The Baltimore Ravens are off to a good start after they went into Cincinnati and shellacked the Bengals on their way to a 20-0 road win. It really was a huge effort, and especially important considering they’ve only won four road games going back the past two years. They’ll definitely look to keep things rolling in their home opener versus the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, a team that they typically get it done against (as do most teams).
However, there are a few reasons why the Browns may present a bigger challenge in Week 2 than they have in the past. They played host to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, with the heavily favored latter team barely squeaking out a 21-18 victory thanks to a big special teams play as well as a mammoth of a game from wide receiver Antonio Brown. So what are some of the reasons that the Browns could produce a similar close effort in Baltimore on Sunday? Let’s take a look at three:
The Browns defensive athleticism
Since taking over in Cleveland, the Browns current front office regime has been unable to shake the “moneyball” tag whether people are using it in a derogatory fashion or not. Regardless, it’s hard to argue with the speed they’ve added to Hue Jackson’s squad on both sides of the ball. This season, it’s already beginning to show, particularly on defense. Number one overall pick Myles Garrett, the biggest freak on their team, wasn’t even suited up against Pittsburgh, and even without him, the Browns looked pretty athletic. Christian Kirksey is a big name player in that mold, but even beyond him there are lesser known players that pose a similar threat such as Joe Schobert, Jamar Taylor, Carl Nassib, and safeties Derrick Kindred and Jabrill Peppers. The Ravens offense will need to be ready to ground and pound as they did against the Bengals if they’re going to matchup with the Browns D.
Another sluggish effort from the passing game
The Ravens offense as a whole wasn’t terrible in Week 1, but it’s clear the gameplan was to simply do what they had to do and get out of the way of the defense and special teams. They ran the ball well against an athletic Cincinnati defense, but as was just mentioned, the Browns have speed and physicality on that side of the ball as well. As it’s unlikely that the Ravens defense will produce five turnovers again, the passing game will probably have to pick up more of the slack. Joe Flacco gets a mulligan for a pedestrian stat line as it was clear they wanted to ease him back into action, but he’ll certainly need to get things going in Week 2 for the offense to maintain a little bit more balance going forward into this season.
The Browns spent all offseason (literally up until the end of August) waffling over the quarterback position, which is something they’ve been doing since Bernie Kosar threw his last pass in their uniform. Hue Jackson finally decided to go with rookie DeShone Kizer as his starter, the second round pick from Notre Dame with unique traits and high upside. Actually, unique might not be the right word; Kizer is unique in the sense that he actually looks the part of an AFC North quarterback, unlike a lot of his predecessors. This was on display in his first NFL touchdown:
On the sneak, the 6’4” Kizer gets walloped by linebacker Tyler Matakevich and still manages to plunge into the endzone. Not only did he score on the play, but he popped right up, clearly pumped to prove that he belongs in the NFL. While he made some mistakes like holding onto the ball too long and throwing a pick, it could be argued from his debut that Kizer very much looks like the guy that Cleveland has been looking for since 1999. He’ll be tested by a rugged Ravens defense that shut down veteran Andy Dalton in Week 1. But if he shows the same moxie that he did against Pittsburgh, there’s no reason the rookie can’t at least keep things somewhat close.
While they’ll have several days to prepare for a team that they usually manage to sweep each season, the Ravens would be wise not to overlook the Browns on Sunday. For the reasons listed, they might just prove to be a tougher test than normal. Considering they kept things so close with the supposed class of the AFC North in Week 1, they could in fact show an ability to so in Baltimore’s home opener.