Well, it's a short week for the Ravens, and it's a short week for us, too. We've been in contact with Bruce at Baltimore Beatdown for a few days now, and we (Dan and Chris) are trying to get our ideas together. However, it's only been two or three days since this spur-of-the-moment plan has come to fruition, so we hope you don't mind that this is a work in progress.
We have some great ideas for the future, and we think that we can really craft something entertaining and informative. But for now, this is a trial run. We will give you our best effort on a short schedule, just as we hope the Ravens do tonight.
Cleveland is dealing with some tough injuries. They will be without starting WR Mohamed Massaquoi, LB James-Michael Johnson, and TE Alex Smith. A few others are banged up, including DBs Sheldon Brown and Ray Ventrone.
The Ravens, on the other hand, are mostly healthy. OT Jah Reid is listed as questionable and has seen only limited practice this week. Otherwise, the team is ready to play.
Who We Like
Ray Rice -
Most likely you weren't considering Rice for the bench this week. We understand that. We, too, believe Rice will have a big game against the Browns, in part because the Browns defense looks especially weak against screen passes. Last week they gave up a 32-yard touchdown to CJ Spiller on a screen at 5:19 in the first quarter. Look for the Ravens to try to create similar opportunities for Rice.
In the future, we will try to break down each player's matchup a little further. For now, we will simply say that the Browns secondary is inexperienced, and they sorely miss Joe Haden (suspended) in man coverage. The Cleveland corners seeing the most action, Dimitri Patterson and Buster Skrine, will have a tough time with the Ravens receivers.
Last week the Browns defense showed a "4-3 over" front on every snap--four down linemen slid to the strong side of the formation and three linebackers standing 2-3 yards back to fill the running lanes not covered by the linemen. Cleveland stuck to Cover 1-Man, with one safety high and man coverage underneath. In Cover 1-Man, the extra safety in the box provides mostly run support, meaning this look is not as strong at stopping the passing game. Jones and Smith should have a fairly easy time beating man coverage on the outside. Additionally, the Strong Safety, T.J. Ward, looked weak against man coverage all night. It's unlikely that he will be replaced either; Ward has played every snap except for 12 snaps when backup Ray Ventrone took his place. Pitta should see some opportunities in the middle of the field if he is matched up against Ward. And with only one deep safety, we like either Jones or Smith to get behind the defense. The Browns have been rotating three players-Eric Hagg (156 snaps), Usama Young (49 snaps), and Tashaun Gipson (38 snaps)-at this deep safety position. Rotation at a position, especially on a struggling defense, is not a good sign.
As the game against the Bills wore on, the Browns began to switch between Cover 1-Man and Tampa 2. Tampa 2 is a "safe" look meant to hide the inexperience on the back end of the defense. Because these were the only looks Cleveland used, they almost never blitzed, relying on their front four, or occasionally a three-man rush when a DT dropped into an underneath zone, to get pressure on the quarterback. We like Flacco to have ample time most of the night. Ultimately, the Ravens should score a lot of points. In general, the Ravens offense is efficient with underneath route concepts against both man and zone, and Cleveland allowed a great deal of short route completions (stick, hitches, crosses). Additionally, the Browns secondary is not good at tackling in the open field, and YAC may be a big part of Baltimore's offensive production.
Simply put, the Browns offense is bad. We don't want to take anything away from Trent Richardson, who is a quick, explosive runner. He is particularly agile in the open field and his FB, Owen Marecic, is a good lead blocker. But Brandon Weeden is a work in progress. His accuracy, especially on deep throws, is poor. See, for example, his badly underthrown pass to a wide-open receiver at 9:18 in the third quarter of last week's game. When pressured, Weeden speeds through both his mechanics and his downfield reads. He is quick to check down to Richardson. And even when the passes are on target, the Cleveland receivers drop a lot of balls. Last week, Greg Little had two drops on wide-open crossing routes, and he wasn't alone.
One of the biggest problems for Cleveland is their vanilla play calling. They almost never run when three or more receivers are on the field, meaning the defense knows to expect a pass. Expect an aggressive Ravens defense to take advantage. Baltimore is likely to stack the box against the run and use creative blitzes and stunts to confuse Weeden into throwing interceptions. Weeden threw both of his picks against Buffalo over the middle of the field, during the fourth quarter, when Cleveland was down by 10. Clearly, his bad throws come in high pressure situations and, since Cleveland will most likely be playing from behind against Baltimore, look for a snowball effect. We predict one or two picks for the Ravens in this one.
Finally, on special teams, Josh Cribbs is at least worth mentioning. He likes to return the ball from deep in the endzone on kickoffs, and he also likes to return dangerous punts, both of which could create turnovers for Baltimore. But if Cribbs holds on to the ball, he is effective, averaging 28.4 yards per kick return and 13 yards per punt return. He has only fair caught one of his 10 punt returns.
Who We Don't Like
It would be hard to bench any of the Ravens stars in this game. Cleveland brings a weak defense into M&T Bank Stadium, where Baltimore will defend the league's longest active home winning streak. It should be another strong showing for the Ravens on both sides of the ball.
Chris Worthington (Follow on Twitter @C_Dubs87)
Dan Bryden (Follow on Twitter @PlainMilksFine)