The 0-2 Cleveland Browns face their first divisional opponent on Sunday as they head to Baltimore to challenge the 2-0 Ravens. The Browns are struggling mightily but a win against Baltimore gets them right back in the race - and it is a marathon not a sprint.
Browns Offense vs. Ravens Defense
The Cleveland Browns offense thus far is a complete and utter failure of functionality and discipline, while the play calling is horrendous. Brian Daboll has shown no ability to put the Browns quarterback nor the Browns offense in a position to succeed. He isn't the only problem but his inexperience as well as competence is a question heading into this contest.
Personnel decisions have also hindered this offense and that comes directly from head coach Eric Mangini. In his attempt to fix the Browns offensive line, Mangini appears to have plugged the leaky dam with plastic explosive. In 2007 the Browns offensive line gave up 19 sacks. In 2008 the number increased to 24.. In just two games into the 2009 season the Browns have given up 9 sacks.
The Ravens will look to increase that sack total astronomically by targeting Browns tackle John St. Claire. St. Claire has been the major culprit in the sack fest. I would not be surprised if Baltimore moves outside linebacker Terrell Suggs to the left side of the defensive front. This will isolate him against the right tackle St. Claire and force the Browns to use a tight end to keep the outside defender in check.
The Browns have one legitimate receiving threat and that is Braylon Edwards. Joshua Cribbs along with veteran Mike Furrey have struggled to gain marginal separation and Cribbs mistakes have been costly. Josh simply isn't ready to carry the load of a number two. Poor route running, drop passes along with a costly fumble has been devastating. The Browns should look to rookie receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. He is explosive in and out of his breaks and he could provide a much needed spark for a struggling offense.
The Browns will need the speed of Mohamed along with Edwards's ability to get deep against the Ravens secondary. That secondary is the weak link when facing the Ravens but the quarterback must make Ed Reed commit to one of the receivers and then get the ball to the other. To do this you have to be able to sell the pump fake and draw Reed away from your intended target.
Brady Quinn is holding the ball to long and he appears afraid to take risks downfield. You can not beat the Ravens by playing small ball. The short game simply allows the defense to cheat closer to the line and that takes away not only the short passing game but also the running game. No one believes Brady Quinn will throw it deep and even if he throws it deep most teams do not believe he is capable of making the throw with any consistency. Until Quinn proves it, the Ravens as well as every other team in football is going to challenge him to throw the ball down the field.
Without the deep ball it does not matter who is playing running back because they will not gain a yard against the Ravens front 7. Jamal Lewis is nursing a hamstring and his ability to go Sunday against his former team remains in doubt. If Lewis is unable to go, look for the Browns to go small with a combination of Jerome Harrison and rookie James Davis.
Rookie center Alex Mack has struggled in his first two contests and it won't get any easier against the likes of Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata. The key to this one is stopping Gregg and Ngata from blowing up the offensive line. If they are pressuring from the interior then the Browns have no chance at all in this one.
The Browns best chance in this one is to use max protection by keeping both tight ends in to block. This will build a wall around your quarterback and allow the speedy Harrison to possibly bounce out some good runs to the outside. It will also allow for extra effort in keeping linebacker Ray Lewis from taking the game over.
Browns Defense vs. Ravens Offense
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is Derek Anderson with the ability to throw it short and use his dump down options. Joe is fearless with his throws and believes that there isn't a throw he can't make. Watching the young quarterback this year, you can't help but notice the difference one year has made. He is making the reads and showing so much patience in allowing plays to develop. This young man has the talent to become the best quarterback in the AFC. With a strong running game and a tenacious defense, he has the luxury of being able to take risks and make mistakes a luxury other quarterbacks aren't allowed.
The Browns have the corners to play honest against the Ravens receivers everywhere except for the nickel slot. Hank Poteat has killed the Browns with mistake after mistake. Rookie Coye Francies proved to be the best man for the job in camp and preseason but has yet to be given that opportunity over the experienced Poteat.
The Browns would also be well served to start the replacement search for several other positions on defense. Linebacker David Bowens is a one trick pony and that trick isn't very good. Alex Hall may lack experience but his speed and pass rush ability is more valuable than that experience. The same can be said for Eric Barton. Barton's play is simply unacceptable. He is slow and hesitant to make the play. He is a liability in the run game as well as in pass protection.
The Ravens love to pound the ball with their three headed monster at running back. Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and fullback LeRon McClain bring different dimensions to the game. Willis is fast and powerful and more what you expect as an every down back. Ray is super fast with great hands and a knack for hiding behind offensive linemen. LeRon is a big powerful bruiser that is perfect for short yardage situations but he is proving to be a better than advertised weapon when asked to become a receiving threat.
The inability of the Browns to make half time adjustments on defense is very disturbing. When they come out of halftime whatever momentum they had suddenly disappears and it appears as if the Browns defense is being out coached by opposing coordinators.
For the Ravens this is a "should win" and for the Browns it is a "must win." The Browns have far too much talent to be playing the way they are. If the Browns do not come together as a team then 0-16 is not just possible but very probable.
Eric Mangini didn't exactly endear himself to the players when he arrived so he will not receive player support the way Romeo Crennel did. The media has never been a fan of Mangini, so he can forget any calls for being patient. Browns fans may not have been thinking super bowl but they were thinking competitive. I may be wrong as I often am but this thing looks ready to blow and heads will roll. Stay tuned to the OBR, you don't want to miss a thing.