Browns vs Ravens: How Cleveland Defense Can Contain the Baltimore Offense
It's going to be tough for the Browns to keep Joe Flacco from having a big game without stud cornerback Joe Haden, who is out for the third game of a four-game suspension.
But this team has other means of shutting the Ravens juggernaut offense down.
Let's take a look at three keys to keeping the Ravens from busting out with a monster game on offense.
Pressure Up the Middle on Joe Flacco
When Flacco has a clean pocket to work with and starts feeling comfortable about his safety, he can pick apart most secondaries.
Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta and Ray Rice are all highly-skilled pass-catchers with the ability to get free of defenders, given enough time, and Flacco can make every throw in the book.
The key to disrupting this team's aerial attack is to get pressure up the middle on Flacco.
He isn't adept at escaping said pressure. Flacco just isn't a mobile quarterback, and he's not like Ben Roethlisberger, who can kill teams when he's moving. When he is forced to make off-balanced throws, he tends to float them—leading to potential interceptions.
Getting pressure up the middle forces Flacco out of his comfort zone—a huge key to containing the Ravens offense.
The Philadelphia Eagles did a fine job of pressuring Flacco in Week 2, forcing him to get rid of the ball off timing and off balance. They only registered two sacks and one quarterback hit on the game, but their constant presence in the backfield forced him into one interception and one lost fumble.
The Browns like to bring pressure from different positions throughout the game.
The team's leading sack man is D'Qwell Jackson—their middle linebacker, who has three sacks in three games. He has been highly effective blitzing up the gut, and I expect to see him get to Flacco at least once in this one.
They will be tough for the Eagles offensive line to handle, and if their current trend holds true, Flacco is in for a long game.
Stuff Ray Rice
Easier said than done, right?
Rice has been ill-utilized by Cam Cameron this year, from my perspective. He's a guy that gets better as games wear on, but he hasn't been given much of a chance to dominate thus far in 2012. Through three games, he has rushed the ball only 46 times for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
If the Browns can shut him down early on, Cameron is likely to abandon the run—just like he has done the past two games, where he's only run the ball 26 times.
The Browns defense must maintain gap discipline to keep Rice in check, as he has an amazing ability to exploit the smallest hole.
It's a battle I expect the Ravens to win, given the way the Browns have failed to prove they can stop the run so far this season. But, if this team has any hope of containing the Ravens offense, shutting down the running game is a must.
Get Off the Field on Third Downs
This is the biggest key to the Browns' attempts to contain the Ravens on offense.
Thus far in 2012, the Browns defense has been solid at getting off the field on third downs, forcing fourth downs 35.56 percent of the time—the No. 11 ranked defense in this department through three games (h/t TeamRankings.com).
The Ravens have struggled to stay on the field on third downs, too, making this an interesting match-up to watch throughout the game. They have only converted 35.46 percent of their third down attempts through three games—the No. 21 ranked team in this category (h/t TeamRankings.com).
The key to staying ahead of the Ravens on this score is to successfully accomplish the first two goals on first-and-second downs.
The more Flacco and company have to convert long third downs, the less success they'll find on third downs.
The Browns defense can slow down the Ravens dynamic offense.
Will the Browns pull of the upset?
The biggest obstacle to their success may be something that's entirely out of their hands—the team's on-again, off-again offense, led by rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden.
If Weeden and his offense can somehow stay on the field and put up at least 21 points, the Browns have a chance to hang in this game.
They are extreme underdogs, and it's going to take a lot of things going their way to come away with the victory.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78
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