September 14, 2013 in What to Look For
Week one was definitely a week to forget for the Baltimore Ravens as the Denver Broncos embarrassed them on national television 49-27. The Ravens need to bounce back this week against the 0-1 Cleveland Browns. There couldn't have been a better time for the Ravens to play the Browns as the Ravens have won their last 10 games against the the Browns, which is tied with the Broncos against the Browns for the longest active win streak against a single team.
Torched for seven touchdowns and 462 yards by Peyton Manning last week, the secondary needs to regroup, fast. While Brandon Weeden isn't exactly Manning, if the secondary plays like last week, even Weeden will have a game to remember.
Last week Weeden went 26-of-53 for 289 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions against the Miami Dolphins. This is what the Ravens will be looking to replicate this week.
One advantage that the Ravens will have is Browns top wide receiver, Josh Gordon, is suspended for this game, like last week. Gordon is Weeden's favorite target and looks ready to make the next step as a receiver. His suspension is huge as Greg Little has major drop issues and Davone Bess is just a slot receiver.
Tight end Jordan Cameron is the most threatening target now. His nine catches for 108 yards paced the Browns pass catchers last week. The Ravens didn't exactly have success covering tight ends against the Broncos, as Julius Thomas caught five passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Look for the Browns to try and use Cameron like the Broncos used Thomas last week. If they do, Cameron could cause major problems in the Ravens backend.
The only secondary player that had a good game last week was Lardarius Webb, who played outside and in the slot. Expect his consistent play to continue as he has the skill set to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, the only thing holding him back is injuries.
Three players need to greatly improve their play for the Ravens to succeed against the Browns: Michael Huff, Corey Graham, and Jimmy Smith. Anyone who watched the game against the Broncos knows that Huff's play was awful. Eventually, he was benched in favor of first-round pick Matt Elam. The position is called safety for a reason, and Huff was anything but a safety net for the Ravens last week. Graham had problems in coverage all night, from the slot and on the outside. During the Ravens' Super Bowl run, he played well so the Ravens will be hoping last game was an abnormality. Smith's play has always been up-and-down and the Broncos game was definitely a down.
Despite the Browns' passing game being a significant downgrade from the Broncos', the Ravens secondary will need to step up if they want to win this game.
As the Ravens number one receiving target, Smith will be covered by Haden all game long. Haden is the Browns best cover cornerback and is one of the better ones in the league.
Against the Broncos, Smith caught four passes for 92 yards despite the Broncos focusing heavily on defending Smith. Haden covered Mike Wallace last week, who has similar game-breaking ability to Smith, and held Wallace to one catch for 15 yards.
With the Ravens offense lacking weapons, quarterback Joe Flacco will be looking for Smith more than ever. Him and Rice are the top two targets in the passing game now with Dennis Pitta injured and Anquan Boldin traded away.
Over the last two seasons, Smith has been used as a deep threat and mainly ran deep routes. This season the Ravens will be having him run a full route tree with many more short and intermediate routes. Smith's speed can still be used a weapon with these routes as once he gets the ball, he can get yards after the catch.
Expect the Ravens to try and get the ball to Smith early, despite coverage from Haden. Haden should show he great coverage skills which means that Smith could be in for a long day. Considering the state of the other Browns cornerbacks, the Ravens would be better off just targeting the other cornerbacks, even if it means Smith has a quite day. The Ravens will try and get Smith lined up against someone other than Haden, but the Browns should have Haden on him all day long.
3. Run Game
The Ravens' offense is based off of the run game and this run game wasn't able to get started against the Broncos last week as they rushed the ball 21 times for 58 yards. Of these 21 rushes, 12 went to starter Ray Rice and nine went to backup Bernard Pierce.
Part of the problem with the run game was a sprained ankle for right tackle Michael Oher, which caused him to leave the game and not return. With Oher out, rookie Ricky Wagner came in and there was a visible step down. Also, the fact they were getting blown out for all of the forth quarter and part of the third didn't help.
This week, Oher will return but, the Browns defense only gave up 20 rushing yards last week. They upgraded their front seven through free agency and the draft and this showed against the Dolphins. So, rushing the ball could be a challenge again this week.
Nevertheless, the Ravens must attack this defensive front as the Ravens aren't the same team when they can't run the ball.
To do this, the Ravens will need better push from the offensive line to create holes for Rice and Pierce to run through. If they are given a decently sized hole, Rice and Pierce can do damage with their running ability. Look for offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell to put an emphasis on the run game this week in order to create a better and more balanced offensive attack.
4. Run Defense
While the pass defense was terrible last week, the run defense actually did its job, holding the Broncos to an average of 2.8 yards per rush.
For the game, the Ravens gave up 65 rushing yards on 23 rushing attempts, with a long of nine yards. The Browns struggled to run the ball last week, rushing the ball 13 times for 47 yards, an average of 3.6 yards per rush.
This lack of rushing success from the Browns is surprising as they have a good offensive line and a top running back in Trent Richardson, the third overall pick in last year's draft. All 13 of the Browns rushing attempts went to Richardson and he also added two catches for 30 yards.
If the Ravens can stop the Browns' rushing game, like the Dolphins did, then the Browns will become a one-dimensional team. Any time that you can do this to an offense, your chances of winning increase greatly. The Dolphins forced Weeden to throw the ball and made him pay, forcing three interceptions.
This is exactly what the Ravens want to do on defense. Weeden hasn't shown the ability to carry a team passing the ball so far in his short career. In fact, in his 16 career games he has seven games where he has thrown multiple interceptions and the Browns are 1-6 in these games.
By stopping the run, the Ravens can put the Browns' offense in the hands of Weeden and this will probably lead to interceptions, which will most likely lead to a Ravens victory based on that stat. The key to stopping the Browns offense is stopping the run.