Browns - Ravens Game Preview

Lane examines Sunday's Ravens - Browns contest, offering his views on the teams' strengths and weaknesses. The strategies for the offensive and defensive units of both teams is examined. Must-reading prior to this key game...

Cleveland Browns (7-7) vs. Baltimore Ravens (7-7)

Ravens 2nd in AFC North Division; Browns 3rd in AFC North Division.

Baltimore leads series record 5-2, including a 26-21 victory over the Browns in Cleveland on October 6th.

Last meeting highlights: The game was not nearly as close as the final score (26-21) would indicate. Dominated at the line of scrimmage, offensively and defensively, the Browns were down 20-0 before staging an attempt at a late game comeback. Baltimore's All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis was knocked out of the game with a separated shoulder. Browns quarterback Tim Couch was knocked out of the game with a concussion and backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb rallied the Browns in the fourth quarter. A Holcomb pass was intercepted in the end zone in the final seconds of the game by rookie safety Ed Reed to secure the victory for the Ravens.

Baltimore on Offense:

The Ravens are at their best when putting the ball into the hands of running back Jamal Lewis. When Lewis carries the ball in excess of 20-times, the Ravens have been virtually unbeatable. In the first meeting between the two teams, Lewis rushed for 187 yards.

Veteran quarterback Jeff Blake has replaced Chris Redman at quarterback and has helped stabilize a young offensive unit with few playmakers. The Ravens motto has remained the same since their Super Bowl season on 2000: play physical football at the line of scrimmage and pound the football at the opposition.

Tight-end Todd Heap leads the Ravens with 54-receptions and has become Blake's favorite receiver during the second half of the season. Travis Taylor is second on the team with 53-receptions, but inconsistency has hampered his progress. Lewis has rushed for 1142 yards for an average of 4.2-yards per carry and has 44 receptions.

The Ravens will utilize a two tight-end set to maximize their blocking sets in the running game, while providing additional blocking protection in the passing game. Baltimore will pound the ball between the tackles, occasionally bouncing the run outside against overly aggressive defenders who load the box. Look for the Ravens to establish the run early against the Browns and utilize play action to loosen the Browns defense. Baltimore has shown a tendency to throw the out routes and seam routes exclusively in the passing game.

Browns on Defense:

The Browns will need to find a way to solidify a rush defense that surrenders an average of 130.6 yards per game and surrendered 201 yards on the ground to the Ravens in their early October contest.

In the initial meeting of the season, the Browns defensive line was manhandled by the Ravens. Poor tackling and consistent lateness to the point of attack led to Baltimore blowing up the Browns linebackers and defensive backs in the rushing and passing games. Cleveland was their own worst enemy in the contest, frequently unable to fight off the Baltimore guards, fullback, and tight-end's blocks on the linebackers and defensive backs. Baltimore is one of the better downfield blocking teams in the league.

Expect the Browns to press more at the corners and blitz a defensive back and/or an outside linebacker to rattle Blake early in the contest into mistakes that he is prone to making. Safety Robert Griffith and middle linebacker Earl Holmes will need to be at the top of their game to stop Lewis as the Ravens are expected to consistently run the ball at the Browns. Starting defensive tackles Orpheus Roye and Gerard Warren will be expected to maintain their responsibilities and keep the guards off of Holmes. If the Browns defense can win the battle at the line of scrimmage, they believe they will win the game.  

Baltimore on Defense:

Gone are the likes of Ray Lewis, Rod Woodson, Duane Starks, Rob Burnett, Tony Siragusa, and Jamie Sharper. The off season purge of high-priced veteran players was supposed to rob the Ravens of their very strong defense. Add into the equation that defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis left for Washington, Baltimore was viewed as a young team that would have monumental troubles.

Well, they haven't run into those troubles. This Ravens defense isn't as tough and dominating of those Baltimore defenses in recent memory, but they are indeed improving and a tremendous challenge for the Browns.

Playing the 3-4 defense, the Ravens have suffered some after losing Ray Lewis to season ending shoulder surgery, but in his place Ed Hartwell has had the opportunity to shine.

The Ravens do not generate much of a consistent pass rush with their defensive linemen, they tend to blitz a defensive back or linebacker to help pressure the quarterback. The Ravens defensive specialty is to fly to the ball, stuff the run with their active linebackers, and keep everything in front of them. This scheme will be a challenge to the Browns who have tasted success in the rushing game over the past five weeks. Baltimore generally will challenge an opposing quarterback to beat them downfield. The Ravens will play a cover-two defensive scheme and they have shown the tendency to drop a linebacker back into the intermediate zones.

Browns on Offense:

For the Browns to win this football game they must protect the football, be consistent, and minimize the mental mistakes. While having some success in the rushing game should be perceived as a must for the Browns to grind a victory out against the Ravens, they will struggle with the speed and aggressiveness of the linebackers. The Ravens safeties are young and relatively inexperienced, and have shown playmaking ability, but they also are susceptible to mistakes in coverage. This is an area that the Browns may have a significant advantage.

Tim Couch and his ability to audible at the line of scrimmage will be factor in this game. If the Ravens stack the box and challenge Couch to beat them, as many opponents have in recent weeks, the Browns are going to have to use the aggressiveness of the Baltimore defense to their advantage.

The Ravens defense plays within a seven-yard area, sideline to sideline, as well as any team in the league. The intermediate areas are where the Browns will have to attack. The slant routes will be there for the Browns taking - this is a pattern that the Ravens have shown - as their safeties can be looked off.

For the Browns to be successful, they will have to attack the line of scrimmage and sustain enough of a running game to keep the Ravens defense honest. Couch must get the offense in the correct sets to expose weaknesses in the Baltimore defense. This is something that he did not do well during their first meeting of the season.

The Browns offense, for the most part, has struggled against the Baltimore defense during their four seasons back in the league. The Ravens defensive stunts, movement, and athleticism have at times overwhelmed the Browns offensive line, which has served to create some of the marginal offensive performances the Browns have had against Baltimore.

The potential threat of a running game, improved play of the offensive line, and increased weaponry at the offensive skill positions should be more than enough for the Browns to take the game to the Ravens.

In the End:

The Ravens will be fired up playing at home in a game with unexpected playoff implications. There is a feeling within the ranks of the Ravens that they have an emotional advantage over the Browns and that they have a physiological advantage on Tim Couch. Rarely has Couch played well against the Ravens, but he will need to for the Browns to be victorious on Sunday.

This will be a tough physical football game, if the Browns can contain Jamal Lewis and Couch manages the offense within his abilities, the Browns can win this game.

All things aside, either Lewis or Couch will shine and the one who does will lead his team to victory.

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