Overview: Not sure how much overview I need to do here. The Browns are anywhere between 10 and 11 point underdogs depending on where you look. Obviously you have to think the Browns have a chance this week… against the spread. Why? This isn’t a gambling site or column, but let’s just say that 10 and higher is a really really high spread between two teams in the NFL. In this case it might be crazy to think that it should be this high, but going into this season, I thought it would be crazy if the Browns came into week three without at least a 1-1 record, so shows what I know.
The Ravens come into this game off of a frustrating loss to the Bengals where the refs came under fire in the Baltimore locker room. A tripping call on Ray Lewis and a roughing the passer call were called out as questionable game changers by the Ravens. After seeing them, I think the tripping call was pretty legit, but the roughing the passer call seemed excessive. Still, a week after the Browns dealt with many of the same flags being thrown, it is hard to have much sympathy.
The Browns come in this week at 0-2 with fans falling right back into those same roles calling out players coaches and entire drafts after every single game. It got so bad this week that I chose to write about a time when the Browns found a way to grasp a victory from the jaws of defeat.
Anyway, let’s get this over with.
Airing it Out: The Ravens have an amazing roster of pass-catchers on the roster. They have Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Todd Heap. The only question is whether or not Joe Flacco can get them the ball or not. Flacco threw four interceptions a week ago in a 15-10 loss to the Bengals. That earned him a QB rating of 23.8 for the day as he went 17 for 39 and 154 yards. On those four interceptions the Bengals got 44 yards or almost 30% of the total. That is bad. The Browns have upgraded their secondary this season and Eric Wright and Sheldon Brown will have to play pretty physical with Boldin and Mason. Still, that leaves a whole lot of real estate across the middle of the field where Houshmandzadeh and Heap can get matched up with linebackers on occasion.
This could be the week where the Ravens finally get the passing game going, or if the Browns defense plays well enough, they can add to the sacks (3,) interceptions (5,) and keep Flacco’s QB rating (41.2) trending downward.
Running it Down: Ray Rice is good. Coming off of a year with over 1300 yards running and 700 yards receiving, I don’t need to say a whole lot about Ray Rice. If the Browns want any chance in stopping the Ravens this week, they will have to keep Ray Rice in front of them. He almost always gets his yards one way or another. The Browns have to make sure to make him earn it over many attempts. The big play is always a possibility with Rice. Rice did have a sore ankle coming off of last week, but it doesn’t appear that it will be any issue whatsoever.
In the Trenches: No need to mention the Ravens defensive line. They are good and will present problems for the Browns’ running and passing schemes. The offensive line for the Ravens is also solid. The Browns haven’t been real fiery in the pass rush so far this year, and I don’t really expect them to keep Flacco on his back starting this week either. I am hoping that the Browns will be able to hold their own on running plays so that the linebackers can fill the appropriate gaps and keep Ray Rice under control.
Special Teams: The Browns haven’t been a highlight reel on special teams so far this year because teams have employed strategies specifically to limit Josh Cribbs’ opportunities. The Ravens did give up a 60 yard kick return to Bernard Scott of the Bengals last week. They also gave up a 32 yard punt return to the Jets’ Jim Leonhard in week 1. Hopefully for Browns fans, they give Josh Cribbs the ball and he is able to make something happen for Browns field position, if not on the scoreboard.
As for the rest of special teams, former Browns kicker Billy Cundiff is still holding down the job in Baltimore. He is 100% on the season. (nnnnNoonan.) He hasn’t missed yet on either of his two attempts. (cough Miss it.) His extra points are perfect too at 2 for 2.
Prediction: I would be insane to pick a Browns win on Sunday. Is it a possibility? Sure. Anything is possible. What isn’t possible is for me to predict that the Browns will win without laughing at myself. I am a glass half full kind of guy though. I think the Browns will keep it closer than most people in Baltimore seem to think. At the Baltimore Sun, their predictions are all Ravens with scores like 21-3, 31-10, 24-10, 24-12, 30-6, and 33-6.
I don’t really see it being that out of control. I could be wrong, but I think the Browns’ defense has improved far more than people realize. I think the Browns will be able to beat the spread. I expect the Ravens to win the game handily, but the Browns will get something meaningless late. I will say the Browns will be losing 17-3 in the fourth quarter and score a meaningless touchdown with less than a minute to go to lose 17-10. In all honesty I find score predictions especially dumb. Football is such a situational sport there isn’t a good way to predict this kind of stuff past playing a scripted Madden game. But there it is anyway. Again this week, I hope I am wrong.
For those keeping track at home, my record is now 1-1 as I was wrong in the first week, and (unfortunately) right in week two. Let’s hope I am 1-2 when we do this again next week.