, but a few of those were a result of him holding the ball too long. The Ravens aren’t going to shut out their opponent and have five takeaways every week, but they’ll still create pressure against an offensive line better than the one they faced in the season opener.
4. Joe Flacco will connect with Mike Wallace for a long touchdown in an otherwise run-heavy day for the offense. The Ravens won’t carry the ball 40-plus times again, but it’s easy to be committed to the run when holding a lead at home like they will Sunday. That said, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg does want to see more from Flacco and the passing game with some tough games approaching in the not-too-distant future. Browns cornerbacks Jason McCourty and Jamar Taylor are shaky at best, meaning Wallace will find enough space for a deep ball after a quiet Week 1 performance.
5. The Ravens will steadily remain in control in a 23-10 win to improve to 2-0 on the season. Cleveland has an improved roster and now needs to find out whether Kizer can be that elusive franchise quarterback the organization has lacked for decades. The Ravens will have their struggles moving the ball consistently against a decent front, but the Browns offense just isn’t going to do enough to seriously challenge in this game. It will be interesting to see what kind of progress Cleveland has made when these teams meet again in December, but the Ravens shouldn’t have too much trouble in Week 2.