The Ravens offense must be licking their chops at facing the worst defense in football but they have their own issues to resolve. Their primary issue is the play of the offensive line. The Ravens offensive line is struggling to pick up the blitz and to create effective running lanes. Jason Brown is struggling and Browns defensive end Robaire Smith must take advantage. If he forces the Ravens to protect Brown, it will go a long way in solving some of the Browns defensive issues.
The Ravens appear to have decided to go with quarterback by committee by switching out Steve McNair and Kyle Boller. McNair has had trouble protecting the football as he has already lost the ball 4 times in just three games. He appears to be playing through pain but a concern for the Ravens is that he also appears to be slow in making decisions. If he struggles early we will see Boller.
Boller's play is vastly improved as he is getting the ball out much quicker than before. He is also showing improved decision making skills but he can still be erratic with his accuracy at times. Any time Boller is in the game the defensive backs should be alert for the overthrow.
Derek Mason is having a phenomenal year. His route running is crisper than ever before. He seems to be working the short underneath routes as a way to move the chains while his counterpart Mark Clayton works to get deep. The Ravens line hasn't given the quarterback enough time to locate the deep receiver.
Tight end Todd Heap is having another solid campaign. Todd uses his body to shield the defender as good as anyone in the league and he makes the tough catches over the middle. With Heap the goal should be to jam him at the line and take him out of the play. If he can't get off the line quickly, he doesn't have time to create separation.
Willis McGahee has allowed the Ravens to run outside the tackles. This is one of the reasons they felt the need to replace Lewis with McGahee. Willis has tremendous breakaway speed once he gets into the open field. The Browns must play with a great deal more discipline in their run defense. They will look to slide with the back and force him back inside. If you let him get to the edge, he is off to the races.
The Browns defense thus far has been atrocious. This defense has a tremendous amount of individual talent but there is no defensive chemistry. An average group of players can put together a very good defense through trust and cohesion with a solid foundation of fundamentals.
With Antwan Peek still nursing an injury, Chaun Thompson could see a greater role on Sunday at the outside linebacker position. Chaun's speed will be needed to contain Willis McGahee. Chaun has slowly been working his way back up the roster and is one of the few pleasant surprises for this season.
Kamerion Wimbley is finding out the downside to becoming a respected pass rusher in this league. He is getting all of the attention by opposing offenses. The strategy is simple. Double up on Wimbley and chip him at every opportunity and the Browns have no pass rush. This is where the coaching staff must become a bit more creative to free up the young outside linebacker. They should move him around and create mismatches and opportunities for the speed rusher. The mismatch that I would target is Adam Terry at right tackle. Terry is a big strong tackle but he lacks the bend and also the feet that you must possess to control Wimbley.
The inside backers have had virtually no help from the nose tackle but that is no excuse for the mistakes being made. The mistakes this group appear to be making are all basic fundamentals. D'Qwell Jackson could be a household name in this league. He has the talent. I do not understand why he is having trouble wrapping up and finishing tackles. Andra Davis is constantly being engulfed by the line clutter. Part of this is due to abandoning his gap integrity and just getting himself out of position to make the play. If five bodies are jammed together in one gap there is no reason to join the party, maintain your gap integrity. Discipline must be found especially with the cutback ability of McGahee. Over pursuit could see Lewis's rushing record versus the Browns shattered this week.
The secondary is being hung out to dry. They aren't playing well but Deion Sanders in his prime could not contain a one legged receiver in this defense. My biggest concern with this group isn't the fact they are getting torched but the fact they are playing soft. Safety Brodney Pool along with rookie corner Eric Wright had chances to stop Lamont Jordan on the screen pass last week and neither made any effort at all to become involved in the play. Its one thing to miss a tackle but making no attempt is unforgivable.
The most intriguing storyline this week has to be one-time Ravens Jamal Lewis and Derek Anderson facing their former teams. This is especially true as Jamal Lewis will be going head to head all day against Ray Lewis. Jamal will be looking to prove to the Ravens that they made a huge mistake in giving McGahee the money that he had earned.
This game however, is entirely dependent upon two factors, the deep pass and also the offensive line. Derek Anderson will find opportunity to throw it on the Ravens secondary. The key for Derek is to look off the safety. Ed Reed will have a career day if Anderson begins to eyeball his intended target. Look off the receiver and make the available play.
The offensive line will certainly have its hands full trying to contain the explosive Baltimore defense. Communication along the line is where they must be successful. Center Hank Fraley is the key to how well the Browns line does against the Ravens defense. He will be locked up with the best young nose tackle in football with Haloti Ngata. While cracking helmets with this monster will be a challenge, Hank will also be needed to make the quick adjustment line calls and recognizing the overloads. If you are a fan of trench warfare this is a great match up to watch.
Another expected battle in the trenches will be rookie Joe Thomas going against Terell Suggs. Suggs is one of the best sack artists in the league. The Ravens will look to overload the left side and confuse the young left tackle. If Joe has a great day, it will lead to Anderson having a great day. If Joe has a bad day, it will lead to Brady Quinn's debut.
I love fullback play and I can't help to get excited about Lawrence Vickers going head to head with Ray Lewis but I also am looking forward to seeing Vickers slipping that block against Lewis and filling that space vacated by the middle linebacker as he comes up in run support. Sell the play effectively and it could go the distance off of a great play action fake which Anderson does sell very well. If Jamal Lewis is to have the kind of day that he wants to post against the Ravens, Vickers have a huge performance as a lead blocker and also as a receiving weapon.
The Lewis-versus-Lewis match up is the one everyone wants to talk about. For Jamal to have success we have to see the Lewis we saw in week 2 versus the Bengals and not the dancing bear we saw against Oakland. Lewis can be a tremendous weapon when he is attacking north and south. Lewis is totally ineffective when he is hesitating.
Braylon Edwards is having a tremendous season. He is averaging almost 19 yards every time he touches the ball. With Samari Rolle out with injury and Chris McAlister vulnerable with the deep ball, Edwards should be a fantasy sleeper this week. The Browns should be looking for Edwards on every play and if the coverage is sliding over on Edwards then use Joe Jurevicius to slide into the vacated area.
Tight end Kellen Winslow will likely play through a shoulder injury suffered last week but he may also be asked to take more shots this week. With the defense keyed up to stop Lewis from running it and the secondary concentrating on stopping Edwards with the deep ball, Winslow should find the middle of the field open early and often.
Look for the Browns to run a bit of a hurry up offense this week. The Ravens have really struggled when teams have gone no huddle.
Rex Ryan is one of the most creative minds in all of football and he will undoubtedly have a game plan ready to confuse the Browns offense. The Ravens enjoy the confusion. They move people around so much it often looks like they have overloaded both sides of the line and also the middle. Just when you prepare for that, he will drop everyone back into coverage including the monster NT Haloti Ngata. He will show the 4-3, 3-4, 5-2 and even a 2-5. Catching the adjustment early is instrumental in success.
The play of defensive end Trevor Pryce has been phenomenal since his arrival from Denver. Ngata gets most of the press love but when I watch Pryce, I see someone who is constantly creating plays for everyone else by getting pressure and forcing the quarterback to move towards his blindside. Pryce suffered a broken wrist and that injury has made this defense look average.
The one area that appears to have slowed down a bit is the linebacker corps for the Ravens. They do not seem to flow into the secondary disrupting the passing angles as well as most expected. With the hard throwing Anderson, this will leave opportunity for the run after catch if the pass comes in stride. I still maintain the best way to stop Lewis from taking over the game is to attack him play after play with the fullback. With Lewis's age he can become worn down. "Punish the punisher" should be the philosophy for the Browns fullbacks on Sunday. They are also finding it more difficult to get to the quarterback and that is exposing the secondary.
The Ravens secondary is one of the better units in football when the pass rush is working. Their trouble for the secondary is when they become so wrapped up in the play in front of them that they forget the play behind them. Chris McAlister and Ed Reed love to make the play on the ball by running the route for the receiver and anytime a quarterback hesitates and gives them a chance to make a play they can turn it into points. The Browns receivers must become a bit of a defender this week in order to protect their quarterback from making the costly error. When the pass rush isn't coming the Browns must expose this secondary.
Joshua Cribbs is rapidly becoming one of the most feared men on the kickoff. Cribbs has decent speed but his patience to allow the running lanes to develop makes him special. The Ravens will look to kick it deep to prevent the return.
The Ravens have an excellent return man of their own in Yamon Figurs. The Browns would be better served in angling their kicks and pinning Yamon to the corner. Yamon may be even more dangerous returning punts than kicks.