At the midway point of the season, the (1-7) Browns are indeed the worst team in the National Football League. The positive is there is nowhere to go but up and maybe the first signs of moving up came from the defense two weeks ago, against the Bears. Now is the time for the youth movement to take over, as this team's success will no longer be measured in wins and loses, but in progression.
The Baltimore Ravens destroyed the Browns in week three when they appeared to be a team that would be competing for home field advantage during the playoffs. Now, this Ravens team is looking rather average, as they sit at four wins and four loses. The divisional crown is probably out of their reach and they need wins if they want to stay in the wildcard race.
Ravens Offense vs. Browns Defense
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron seems to be inside the mind of the Cleveland Browns, as his offense can do no wrong when facing the Browns. The Browns drop into a zone and be rewarded with a delayed handoff that goes for big yards. Bring pressure and quarterback John Flacco hits his favorite target Derrick Mason. The Browns just seem a step behind when facing Cameron and Flacco.
The good news for the Browns defense is that the Ravens offense has gotten away from true Baltimore Ravens football - power running. I look at the Raven's offensive line and I see man-for-man a terrific group of linemen with the physical talent to be one of the best run blocking units in football. The problem is that the talent is not translating to production as this group has a tendency to forget who they are and try to finesse rather than being the brutal maulers they should be.
Part of it is the play calling as Ravens have become more pass-happy, but this team has a different mental makeup on both sides of the ball when the offensive line is knocking opposing defenses to the ground. Another issue is that the talented Ray Rice has become the focal point at running back instead of sharing the load with the more powerful Willis McGahee and fullback LeRon McClain.
The Ravens are now a quick-hitter offense with Rice shooting the gaps with speed. Rice is equally effective as a receiver, especially with the screen pass, and the Browns offense should take notes on how to run an effective screen from the Ravens. When facing a back like Ray Rice, the key is punishing him at every opportunity. Make him step up and take on the linebacker in pass protection. Whenever you get the opportunity, make the big hit or hold him up long enough for the next defender to make the big hit.
It is hard to rattle the young quarterback by mixing up the defense and trying to confuse him. Flacco practiced every single day against the Rex Ryan mass confusion as a rookie. The key to beating Flacco is not allowing him to step up into his throws. This is where nose tackle Shaun Rogers must step up and make life miserable for the veteran center Matt Birk. Rogers has picked up his play along with the rest of the defensive line. This group has the talent to be difference makers while imposing their physical will upon opposing offenses.
The Browns have now lost both starting interior linebackers for the season. What I do like about the group of young linebackers that are remaining along with David Bowens and Kamerion Wimbley is the level of intensity they seem to bring. Kaluka Maiava, David Veikune, and Jason Trusnik are having fun hitting people, and that attitude can be contagious. I also am looking forward to seeing Marcus Bernard, who was impressive in preseason, along with the possibility of an Alex Hall sighting.
Browns Offense vs. Ravens Defense
Brady Quinn is once again the Browns starting quarterback. Quinn is a much better quarterback than what he showed in the first three weeks. Derek Anderson is a much better quarterback than what he showed the last 5 weeks. There are issues on this team that go beyond quarterback and those issues must be addressed if this team has any chance not only in this contest but also in any game the remainder of the year.
The play calling alone was enough to justify firing the coordinator Brian Daboll and Eric Mangini for allowing it to happen. I hope that the bye week has allowed this part of the Browns issues to be corrected.
Another major issue is the offensive line. While rookie center Alex Mack has shown steady improvement, he was at his best when veteran Hank Fraley was in at right guard assisting in making the line calls. John St. Clair also appeared more comfortable at the right tackle position with Fraley lined up beside him. I do not understand the love fest that this group of coaches has shown Rex Hadnot, Floyd Womack and St. Clair. It is criminal what they have done to one of the better offensive lines in football.
Tight end has also gone from team strength to a joke. To be fair, the position has been decimated with injury. The injury is possibly due to a concussion from all of the balls bouncing off their facemasks. I do like Greg Estandia however and he may be worth keeping.
Jamal Lewis does not dance around questions as he does in the backfield but his latest outburst is great for the Browns. It may finally allow Jerome Harrison to show the world that he is capable of being a true number one back at this level.
Now that my rant is over, Harrison is the key to victory over the Ravens. This Ravens defensive front seven lacks lateral speed. They have difficulty against running backs with cutback ability and Jerome Harrison has that ability and more. The Ravens want to bottle up everything when a run comes to the inside. You have to show the ability inside in order to make them commit, but once they commit you can get outside the tackle.
The Browns with Harrison can run the ball and that will force safety help and that is when the Ravens become vulnerable deep. In order for Harrison to have success, he will need help from the passing game.
Brady Quinn reminds me a whole lot of Drew Brees early in his career. Drew had a tendency to roll through his progressions too quickly and he did not allow plays to develop. It took game time experience for Drew to break this habit. Brady needs to be given a chance to rise above the chaos surrounding the Browns.
In order for Brady to find success, his rookie receiver tandem of Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi must also be allowed to find their timing with their quarterback. With every catch they make, their confidence will grow and the football will look like beach balls coming at them. Likewise, with every catch the receiver makes, Quinn's target gets bigger and bigger. The talent is there, the confidence is not, but that can change against a Baltimore secondary that is struggling.
Free safety Ed Reed is arguably the best defensive player in football. Brady Quinn must identify Reed and use the shoulder fake to draw Reed away from his intended target. If Reed does not go for it, then you do not throw in his direction. It is simple - avoid Reed and you give yourself a chance.
The Ravens will be bringing pressure throughout this contest and you can bet the right side of the line will be a prime target. One of the problems however for this defense is producing that consistent pass rush without becoming vulnerable. Rex Ryan was masterful at hiding weakness and I have yet to see that from Greg Mattison. Greg has a bright future in this league but just like the previous defensive coordinators for the Ravens, Greg must find his own style and run with it.
It is Monday Night Football. All eyes will be on the Browns and it is time for this team to pick up the intensity. For fans, it's easy - be loud and be proud of your team.