When the Ravens have the football: Expect offensive coordinator Jim Fassel to do everything he can to press his advantage with running back Jamal Lewis, who got cranked up last week with a season-high 95 yards. The Browns represent the third-worst rushing defense in the NFL across the line of scrimmage, so why not work the run and allow the offensive line to do what it does best. Plus, quarterback Anthony Wright threw two interceptions last week and is prone to throwing into heavy traffic. Why take chances when the team is on the brink of disaster? Although Lewis said he's not going to make any phone calls to middle linebacker Andra Davis this week to guarantee a career day as he did two years ago prior to his 295-yard outing, he's got to feel confident about his chances.
The Ravens are beginning to feel more comfortable with vertical passes,
mixing in some intermediate stuff to go with their typical diet of passes that
are short of the first-down marker. They've been talking about getting
first-round draft pick Mark Clayton more involved for weeks. When's that going
to happen? They should try a double-move against former Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter. They know he couldn't cover it when he was in Baltimore. Cleveland has
been blitzing safety Chris Crocker extensively. He was sent after the
quarterback 10 times against the Bears, so blitz protection is critical.
Key matchup: RB Jamal Lewis vs. MLB Andra Davis
This is a physical encounter between two friends who have competed since high school. It's a matchup between two strong, sizable athletes. When the 5-foot-11, 245-pound Lewis and 6-1, 250-pound Davis collide, it's bound to be hard-hitting football.
How the Ravens can win:
1. Establish the run. The Browns have proven highly susceptible to Jamal Lewis in the past as the 245-pound bruiser averages l47.6 rushing yards against Cleveland, including an NFL-record 295-yard outing in 2003. Although held to 57 and 81 yards in the series last season for his worst season total in his four years against Cleveland, Lewis is capable of running roughshod. The Browns rank 30th against the run, allowing 137.8 rushing yards per contest. Lewis' average against Cleveland is the highest against one team in the league's modern era.
2. Hold on to the football. Baltimore is minus-9 in turnovers, ranking 31st in the league. By comparison, the Browns are a healthy plus-3. It makes a major difference in winning and losing. Even a team with supposedly inferior talent like the depleted Browns has a .500 record because they play careful, disciplined football.
3. Control their emotions. The Ravens' epic meltdown in Motown contributed heavily to the national and local perception that this team is out of control and not listening to coach Brian Billick. The Ravens are 0-3 this year when losing the penalty ratio. They can't have a repeat of last Sunday or their season will fall into oblivion.
When the Browns have the football: The Browns unveiled their primary game plan last week against the Chicago Bears. They've evolved into a pass-centric team because of running back Lee Suggs' absence due to a broken thumb and quarterback Trent Dilfer's improving confidence and comfort level under offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon.
The Ravens will have to guard Antonio Bryant, who leads the Browns with 21 receptions for 255 yards and two touchdowns. Frisman Jackson and Dennis Northcutt are capable downfield targets, too. The offensive line does a nice job of protecting Dilfer, which could make the Ravens' cause more difficult. The Ravens will send Terrell Suggs after Dilfer. Ed Reed could be used on the blitz if they can spare him in deep coverage.
Dilfer's intangibles are a major factor for a Cleveland team that lacked
leadership prior to his arrival. Trailing 10-6 last week, Dilfer found Bryant
twice for touchdowns with his last scoring strike putting the game away with
2:24 remaining. As tight end Aaron Shea aptly puts it about the Browns' approach
under Dilfer: "He leads. We follow."
Key matchup: QB Trent Dilfer vs. SS Ed Reed
Reed has only broken up one pass this season as quarterbacks have consciously avoided him. The two-time Pro Bowl safety has no interceptions. Dilfer has the guts and wherewithal to challenge the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year downfield. Will his boldness cost him?
How the Browns can win:
1. Throw the football deep. Trent Dilfer -- yes the same Trent Dilfer who used to quarterback the offensively-challenged Ravens when they were in the Super Bowl -- has a 91.5 passer rating and has thrown six touchdowns with only four interceptions. He's playing some of the best football of his career. He's only been sacked six times. His receivers are averaging 11.3 yards per catch, including long gains of 80, 68 and 62 yards. Dilfer has five touchdowns of 25 yards or more. Antonio Bryant's star-crossed career has been revived.
2. Bait Anthony Wright into a crucial mistake. He keeps staring down his primary read and has more interceptions (six) than touchdowns (four) with an interception frequency of 4.7 percent on just 129 attempts. He's already had two interceptions returned for scores. The Browns have four interceptions, including two from cornerback Daylon McCutcheon.
3. Establish some kind of running game to take pressure off of Dilfer. Without shifty Lee Suggs (broken thumb), this may be very difficult. Reuben Droughns has no touchdowns and only averages 3.9 yards per carry. He's strictly an inside runner. Typically, that doesn't work too well against a stout Ravens defense that ranks eighth against the run.
In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.