CLEVELAND, OH – After an emotional home opener win last week, the Cleveland Browns look to keep the momentum going versus the Baltimore Ravens at First Energy Stadium this Sunday. Last week’s game was well-played, well coached, but more importantly, lifted a fan bases’ spirit in a way that has not been seen in a long time. The task at hand this week doesn’t get any easier with the former Cleveland Browns.
The Browns all-time record vs. Baltimore is 8-22. Here are my three keys to defeating the Ravens this weekend.
Dawg Bone #1
Find the RED ZONE!
Through two games, both against AFC North division opponents, the Ravens have not allowed their opponent in the red zone. That’s a pretty impressive stat. Against the Steelers in week two, Baltimore played with a fierce physical presence and manhandled the clueless Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Cleveland offense must get deep in enemy territory on Sunday. Big plays (40 yards or more) are few and far between for the Browns. The orange-and-brown’s identity is running the football downhill and have the seventh best rushing attack in the league, averaging over 150 yards per game. They have also scored three touchdowns on the ground this season. If and when the Browns do find the red zone, running the football may be their best option in it.
If the Browns can produce points in the red zone, Cleveland has a fighting chance vs. Baltimore.
Dawg Bone #2
In the Cincinnati Bengals game, Ravens field general Joe Flacco dinked and dunked. It was all short passes and his new favorite target is veteran Steve Smith Sr. In the first half of that game, Flacco threw the ball only twice over 12 yards. Flacco is a tall quarterback with limited mobility.
The Bengals brought the heat on Flacco and he was forced to get the ball out quick on short passes for minimum gains.
Why is that?
The Bengals sacked Flacco three times that day with two of them coming on the Ravens’ final possession. Cincinnati also forced a Flacco interception from added pressure.
Flustering Flacco also comes from last season’s contest. In the 2013 campaign’s week nine victory, the Browns sacked Flacco five times. With an offense nowhere near as good as this season’s, the Browns took a commanding 21-10 lead in the third quarter. Former defensive coordinator Ray Horton dialed up all kinds of blitz schemes from linebacker stunts to cornerbacks pressuring from the far edge.
How the Browns beat the Ravens again this year is flat-out flustering the overrated Flacco. Believe it or not, this was a huge key that I pointed out in last years win versus the Ravens.
Key Match Up to Watch: Linebacker Paul Kruger vs. Offensive Tackle Rick Wagner
Dawg Bone #3
Lockdown Steve Smith Sr.
Smith has found a comfy new home in Baltimore and has been targeted 25 times this season by Flacco. The veteran mouthy receiver is the missing Anquan Boldin-type piece Flacco was without last year.
Flacco is a tall quarterback with limited mobility. The Bengals brought the heat on Flacco and he was forced to get the ball out quick on short passes for minimum gains. The Browns can fluster the former Delaware signal caller by taking away his two best options-Smith Sr. and tight end Dennis Pitta. The safety valve tight end caught ten passes in last week’s win.
It will be interesting to see if Smith is guarded by Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, or Justin Gilbert. Or, a combination of all three of them.
At 35 years old, Smith has been a beast for the Ravens this year with 13 catches for 189 yards and a touchdown. He signed an 11.5 million dollar deal with Baltimore in the offseason. The reason – out of those 189 yards receiving, 117 of those yards have come on third down. At this stage in his career, Smith is a chains mover and underneath guy, not a speedster like he once was. To limit Smith’s production, the Browns should “shadow help” on Smith on third downs.
Ryan Ruiz is the Cleveland Browns Beat Writer for The Inscriber: Digital Magazine. You can follow him on Facebook: Ryan (BrownsWriter) Ruiz and Twitter @ryanpruiz24. Ryan is also a Browns correspondent for The Sportsfix. Tune in every Friday at noon on www.thesportsfix.net. Email Ryan at [email protected]://184.108.40.206/~theinscr