Sep 8, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) avoids Cleveland Browns linebacker Jabaal Sheard (97) during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Field. The Dolphins won 23-10. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports
The Browns missed an opportunity to get a win and take a one game lead on the rest of the division heading into week two, but they did play some areas of the game really well and they did not look like a fluke. Especially with the performance of the front seven combined with the blanket coverage provided with Joe Haden, the Browns defense might be really well suited to take on the Baltimore Ravens’ offense this week. The Baltimore offense is similar to that of the Browns in where their strengths are and how to take them out of their game plan which fits the strengths of the Browns, so they could be in for a big day this week.
While it is important not to overreact to the first game of the season for good or bad, the Baltimore Ravens’ offense has a strong offensive line and a pair of talented running backs in Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Both are significantly better than what the Dolphins had. The one area where the Ravens are slightly compromised is at center. Mike Pouncey is one of the best and Gino Gradkowski is not Mike Pouncey. Gradkowski will have his hands full with Phil Taylor across from him, who played well against the Dolphins.
The Ravens have an overrated, but still talented quarterback In Joe Flacco coming off of a Super Bowl victory. Torrey Smith is a solid speed threat receiver but after him, the Ravens are trotting out a mediocre group of weapons including Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark, who are way past their prime as well as Ed Dickson who seems to be the Ravens version of Greg Little; he shows flashes but drops the ball. The last guy they have is Jacoby Jones, who left the Broncos game with a knee injury that could hold him out of the Browns game, but if the Ravens are counting on Jones to give them a big boost to the offense, they are really desperate. The Ravens are bringing back Tandon Doss, who struggled to catch the football when he was originally brought into the fold. They may be hoping they can build on what Marlon Brown did against the Broncos and get some momentum going there.
The rushing defense for the Browns was absolutely dominant against the Dolphins only giving up 20 yards on 23 carries. That is extremely unlikely to happen against Baltimore as the Ravens have better blocking and better backs, but that does not mean the Browns will not be able to really put the clamps on what they can do in that area of their game. It should still be incredibly difficult for the Ravens to get 100 yards on the ground.
Much like the Dolphins did to the Browns, Ray Horton and company are likely going to really stack the box and work to take away the run and force Flacco and his weapons to beat them. With Haden matching up with Smith, Flacco would then have to find ways to make plays with the remaining players. As questionable as Buster Skrine and Chris Owens may be, they are not covering anyone close to the talent of Brian Hartline this week. If the Browns can stop the run, they can unleash the pressure and make Flacco uncomfortable much the way they did against Ryan Tannehill. They had opportunities they missed including multiple interceptions that were dropped including one that led directly to points for the Dolphins. In the end, they still had a good day defensively and were able to stifle the running game, get four sacks on Tannehill, and had chances to get at least three interceptions, possibly four. They only capitalized on one.
The X-factor in this matchup is going to be how the Ravens use their running backs in the passing game. Ray Rice in particular is a nice receiving threat out of the backfield, but they may need to expand that with both Vonta Leach and Pierce. The Ravens seemed to understand how much they needed to utilize their backs in the passing game in week 1 as Rice had 8 catches and Leach had 3 on a total of 15 targets. That was just under a quarter of Flacco’s 62 passes against the Broncos and it may be a percentage that increases. Where the Broncos did well was that while Rice and Leach caught 11 passes, they only got 47 yards. That is going to be an important area of focus for the Browns this week and while they may give up catches to those players, they need to prevent them from getting a ton of yardage after the catch.
The Browns are hoping to get both Barkevious Mingo and Athyba Rubin back this week and it remains to be seen what the severity of Billy Winn’s injury he sustained against the Dolphins turns out to be. It would certainly help the Browns to have all hands on deck, especially in the case of Mingo. As successful as the Browns were on getting pressure on Tannehill at times, Tannehill was able to weather the storm and adjust as the game progressed. Having a relentless speed threat they could bring in Mingo, who also helps keep the other guys stay fresher, should make a big difference.
Mingo could also be used to help cover a player like Ray Rice out of the backfield in combination with D’Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson and T.J. Ward. Ward, who the Browns have to pray can stay healthy, was a factor in the run defense against the Dolphins and he could certainly do that against the Ravens as well. He also gives them a player who can help out on tight ends. Josh Aubrey can be a solid run defender but really has a long way to go against the pass. If Ward were to fall prey to injury, the Browns may have to use a rotation of Aubrey on run downs and Johnson Bademosi on passing downs to try to make up for the loss of Ward.
The Browns look like they should be really well matched up defensively against the Ravens offense. It is unlikely the Ravens offense will look as bad as they did against the Broncos and it is unlikely the Browns defense will be quite as good against the run as they did against the Dolphins, but the talent and matchups still look like they could really play to the strengths of the Brown defense. Now, how the Browns offense is going to score against the Ravens defense is another issue as Haloti Ngata is likely going to be planted right in front of Oniel Cousins with a giant smile on his face with the Browns having to find ways to game plan around it.