This topic has become a weekly staple on Baltimore Beatdown. This is where we post our comments on what the Baltimore Ravens will need to do in order to win this weekend's game. Sunday afternoon we visit Cleveland and the 3-4 Browns, who lost to the Ravens in week three 28-10. In that game, the Ravens defense was classic, as they turned and interception into a pick six and limited Browns QB Derek Anderson to 14 of 37 passing and a QB rating of 22.9!!!
However, that was in our home crib and was a long time ago. Cleveland stood at 0-3 at that point and have won three of four since then, including a very impressive home victory over the previously undefeated and Super Bowl Champion NY Giants on MNF. Now only one game behind the Ravens and coming off another impressive defensive effort in a 23-17 road victory in Jacksonville, this game reeks of revenge in the minds of Browns' fans.
What can the Ravens do on both sides of the ball to get out of Ohio and head on out again on the road to Houston and then New York on what will be a three game road trip before the come home to the cozy confines of M&T Bank Stadium and their loyal fans? Let's take a look at the offense:
In the NFL, the QB touches the ball on almost every play. I say almost instead of every because the Ravens unveiled their version of the Wildcat offense last week in the win over Oakland. The Wildcat formation, popularized in Miami with Ronnie Brown taking the snaps, is actually even better suited with the Ravens Troy Smith taking the snaps. Smith is a QB, and has the ability to run or throw the ball. While he may not be the runner that Miami's Ronnie Brown is, he certainly is better at either handing off or throwing the ball, which is the biggest threat in the Wildcat formation. We showed that last week in a 43 yard completion from Smith to QB Joe Flacco. Smith will most likely reprise his role this weekend and the possibilities are endless. However, Smith's major role is probably still on the sidelines, serving as the backup for starter Flacco. If Flacco handles the ball 99% of the time, he will affect the outcome of the game as equally as Cleveland's Derek Anderson does for the Browns. Flacco has been solid if unspectacular the past two games, completing a high percentage of his passes with zero interceptions and a QB rating well over 100. If this is the progression he will continue to show, everyone in the league, including Ravens brass and fans, will continue to be thrilled and even surprised, as he was not ever expected to be the man this season when he was drafted in the first round in April. However, it is what it is and he has matured into this role way better than anyone could have ever expected. Not being the focal point of the offense certainly helps and it needs to continue in that focus for his solid performances to continue.
The Ravens running game needs to continue to drive this offense, and that starts with the success and health of Willis McGahee. While Willis has not rolled up the stats, he has run very well behind a revamped offensive line. The combination of McGahee and Le'Ron McClain running behind behemoth fullback Lorenzo Neal, provides the Ravens with a variety of option to keep their RB's fresh and make it even more difficult to prepare for their opposition. Add in a little dose of rookie Ray Rice, who is a lot faster and stronger than he appears, and you have enough options to confuse and change the face of the offense on every play. The passing game will never be confused with Indy or New Orleans, or even Cleveland, but it will get the job done when needed. Derrick Mason is one of the best possession receivers in the league, well on his way to another 100 reception season. The other wideouts have been virtually non-existent, and tight end Todd Heap has made a recent appearance or two, but is far from his early career form. At the same time, this offense does not need that feature receiver, as Flacco likes to get the ball to his main squeeze, Mason, and then spread the love around to the others, including the RB's out of the backfield.
I saved the best for last and that is the Ravens' defense. The Ravens have the second best overall defense in the NFL and the league's #1 rated run defense. The Ravens are just behind the Steelers overall and are third in the league in passing defense, only behind the Colts and Steelers. The only reason the Colts are ranked second against the pass is because everyone runs on them and don't need to pass as you have seen (other than the Ravens!). Therefore, it is obvious that the Ravens do not have a glaring weakness on defense from a team perspective, even with the individual concerns due to injuries. The corners are hurting and need to get healthy and on the field as soon as possible, since the Browns passing attack has great potential. The pass rush has not resulted in enough sacks, but as long as they harass and hit Derek Anderson, that will make life easier for the Ravens secondary. Braylon Edwards is always a deep threat and Kellen Winslow looks to return from a very nasty staph infection. Great for him, he gets to see Ray Lewis again! Remeber this Kellen?
However, this is a home game for Cleveland and this is more than likely not the same team the Ravens overwhelmed in week three. At the same time, this is also not the same Ravens team, as the rookie QB out of Delaware has more than doubled his NFL game epxerience in the meantime. He has experienced both ends of the QB spectrum, looking every bit the rookie in the losses and like a seasoned veteran in some of the victories. He has remained poised and confident, yet not cocky, and looks to continue the same in Cleveland. A lot of that success will come from the offensive line's ability to protect him in passing situations. If they open big holes for the running game, then it sets up the pass and keeps the pass rush from taking aim at Flacco and causing him to throw on the run and fumble when hit. Therefore, as opposed to the QB issues on both teams, the game will once again in my mind, be won or lost in the trenches. If we win the trench war, then the game will turn in our favor. If not, then Cleveland will get their just revenge.
Which will it be? What do you think?