Underneath the Cleveland Browns 33-30 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens resides a tale of different philosophies on the defensive side of the ball, which almost proved costly for the Browns. An aggressive blitzing scheme derailed a questionable Baltimore offense in the first-half, only to watch the defensive backs lay-back and face an unexpected onslaught coming from the right arm of Ravens' quarterback Kyle Boller in the second.
Boller almost single-handedly willed the Ravens back into this game. Coming off a terrible first-half in which the Cleveland defense blitzed, stunted and completely stopped the Baltimore rushing attack, the Ravens offense would open up early in the second half and take the game to the dominating Browns.
What the Baltimore offense and Boller did to the Cleveland offense was basic football. Anticipating the Browns defense would continue its aggressive play, the Ravens quarterback simply went into quicker drops, resulting in short passes to soften up a lively Cleveland defense. The Cleveland defense sought to offset the increasingly short passing game by dropping a linebacker, which did not prove effective. Interestingly, the Browns pulled inside linebacker Andra Davis off the field in passing downs, replacing him with Leon Williams or Kamerion Wimbley. Again, the lack of quickness here results in such a move by the Browns.
Next, Baltimore intensified its offensive efforts on the ground by feeding the ball to running back Willis McGahee. As ineffective as the ground game was in the first half, the Ravens slightly adjusted their line blocking assignments to offset the push of the Cleveland defensive front seven, along with safety support.
Blocking down and utilizing the fullback, the Ravens were determined to seal off nose tackle Ethan Kelley. McGahee began to run off Kelley or where the line was pinching. With the Browns focused on the Baltimore passing game, moving the linebacker to compensate and providing less support from defensive backs, the Browns did not have the bodies in position to offset the Ravens offensive push at the line of scrimmage.
As the Baltimore offense became increasingly efficient in the second half of the game, the Cleveland defense suddenly became a shell of the aggressive unit we saw in the first 30 minutes of the game. Although the defense continued to pressure Boller and the Baltimore offense, the Ravens quarterback settled down and started to trust his receivers to make plays. With the Browns splitting time in zone and man coverage, Boller effectively utilized the experience of wide receiver Derrick Mason to get into a rhythm, as well as getting the defense to begin to bite on the short game.
The Cleveland defense continued to blitz, but with less frequency late in the game. Not wanting to give up a play over top of the defense, the team played to keep everything in front of them.
Give Boller credit. Under pressure for the majority of the afternoon, he played like a veteran in the second half of this game, made numerous tough throws, and recognized the coverage. As the Browns defensive backs anticipated short routes, the Baltimore offense ran a couple hitches which caught cornerback Daven Holly by surprise, and allowed Devard Darling to haul in an over-the-shoulder reception which helped turn the tide in favor of the Ravens.
In the fourth quarter with the Ravens driving, the Browns blew an assignment in coverage, resulting in a Ravens touchdown. Leigh Bodden had the coverage on Darling, and as he cleared the defensive back on the go, safety (Brodney Pool) was late in support.
A stunning first half performance by the Cleveland defense went by the wayside, as the Baltimore Ravens offense and a stellar second half performance by Kyle Boller made this a much tougher game that most thought it would be going into halftime.