All week long the television stations around Baltimore have shown interviews with players on the Baltimore Ravens, asking them how they are doing to what they need to do to prepare to beat the Cleveland Browns. To a man, the talk always seems to come around to the first few minutes. They all say we need to get off to a good start and not let the Browns get the easy early score that puts us in a hole.
The Ravens have made it a regular trend in giving up early scores through either turnovers or allowing the opposition to drive down the field for a long, time consuming drive that eats up clock, tires out our defense and forces us to change our gameplan even before the offense gets on the field. This has happened in the games against the New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals, not coincidentally all losses. In each of those games, the early deficits that the Ravens got themselves into were the main reason they just could not overcome and ended up on the short end of the final score.
In order to win this game, which should be a heck of a lot different than the other aforementioned contests, the Ravens need to keep the Browns from getting the easy score early in the game. Even if the Ravens give up the early score, it shouldn't be tough to come back against what has been an awful Browns defense to go along with their abysmal offense. However, giving up the easy or non-traditional scores early in the game will only make the necessary effort on behalf of the Ravens just that much harder.
Look at what the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers did just last week at home to the Green Bay Packers. The Pack were the much better team, but a blocked punt for a touchdown and the same off of an interception return gave the Bucs 14 easy points. They were outclassed in every other aspect of the game but those two easy and early touchdowns were enough to propel Tampa to their first victory of the season.
Therefore, the Ravens need to shut down the return game like they did so well in the first meeting between these teams. There is no question that the Ravens are a much better team than the Browns, despite losing four of their past five games. Over the course of this season, as well as the latter part of the 2008 season, Baltimore is a perfect 8-0 in wins and even against the spread in games they were favored over losing teams. What that simply means is that the Ravens take care of business against the teams they are expected to beat. The problem we have seen this season is that we have a lot of trouble with the teams that are our equal or better.
Therefore, other than just showing up, if the Ravens play just an average game, that should be enough to come out of Cleveland with the team's first win on Monday Night Football in five straight games. However, something tells me it is just not going to be that easy, as the Browns have absolutely nothing to lose and should pull out all the stops, gimmicks and trick plays that they have in their playbook, for which the Ravens better be prepared to stop, as those, along with the Special Teams threat that Cleveland poses, are the "easy" scores I'm worried about. Other than that, jsut play offense and defense close to the old Ravens way, and Baltimore should be just fine.