On the flip side, the Ravens are much healthier than the Browns are which will be huge in what is sure to be a physical contest.
If the Ravens win this game, they will go to 3-1 in the first quarter of the season for the fourth straight year. It would also be their 14th straight home win and the 22nd win in their last 23 home games.
For all of that to happen, I believe there are four keys to the game for Baltimore.
1. Contain Joshua Cribbs
The Browns may not have many weapons, but one they do have who has seemingly been their entire offense over the years is Josh Cribbs.
Currently, he leads the NFL in kick return yards (341) and is third in the league in punt return yards (130). While he only has two receptions for 28 yards this season, for his career Cribbs is averaging 11.0 yards per reception and 5.8 yards per carry.
The Browns probably won’t make a lot of big plays. But any plays they do make could come from their offense starting on a short field, provided by Cribbs’ dynamic returns.
2. Rely on Anquan Boldin
While Anquan Boldin caught four passes for 48 yards, he’s capable of much more against Cleveland. In Boldin’s only home game against the Browns (Week 3, 2010), he caught eight passes for 142 yards and three touchdowns.
Unless I’m missing something, Cleveland’s pass defense hasn’t upgraded significantly in that time. This is a good opportunity for Joe Flacco to continue to work with Boldin and give opposing coaches even more game film to worry about.
3. Rack up sacks
Baltimore enters Week 4 of the season with the sixth-most sacks in the league (eight). Cleveland is just ahead of them, with the fifth-most sacks (nine).
The Browns have an elite left tackle (Joe Thomas), but aren’t dominant at the other four offensive line spots. Through three games, the Browns have allowed eight sacks (11th most).
Moreover, (rookie) quarterback Brandon Weeden will get his first introduction to this rivalry on the road in prime time without any major passing weapons.
Even if Cleveland’s running game gets going (which I’m not sure it will), Weeden should be under constant pressure from start to finish.
4. Rush for At Least 200 Yards
At halftime of Thursday’s game, Jamal Lewis will be inducted into the Ravens’ Ring of Honor.
It’s quite appropriate the Ravens pick this game for the ceremony because on September 14, 2003, Lewis rushed for a then all-time record of 295 yards versus Cleveland (in the entire ’03 season vs. the Browns, Lewis rushed 52 times for 500 yards and four touchdowns).
Ray Rice is primed for a similar season against the Browns. Through three weeks, Rice is averaging 5.8 yards per carry (fourth most among running backs with at least 40 carries). Cleveland ranks tied for 16th in the league, as they’re allowing an average of 4.1 yards per carry.
Considering the Ravens have the best fullback in the league (Vonta Leach), 200 team rushing yards might be a conservative estimate.
—While both of these defenses are struggling (Cleveland: 25th, Baltimore: 27th), the Ravens offense is far superior to the Browns offense (Cleveland: 26th, Baltimore: 4th).
—Baltimore leads the head-to-head series by a combined record of 19-7 (their best record against any other team). The Ravens have outscored the Browns by an all-time score of 602-363.
—Baltimore has won the last eight games in the series by an average of 14 points per game.