1.) Attacking the 4-4-3 alignment: In the first match-up against Cleveland, the Ravens offense was blindsided by the Browns' use of the 4-4-3 defensive formation to defend Jamal Lewis. The Ravens stayed in their base power running sets to pound away at the Browns' over stacked front, but Lewis was never able to pierce through Cleveland's first line of defense as he did in his previous games against the Browns.
Since that game, the Ravens have still faced eight man fronts, but the coaches have done a slightly better job of using different personnel to expose that particular defensive alignment. Specifically, they have countered the four-linebacker look by using an extra receiver or tight end in the passing game.
With the emergence of Clarence Moore at the receiver position, the Ravens now have the flexibility to use more three, and even four-wide formations to spread out a defense. Moreover, Jamal Lewis has the ability to run the ball out of a one-back formation.
If Cleveland does deploy a fourth linebacker to defense Lewis as they did in the first match-up, the Ravens should counter by taking Alan Ricard off the field, and using a third receiver. While the Brown linebackers have good speed, there is not any linebacker in the league that can cover a wide receiver one-on-one.
2.) Feeding the ball to No.31: Without Jamal Lewis, the Ravens have been able to establish a sound rushing attack, but it has not been quite effective with Lewis out of the lineup. Where the Ravens really missed Lewis was in short-yardage conversion situations. Chester Taylor lacked the power to gain the tough yards; Musa Smith lacked the awareness and recognition to hit the proper hole.
Clearly, Lewis also brings more to the table than being able to gain three yards and a cloud of dust. Lewis also has the ability to wear down a defensive front.
Being able to wear down Browns' front will be important, as Cleveland has an undersized front seven. If the Ravens can stick with the running game long enough, Lewis should be able to gash the Browns for a couple of long gains in the fourth quarter. Although Cleveland's tackling was much better in the last game, the Cleveland defense is still undisciplined, so the Ravens must continue to test their resolve.
3.) Protecting Brooks: Although Ethan Brooks played quite well against the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday, he is still someone that the Ravens may need to help out in pass protection situations against Cleveland's Kenard Lang. Lang had his way with Brooks in the opening face-off against the Browns, sacking Kyle Boller three times. The main reason for Lang's success is that he was able to overpower Brooks at the point of impact.
At the start of the rematch, Brooks should be allowed to handle Lang one-on-one, but if he should struggle, the Ravens should look to commit an extra blocker to aid Brooks in pass blocking situations. Either a back or a second tight end should help to chip Lang, forcing the other Cleveland lineman to win their match-ups up front.
Defensive Game Plan
1.) Staying in the rush lanes: One of the issues that the Ravens have had on defense this season has been keeping the quarterback from making plays outside of the pocket, whether that has been in situations against Donovan McNabb, Trent Green or Jeff Garcia.
Garcia was able to make enough plays on the move as either a passer or a runner to keep drives alive for Cleveland in the last game. In Sunday's match-up, it will be key for the Ravens front seven to stick with their assignments, and to stay controlled when rushing Garcia. In other words, the blitzing lineman and linebackers should not rush past Garcia, allowing him to step up in the pocket, and the linebackers should take proper angles when they try to tackle Garcia in the open field.
2.) Stopping the Run: One of the underrated aspects of Cleveland's offense is its rush attack. Lee Suggs and William Green have developed into a nice duo at the running back position. Suggs is a more patient inside runner than Green, while Green has more big play potential. The two are especially effective on the perimeter.
The Ravens have been stout against the run all season, and will need to continue that type of success against Suggs and Green. The emphasis should be to stop Cleveland from gaining any yardage on first and second down. The Browns will look to run the ball right at Ray Lewis just as they did in the first match-up. The Ravens defensive lineman will need to do a nice job of occupying blockers so that Lewis and Hartwell do not have to take on blocks, and are allowed to pursue the run sideline-to-sideline.