The Ravens have not faired well in their last two games at Cleveland Browns Stadium but they are chomping at the bit to play this one. The Ravens are allowing 32 rushing yards per game while the Browns are allowing 158. This is a must win for the Browns.
The key to the Ravens offense has thus far been the defense. Forcing 9 turnovers in 2 games is a great way to allow the offense to work the short side of the field.
Quarterback Steve McNair is avoiding the mistakes that have plagued the Ravens offense in the past, although he has not shown the type of production many expected. McNair is simply allowing the defense to do its job without putting them in bad situations.
Steve McNair is focusing on two primary targets, receiver Derrick Mason along with tight end Todd Heap. Heap has tremendous hands and is willing to put his body on the line to make the play. He is the safety valve for McNair.
Mason is simply a big play threat anytime the ball is in the air. He has lost a step but speed does not make a receiver great. Mason is successful due to the way he plays the game. He outworks defenders. The McNair/Mason combination has dominated the league in the past and that chemistry between the two remains intact.
The Ravens rushing attack is something that has given many Browns' fans nightmares. Jamal Lewis is questionable but should be ready to go Sunday. The key to stopping Jamal is getting to him before he gets going. Once the big back gets into full stride, he is virtually impossible to bring down.
It's no secret that Jamal Lewis is going to run behind pro bowl tackle Jonathon Ogden. This line enjoys run blocking and Ogden may be the best in the game at pure run blocking. He is however showing signs of wear and tear, which makes him vulnerable to the elite edge rushers. Overall, this is a very experienced offensive line but not the most talented group.
The Ravens defense is purely dominating. They are the toped ranked defense in the league and have yet to allow a single touchdown. The Ravens defense is aggressive, hard hitting and they make their living by forcing mistakes.
Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan is a mad scientist and this defense may be his greatest creation to date. Rex enjoys creating mass confusion as it is often difficult to tell exactly what defense they are in. He will use the 3-4, 4-3 and will even place 5 linebackers on the field at the same time.
The defense lives and dies with the front 4. This is a big physical group of defensive linemen that can keep the offensive linemen pushed into the lap of the quarterback. The initial push does not allow for successful runs inside the tackle.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was on the wish list of many Browns fans on draft day but thanks to a trade worked out between the two rival franchises, Ngata became a Raven and now is a major key in their success. Ngata has to be chomping at the bit after watching footage of Joe Andruzzi. If Ngata is getting penetration it will be a long day for the Browns offense.
The Ravens linebackers make few mental mistakes. They punish running backs and quarterbacks with hard hits but their ability to slide out into coverage is often overlooked. They move with the offense and have that react and react mindset which puts them in position to stop plays before they get started. They also excel at the solo tackle.
The secondary is the best in football with Samari Rolle, Chris McAllister, and Ed Reed along with rookie safety Dawan Landry. The secondary's passion is to punish the smaller receivers with bone jarring hits but against the larger receivers they become more cautious in making the tackle instead of looking for that bone jarring hit. They are also a group of route jumpers and risk takers. Any lazy pass is likely to go in the opposite direction for six points.
Charlie Frye has looked like a rookie on the verge of breaking free from the ties that bind young quarterbacks but it is becoming more and more obvious that the quick dink and duck offense is not best suited for Charlie and the weapons at his disposal.
Charlie is a mid to deep area passer. The mid range area is where the Ravens are most vulnerable, behind the linebackers in front of the secondary. In order for Charlie to find success Sunday, he must avoid the lazy lob pass that the Ravens love. Use of the play action pass, will be vital for the offense.
This will be the staunchest test for the Browns offensive line. Haloti Ngata versus guard Joe Andruzzi may be the one match-up that will decide this contest. Physically there is no possible way Joe can match Haloti. Joe must use his experience along with a steady supply of cut blocks to contain this monster. Haloti's one weakness is that he does not protect his legs. The cut block will slow him down and could open running lanes as the game progresses. Cutting at the legs isn't pretty but it can be pretty effective.
There is also the match up of Terrell Suggs and left tackle Kevin Shaffer. Suggs is a pure sack artist that can and will exploit any hesitation by the opposing tackle. Kevin must hit him hard on each and every play. The use of play action by the quarterback will allow Kevin to rock Suggs at the line and then fall into pass protection stance.
The Browns are struggling to run the ball and that will not change Sunday. The Ravens are going to jam the middle and force the run outside, using their speed to stop the play before it develops. The Browns will have to mix in some inside runs to keep the defense honest, while fullback Terrelle Smith should look to target Ray Lewis. While Ray is looking to punish the running back, the fullback will be attempting to punish the aged linebacker.
Jerome Harrison could see a great deal of playing time this week due to an injured shoulder of Reuben Droughns. Jerome can be a vital weapon and safety valve for the quarterback. If you can make the initial tackler miss, there is opportunity for the big gain. Jerome should look to take that inside run and bounce it outside the tackle. If the linemen can seal the backside, Jerome can find huge gains. If they fail to seal, he could find himself on injured reserves.
The Browns receiving weapons are killing the offense and Charlie Frye. You simply can not drop passes at the rate it has been happening. Braylon Edwards has 7 drops in 2 games and the only receiving option who has shown any consistency is K2. Winslow will be the target early and often and he is the one mismatch that the Browns can use to loosen up the defense.
Look for Edwards to use the double move down the sideline in order to free himself from the route jumping secondary. If Charlie can sell the pump fake along with the receivers using the stop and go, the deep post is a definite option this week.
The Browns defense has been very disappointing and now they have even more injuries to overcome. This however is a game they can use as a momentum builder. In order for them to be successful, the Browns players must limit their mental mistakes especially with the linebackers and secondary. Both groups are not playing the zone the way it is meant to be played.
We have seen the linebackers fail to drop deep enough into coverage to take the angles away from the quarterback. They have also shown a tendency to abandon the gap integrity before the play develops which is allowing some of those cut back runs.
Despite the negatives of youth, this group is showing the ability to penetrate and disrupt. Kamerion Wimbley will have a difficult time if he allows veteran tackle Jonathon Ogden to control him at the line of scrimmage. He must use his speed to get beneath the pad level and penetrate the pocket. If Kamerion is successful, it will force the run into the lap of the inside backers. It will also keep pressure on Steve McNair.
Also look for Chaun Thompson to see additional playing time at outside linebacker. He is simply too fast for Tony Pashos to contain. If Chaun can eliminate the hesitation that he has shown in the past, he could have a tremendous day.
The most vital key, for this defense, is jamming Todd Heap at the line. Hit him hard and make him fight to get past those first 5 yards. If you can slow his progress, you take away a vital receiving option for the quarterback.
The true struggle for the defense is the secondary and without cornerback Gary Baxter, it just became a great deal more difficult for the secondary. Leigh Bodden should follow Derrick Mason where ever he goes. There is absolutely no circumstance in which Leigh shouldn't be in Derrick's pocket.
The Browns best option. to replace Gary Baxter, will be Antonio Perkins. Antonio has not played a single down for the Browns but he is very familiar with former Oklahoma teammate Mark Clayton. It may not be the best situation for the Browns but anytime a corner faces off against a familiar opponent the advantage goes to the corner. The corner should know the tendencies of the receiver, how he uses his hands to separate, the tell signs of when he is making his cut or when he is selling the stop and go routes.
The nickel cornerback position is honestly more of a concern than the thoughts of Antonio Perkins making his first start. The nickel back is being played by Ralph Brown and abused by every quarterback the Browns have faced since preseason. Ralph is simply a step slow in coverage and is not making the tackles for this defense to be successful. Rookie slot receiver, Demetrius Williams will be a difficult task for veteran Ralph Brown. Williams explodes in his breaks and although the ball has not come his way often, he is getting open especially on the deep crossing routes.
Any success the Browns will have defensively must start up front and that will not be an easy task, especially if Orpheus Roye isn't able to suit up this week. This however has provided rookie defensive linemen Babatunda Oshinowo the opportunity to step up and display his talent. Baba could see a great deal of playing time this week and he will be asked to help stop one of the games elite running backs. If the front three can get pressure, it will make life much easier for the linebackers as well as the defensive backs.
This is a very winnable game for the Browns but in order to get that win they must get off to a quick start by putting points on the board. The Ravens have never been a good team at coming from behind. They like to get the lead early, pin their ears back and wreck havoc in the pocket. When they are playing from behind they are not the same defense.
It is often said that games are decided in the fourth quarter, but this week it may very well be decided in the first five minutes of the contest.