When the Cleveland Browns meet the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, they hope to meet the Ravens of last week, not the ones who celebrated their second Super Bowl win in February.
The Browns had to enjoy watching Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos expose the Ravens’ weaknesses in a 49-27 demolition in the NFL’s opening-night game on Sept. 5.
However, the Ravens will be at home, raising the Super Bowl banner and receiving their champions rings, so they will enter the contest with the aura of a defending championship team.
The Browns have two missions in this game: drag the Ravens back down into a repeat of last week’s loss; and avoid repeating their own problems, which surfaced in the Browns’ 23-10 loss to Miami.
While Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is 10-0 against the Browns, he doesn’t have the weapons at his disposal from last year's impressive playoff run. Tight end Dennis Pitta is hurt, and wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded to San Francisco.
The Browns need to stick with running back Trent Richardson on offense, whether they are leading or trailing. Read more about that strategy here. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner seems to agree with this concept, as he said Richardson should get at least 20 carries this week, according to NFL.com.
Brandon Weeden wasn’t impressive last week, but the offensive line has to give him more time to throw. If Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are in Weeden’s face all day, the Browns will be in big trouble.
Tight end Jordan Cameron had a great opener for the Browns with nine catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. But he needs help. Wide receivers Greg Little, Travis Benjamin and Davone Bess have to make plays on offense so the Browns can improve on last week’s third-down conversion rate of 1-for-14.
The Ravens won’t give up seven touchdown passes like they did last week, but the vulnerability is there. If Weeden gets more time to throw, he could throw at least three touchdown passes.
In order to have a chance to win, the Browns must replicate last week’s outstanding run defense, which yielded only 20 yards to the Dolphins. It won’t be as easy to contain Ray Rice this week, though.
Joe Haden should perform well at cornerback against Torrey Smith like he did last week against Mike Wallace. Chris Owens and Buster Skrine will have to do their part to contain the Ravens’ other receivers.
Barkevious Mingo could see some action at linebacker for the Browns, who sacked Ryan Tannehill four times last week. The Browns need to put that kind of pressure on Flacco so he doesn’t have all day to throw.
One man who could help in this effort is linebacker Paul Kruger. He was a Raven last year, but he told the Beacon Journal’s Nate Ulrich that he was bent out of shape by his limited role in the Super Bowl.
In the game’s psychological battle, the first quarter will be important. If the Browns can get Richardson going and perhaps take an early lead, they could get the Ravens doubting themselves and possibly squeeze out a late upset.
It’s also important for the Browns and Richardson to control the ball and the clock, so the Browns’ defense doesn’t run out of gas at the end of the game like it did last week.
Unfortunately, a lot of dominoes have to fall exactly the Browns’ way in order to pull off a victory, so Cleveland fans may be looking at an unfortunate 0-2 start.
Prediction: Baltimore 28, Cleveland 21.
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