After The Bye Week: Ravens vs Browns
For the second time this season, the 3-4 Baltimore Ravens will play their division rival, the 3-5 Cleveland Browns, this time in Cleveland. Last time these two faced was in week two when the Ravens won 14-6 after trailing 6-0 at halftime. Currently, the Ravens have an 11 game winning streak against the Browns — the longest active streak of regular-season wins by one team over another. The Ravens are coming off of their bye week and are 5-0 in games following their bye week under head coach John Harbaugh.
1. Offensive Line
Today, news came out that starting left guard Kelechi Osemele is expected to be out for the season with a back injury. Previously, Osemele missed the game against the Miami Dolphins with the same back injury. After this game, Osemele said that he would need back surgery after the season. However, Osemele now needs that surgery now.
Taking his spot will be A.Q. Shipley, just like in Miami. Shipley is normally a center but can move over to guard if need be.
With Osemele out, the line will take a big hit as he has started every game since he was drafted in the second round last year. Making it even harder will be the fact that this occurred on a Friday. If he had been declared out earlier in the week, Shipley and the rest of the line would have had more time to prepare for the game together.
Also, the Browns have a defense that is in the top half of the league, and their strength is the front seven.
These sacks were achieved via various blitzes. Because the Browns like to blitz, communication along the offensive line is going to be important for the Ravens. This has been a problem for the Ravens at times this season as unblocked pressure has been allowed through quite often. With Osemele out, communication becomes even more critical as one of the starters won’t have played much this season.
The potential problem point for the offensive line this week is the left side. Left tackle Eugene Monroe has only been with the Ravens for a few weeks and has never played with Shipley before. Also, center Gino Gradkowski has struggled this season and putting a new, less talented guard next to him could cause some problems. This is definitely something to look for during the game and something the Browns might try and exploit with blitzes.
Against the Browns last time, the Ravens line gave up two sacks for a combined loss of 14 yards.
In week two, Smith had seven catches for 85 yards. Haden was covering Smith on eight of his 13 targets and allowed 46 yards.
When the Ravens entered their bye week, Smith led the NFL in receiving yards with 629 yards. Now that most of the league had a game to catch-up, Smith is 11th in the league. Many of Smith’s stats put him near the top of the league. His 20.3 average yards per reception leads the league by 2,1 yards and has 14 catches of 20 plus catches is best by two catches. He is also ninth in the league for yards per game with 89.9 and is 13th in yards after the catch with 248 yards.
Over the last two seasons, Smith’s first two in the NFL, he was mainly considered to be a deep threat. This season, this has changed as he has rounded his game out and is a much more polished receiver. Smith now runs a full route tree for the Ravens. They are also making a point to get him the ball in space to allow him to make plays after the catch with his speed. One way the Ravens like to do this is to run Smith on a short crossing route.
Haden is considered to be one of the top cornerbacks in the league with his great man-coverage skills. However, he has been struggling over the last two weeks. In these two games he has given up nine catches on 12 targets for 82 yards and two touchdowns according to Pro Football Focus. To put that in perspective, he had given up 21 catches on 44 targets for zero touchdowns in the first six games of the season.
This matchup will be one of the most important when the Ravens are on offense. If Haden can shutdown Smith, then the Ravens will struggle to pass the ball. Smith is the clear-cut number one receiver on the Ravens and it isn’t even close. He is also Flacco’s favorite receiver and his target numbers (23 more than the next highest, tight end Dallas Clark, and 28 more than the next best wide receiver, Marlon Brown) show this.
Expect the Ravens to try and test Haden early and see what form he is in. If he performs like he did at the start of the season, he will be avoided for the most part, but if he is playing like he has over the last two weeks, the Ravens will probably keep going after him.
3. Run Game
Connected to the offensive line is the Ravens’ run game, which has struggled to get going all season long.
The Ravens are the only team to average less than three yards per carry as the Ravens sit at 2.8 yards per game. They also average 74 yards per game which is 28th best in the league and have the third fewest rushing yards with 518.
Making matters worse this week is the Browns stout run defense which allows 3.7 yards per carry (tied for seventh best) and 103.6 yards per game (11th best). The one weakness of their run defense is rushing touchdowns as they have allowed nine which is tied for third worst in the NFL.
On the bright side for the Ravens is this: running back Ray Rice must love to play in Cleveland. Why? Well, in the last five seasons, he has had games of 154, 89, 92, 204 and 98 rushing yards, a total of 637 yards and an average of 127.4 rushing yards per game.
The 204-yard game came in week 13 of the 2011 season. Rice achieved this number on just 29 carries — a seven yard per carry average. In this game he ran for one touchdown and had long of 67 yards. Rice’s numbers could have been way higher if backup Ricky Williams didn’t also receive 16 carries (which he gained 78 yards and one touchdown on).
This week, the run game will be key as the Ravens don’t want to become one-dimensional. While Rice isn’t likely to repeat his 204-yard performance, if the Ravens can get 70 yards from him, it would be a big boast to the offense. (In the week two matchup, Rice was held to 36 yards on 13 carries and left in the second half with a hip injury).
4. Stopping Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron
The two biggest playmakers on the Browns offense, stopping Gordon and Cameron is going to be key for the Ravens defense if they want to have the same success the last time they faced the Browns offense (six points allowed, 259 total yards and five sacks).
Cameron is a 6’5″ tight end who is in the midst of a breakout season under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. A former basketball player, the 25-year old is quickly becoming one of the better tight ends in the league. Through eight games he has 49 catches for 596 yards and six touchdowns (first, second and fourth best for tight ends). Against the Ravens in week two Cameron five catches for 95 yards on seven targets. On the Browns first offensive play, Cameron caught a 53-yard pass which put the ball on the Ravens’ seven-yard line.
Gordon, like Smith, is a great deep threat, and at 22-years old, he is still learning the nuances of the position. Playing in six games this season, he has 32 catches for 582 yards and three touchdowns. His average of 18.2 yards per catch is second in the league behind Smith. With the NFL trade deadline passing Tuesday, there were numerous rumors of Gordon being traded, but no deal was worked out. There are some off-the-field concerns about him and he is one positive test away from a year-long suspension. He missed the Ravens matchup earlier this season as he was suspended for he first two games of the season.
The Ravens secondary will have trouble containing these two, but the one thing they have going for them is that at quarterback is Jason Campbell. While Campbell played well last week against the Chiefs, he is no franchise quarterback and has been inconsistent his entire career. Brandon Weeden played quarterback the last time these two played and Campbell is an improvement over him but he still has questions about his play.
At cornerback the Ravens have Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham who all could line up against these two as they move around the formation. All three have struggled in coverage though this season and Webb hasn’t looked like himself as he comes off a torn ACL. The Ravens play a lot of zone so, for the most part, the cornerbacks won’t have to go one-on-one with Gordon or Cameron.
If the Ravens can shutdown Gordon and Cameron then they will stunt the Browns offense and make it very hard for them to move the ball.