Heading into battle against the Baltimore Ravens, the Browns knew they would have to take their play to another level if this team was going to be competitive against, much less defeat, the defending division champs. Romeo Crennel's squad knew that minimizing turnovers, limiting big plays, and maintaining a resemblance of consistency was going to be critical.
By jumping out to a quick 14-0 on a Baltimore team which has a fair share of issues on the offensive side of the ball, the Browns put themselves in prime position to make a statement. Playing with confidence, quarterback Derek Anderson minimized his mistakes, made quick and decisive reads, and made some big plays downfield to keep the Baltimore defense from controlling the game.
Consistency and patience were the keys to the Browns 27-13 victory against the rival Ravens, as the Cleveland rushing game was just enough of a threat to keep the Ravens somewhat honest. The story of the game, however, had to be the play of Anderson and an offensive line which pass protected extremely well against a Baltimore defense that attacked and schemed throughout the contest, to no avail.
Anderson was rarely hurried and remained untouched by a Baltimore defense which is as aggressive as any in the game. Up 7-0 in the first quarter, following a Leigh Bodden interception of a Steve McNair pass, the Browns struck pay-dirt with a resounding thud which startled the favored Ravens.
From the 22-yard line, Anderson lofted a perfectly thrown strike to wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who had gotten behind Chris McAllister for the score. On a simple go route, McAllister guessed incorrectly and Edwards easily scampered behind the Ravens number-one cornerback. For as big as the play was in creating confidence on the part of the Browns, the quick strike against the Baltimore defense shocked what appeared to be an over-confident Ravens defense.
Maintaining an aggressive offensive game plan, the Browns attacked the Baltimore defense throughout the first 30 minutes, with the Browns holding a 24-6 lead heading into the half.
The attacking scheme of the Cleveland offense was not much different than what the team has been attempting throughout the first three weeks of the season. Power rushing Jamal Lewis was used to loosen the defense, and to lure the Ravens into bringing an additional defender into the box. Then, Anderson would attack the Ravens vertically. Despite making a couple of ill-advised throws into coverage, Anderson was able to get away with the mistakes and take advantage of a Baltimore secondary that did not play well in the seams.
Along with Edwards, tight-end Kellen Winslow continues to be one of the biggest threats in the game. Using his size, strength, and speed, safeties, as well as cornerbacks have been hard-pressed to match his ability and desire.
Defensively, the Browns did not give up big plays, which had hampered this team over the first three weeks of the season. The much-maligned defensive backfield kept the play in front of the backs, and the coverage appeared to be somewhat more aggressive in nature. Poor tackling contributed to Baltimore running back Willis McGahee rushing for 104 yards on the day, as the run defense was not grossly out of position, as it had been throughout this early portion of the season.
The return of outside linebacker Willie McGinest helped the defense, especially against the run. While McGinest's name is not scattered throughout the box score, his presence and ability against the run was a factor. As was the case in the Browns win over the Cincinnati Bengals, the defense did not stop the run, but the overall rushing game was kept relatively under control.
While the Ravens did not run wild against the Cleveland defense, the play of the linebackers remains a concern for the Browns. Inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson continues to struggle getting off blocks and getting shielded off plays. Andra Davis was as active as he has been in recent memory and may have benefitted from the return of McGinest.
Outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley was more focused on his rush responsibilities and was not attacking the quarterback with the frequency of earlier games. Once the Ravens were in the position of having to throw the ball after falling behind, late in the game Wimbley went into pass rusher mode and created havoc on a couple plays late in the game.
A concerning aspect coming out of this Browns victory was the inability to sustain a pass rush against a Baltimore offensive line which is not regarded as being a solid unit. Though the defensive line and blitz packages rarely pressured McNair, the linemen, blitzing defensive backs, and linebackers did a solid job in getting into the passing lanes
As we noted in our radio broadcast from Shula's Steak 2 this past week, the Browns wanted to put the Baltimore offense in a position where they had to beat them through the air, which the Cleveland defense achieved and was never in a position of losing the game. Rookie cornerback Eric Wright played well and maintained his responsibility in the zone considerably better, coming off a game against the Oakland Raiders when he was victimized often. Daven Holly and Leigh Bodden were solid in coverage and were aggressive, until the later stages of the game when the defense was in prevent.
Following the blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener, the Browns have just played their best stretch of competitive football in the Romeo Crennel/Phil Savage era. Where the defense has taken a step back in the early going of the season, it is the offense which is making their mark and keeping this team in games.
Crennel is too experienced a coach on the defensive side of the ball not to make some adjustments to slowing the bleeding of this defense, which began with some interesting personnel packages and constant rotations throughout the defensive unit, much like the Browns next opponent does on a consistent basis.
If the past four weeks hadn't been a test, next up for the Browns is a visit to Foxboro to face former head coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
- Linebacker Leon Williams played with aggression against the run and was better than average when dropping into coverage. On a couple occasions, Williams ended-up in coverage again Baltimore tight-end Todd Heap, covering him well.
- As the season progresses, the Browns may be best served to give backup running back a few carries. His quickness to the hole was impressive running behind Eric Steinbach and Joe Thomas, when spelling Lewis.
- Joe Thomas neutralized Terrell Suggs, the Ravens best pass rusher throughout the day to the point Suggs was only mentioned on a couple tackles.
- While many teams go out of their way to get a body on Baltimore inside linebacker Ray Lewis, the Browns followed their game plan and did not do anything of out of the normal to avoid the former All-Pro.
- As important as it was for this Browns team to get off to a good start against the Ravens, another important aspect of the game was the Browns physical presence. Neither the Baltimore offensive or defensive lines were able to manhandle the Cleveland lines, which played a factor in the Browns efforts to run the football and protect Anderson. In the past, the Ravens would muscle the Browns and wear them down, but not Sunday, as the Browns were strong at the point of attack.