Double Coverage: Browns at Ravens
September, 12, 2013
AP PhotoThe Browns need to get Trent Richardson the ball but Haloti Ngata and the Ravens will be waiting.
The Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns have different levels of expectations for the season, but these two AFC North teams find themselves with the same 0-1 record. In their season-opening losses, the Ravens and Browns had some of the same problems. Their quarterbacks threw multiple interceptions. Their defenses wore down in the second half. Penalties were a problem again. And their commitment to the running game was lacking.
The Ravens are looking to get back on track against a Browns team they have dominated. John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco have never lost to Cleveland, beating the Browns 10 straight times. Under first-year coach Rob Chudzinski, the Browns are trying to avoid an 0-2 start for the fifth time in six years.
ESPN.com's Matt Williamson and Ravens team reporter Jamison Hensley discuss whether or not these streaks will continue or end.
Hensley: The one area of defense where the Ravens excelled in Denver was stopping the run. Baltimore held the Broncos to 2.8 yards per carry and didn't allow a run over 9 yards. But a big storyline in Cleveland right now is how the Browns ignored running back Trent Richardson in the season opener. He only received 13 carries and only ran the ball five times in the second half. So, does Richardson get over 20 carries on Sunday in Baltimore?
Williamson: I am not sure that Richardson gets more than 20 carries against the Ravens, but he certainly should have more than 20 total touches, as he is an excellent dump-off option out of the backfield. It was a crime for Cleveland's coaching staff to give their star runner just 13 carries while asking the struggling Brandon Weeden to throw the ball 53 times. That is a losing formula. However, clearly the best way to attack Baltimore's defense right now is through the air, so look for Weeden to target Baltimore's safety corps, specifically with Jordan Cameron. The Ravens had all sorts of problems with Denver tight end Julius Thomas, and the Browns could be looking to exploit the same weakness with budding star Cameron, a similar athlete and body-type player.
So, along those lines, obviously facing Weeden is a much easier assignment than doing battle with Peyton Manning and his extreme wealth of weapons in Denver, but the Ravens coaching staff should be concerned about their second half collapse against Denver's great passing game. Do you see any changes in this department on the horizon for Week 2?
Hensley: The Ravens acknowledge that it's tough to shut down Manning. The problem the coaching staff had is that the Ravens secondary made it too easy for him. There were miscommunications that left targets wide open in the red zone. There were cornerbacks, namely Corey Graham and Jimmy Smith, who flat-out got beat. And there were too many missed tackles, especially from safety Michael Huff.
I don't see the Ravens making any major changes to personnel for a couple of reasons: They're not going to panic after one game and they don't have many options. Lardarius Webb was the only defensive back who played well, and he's 11 months removed from ACL surgery. Graham and Smith are struggling at the other cornerback spot, and the Ravens don't have the confidence in Chykie Brown to bench someone. Baltimore will likely stick with Huff and James Ihedigbo at safety right now because of their experience, although rookie first-round pick Matt Elam will eventually be the starter this year.
What this secondary really needs is a strong pass rush on Weeden. And pass protection is a big storyline for both teams considering the injuries along the offensive line. The Browns have only sacked Joe Flacco 14 times in 10 meetings. Can the Browns get more pressure on Flacco this time?
Williamson: Mike Lombardi and company made it a huge offseason priority to improve their pass rush. And I think they very much accomplished that goal by signing Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant, who was a real force rushing the passer from the interior last week, as well as using a high first round pick on the ultra-talented Barkevious Mingo. I expect Flacco to be under duress quite a bit in this contest when the Browns chose to bring just four, but with Joe Haden possibly locking down Torrey Smith (as he did last week to similar wide receiver in Mike Wallace), I could see Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton dialing up a lot of additional blitzes, which goes back to his roots learning from Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh.
The Browns have an exceptional young offensive line, but the Miami defensive line, led by Cameron Wake, dominated this group in all facets last week. The right guard position is particularly weak right now for Cleveland, but that performance against the Dolphins was rather shocking. The Ravens feature a very deep and talented defensive front. Could they wreak the same havoc up front?
Hensley: The Ravens know all about the Browns' struggling right guard. Oniel Cousins was a third-round pick of the Ravens in 2008. Coincidentally, that's the same draft that produced Flacco and Ray Rice for Baltimore. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata lined up over the right guard for most of the game in Denver. He's healthy after playing last season all dinged up, and he has more explosion coming off the line. This is the game's biggest mismatch.
As you pointed out, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz had a rough time with Wake, and his assignment won't be any easier Sunday. In passing situations, Elvis Dumervil will be coming off the Browns' right edge. In his Ravens' debut, Dumervil had one sack and three quarterback hurries. Even with the Browns' No. 1 wide receiver Josh Gordon out, the Browns can't let Weeden have too much time in the pocket.
The biggest matchup that favors the Browns is at returner. The Ravens won't have Pro Bowl returner Jacoby Jones for another month after he sprained his knee. The Ravens, who have had lapses in their return game, have to contain Travis Benjamin. What are your thoughts on the Browns returner? And what other matchup could the Browns exploit?
Williamson: Benjamin isn't nearly as big or physical with the ball in his hands as Josh Cribbs, his predecessor, but Benjamin is flat out fast. He can change the game in a heartbeat and he doesn't need a lot of room to explode through. To me, as alluded to above, the Browns' pass defense against the Ravens' passing offense is what favors Cleveland the most in this contest. The Browns' secondary is very much a work in progress but if Haden eliminates Smith, which I think is quite possible, the Ravens really have very few other options in terms of wide receivers or tight ends to threaten the defense. Also, Baltimore's pass protection could be a liability against this revamped pass rush. Still, this will be an uphill climb against the defending Super Bowl Champions who were embarrassed on national television last week and has an extra long week to prepare.