Previewing Week 2: Browns at Ravens
The Ravens are flying high after a week 1 thrashing of the rival Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati, but in order for the team to prove their worth they will have to follow it up by defeating the AFC North basement-dwelling Cleveland Browns at home. There has been a lot of talk this off-season about the Browns finally looking as if they are going turn a corner, and frankly they looked competitive in a week 1 loss to Pittsburgh. The Browns spent a lot of money to improve their offensive line and they also drafted a QB, DeShone Kizer, who looks like he actually belongs on an NFL football field. The defense got torched by Antonio Brown, but on the flip side they were able to impressively limit Le’Veon Bell on the ground. Will the Ravens be able to run the ball against a re-vamped Cleveland defense and will they be able to stop a young and hungry Browns offense?
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There are any number of platitudes that could be used to describe the Ravens defensive performance in week 1 against the Bengals. To shutout an opposing team in their stadium is incredibly rare, and the Ravens did it in dominating fashion. While the Ravens defense is loaded with talent, it all starts with their ability to win at the line of scrimmage. Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and Co. were able to clog running lanes and bully the Bengals offensive line when the QB dropped back to pass. Terrell Suggs was a terror off the edge, repeatedly manhandling the Bengals LT, Cedric Ogbuehi. Dean Pees was not afraid to bring pressure either, dialing up a number of different blitz packages to confuse the opposing QB. The results speak for themselves, but is it repeatable? I highly doubt the Ravens will be able to pitch back to back shutouts. The Browns have a better offensive line than the Bengals anchored by All-Pro LT Joe Thomas, and they will be a stronger test for the Ravens up front. However, the Ravens will have the advantage of being at home and going against a rookie QB. This is a match-up where game-plan and discipline are going to be key, and like always the Ravens will need to stop the run first and put the Browns offense in 3rd and longs where Dean Pees will have a wide array of options at his fingertips. In the past, big plays and broken coverages have hurt the Ravens defense in this match-up, and that is where the discipline comes into play. I think we all remember the Gary Barnidge catch and Isaiah Crowell rumbling for an 85 yard TD. If the Ravens can shut down the run and limit big plays, the Browns will struggle to move the ball and score points.
When the Ravens have the ball, the formula should look a lot like it did last week: get an early lead and the run the ball. While I don’t expect the run to pass ratio to be quite as skewed as it was in week 1, I think we will still see close to a 50:50 ratio with Flacco dropping back 25-30 times at most, and if he is passing the ball much more than 30 times, than something has probably gone very wrong. I do hope to see Flacco taking at least 1-2 deep shots in this one or defenses may start losing respect for the deep ball. The Ravens are also going to need to improve their pass-blocking from week 1 as Flacco was under duress too often in his limited number of drop-backs. The Ravens offensive line may be more built as a run-blocking unit right now, but protecting Flacco is still vitally important. Fortunately for the Ravens, the Browns will likely be without #1 overall draft pick Myles Garrett and the Browns do not have any other premier pass-rushers on their roster. I would expect the Ravens passing offense to consist of a lot of short to intermediate passes to Jeremy Maclin, Ben Watson and the RBs with a couple deep shots off play action to Breshad Perriman and Mike Wallace. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens utilize their backfield in this game with RB Danny Woodhead being placed on IR and Jeremy Langford called up to the 53 man roster. Will Langford simply spell West as the early down back with Buck Allen taking on the pass-catching duties, or will all 3 be used interchangeably? I think it is safe to say that none of the current RBs possess Woodhead’s skill as a receiver, but how his absence will affect the Ravens offense is still a question mark.
In the end, the Ravens should have the advantage on both sides of the ball and barring any major mistakes will come away victorious. Similar to week 1, I don’t think there will be a lot of points scored by either team. Ravens take this one 19 – 10.