Joe Flacco vs. Cleveland in a rainy Baltimore on Thursday Night Football
After getting some well-deserved rest in their bye week, the Baltimore Ravens head out to Cleveland for a Week 9 divisional showdown with the Browns. In Week 4, the Ravens defeated the Browns 23-16 in a rainy night on Thursday Night Football.
A Cary Williams pick six secured the win for the Ravens. However, the Browns did give them a late scare, as Brandon Weeden drove the Browns down to about the 25-yard line, but was stopped on the last play of the game. Since then the Ravens are 5-2 and coming off their bye, while the Browns are 2-6 (however they have won two of their last three).
While the Ravens should win the game, that does not mean they will. Since that Week 4 meeting, the Browns have been able to sustain a bit of chemistry and good wins, while the Ravens have been decimated by injuries and have questions surrounding their team after a 43-13 loss to Houston in Week 7.
There are no easy games in the AFC North, and this one should be a great game. For the Ravens to win, I believe they need to achieve these four things on Sunday afternoon.
Ray Rice celebrates after scoring against New England
I think we all know that it has been documented that the Ravens aren't giving the ball enough to their star running back, Ray Rice. After the loss to the Texans, Harbaugh admitted that the staff probably gave up on the run too easily and should have given Rice more carries.
It's no surprise when Ray Rice runs effectively, the Ravens usually win the game and it takes some of that pressure off of Joe Flacco. Rice historically does really well against the Browns. Before that Thursday Night game where he went 18 carries for 49 yards, Rice had torched the Browns.
In eight career starts against them, he has over 800 yards rushing, averaging about five yards a rush. He also has 28 catches for 185 yards and four total touchdowns. So it's no surprise that if the Ravens want to win on Sunday, they should give Cleveland a steady dose of No. 27.
Not only does running Rice effectively help take pressure off of Flacco, it also helps the Ravens defense. The Ravens have been getting killed in time of possession the entire year (even though they still are averaging 25 points a game), and some long sustained drives could help the time of possession stats and take some pressure off the defense.
By running Rice, you can chew some time off the clock and give that Ravens defense nice rests in-between series.
Richardson versus Baltimore in Week 4.
Trent Richardson is arguably the most talented offensive player the Browns have. He is turning in a fine rookie season so far, with over 600 all purpose yards. As the Browns play more games during the season, the more comfortable it seems Richardson gets. The Ravens are going to need to key on him, and the run defense as a whole, to obtain victory in Week 9.
Against them in Week 4, Richardson went for 14 carries for 47 yards, and added four catches for 57 yards. That is over 100 yards total, which is far more than the Ravens would have liked him to gain. While they did a good job of holding him on the ground (averaged about 3.4 yards), they got torched by him in passes, in which he caught four for 57 yards.
Richardson, much like Ray Rice, cannot just run the ball, he is effective in the screen game as well, and can burn defenses after catching the ball. Richardson will also pound the ball between the tackles, and the Ravens need to be able to stop him, and tackle him effectively (something they did not do in Houston).
If the Ravens can contain Richardson and put the game on Brandon Weeden's shoulders, they have a great chance to win the game. Speaking of Weeden...
Haloti Ngata pressures Weeden in the Week 4 meeting.
Brandon Weeden has certainly turned it up the last few weeks. After throwing for over 300 yards in Baltimore, the rookie has been able to get on a roll, and the Browns have won two of their last three games. In Baltimore in Week 4, Weeden was allowed to sit in the pocket relatively untouched and it almost came back to haunt the Ravens at the end of the game.
This can not happen on Sunday. The Ravens need to be getting more pressure on Weeden, so that he can be forced into some rookie mistakes or taking some sacks. The return of Terrell Suggs, who John Harbaugh expects to play the "majority of the snaps" this weekend, well certainly help. The Ravens were able to get some pressure on Matt Schaub two weeks ago (including a Suggs sack) but not nearly as much as we are accustomed to.
The Ravens defense needs to get pressure on the quarterback. We all know about the injuries to Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb, and how poorly the Ravens defense has played. They are 28th in yards given up (400 a game), 24th in passing yards given up (257.1) and down at the bottom in rushing yards given up (142.3, another good example of why the Ravens need to stop Richardson).
If the Ravens are getting some pressure on Weeden on Sunday, then they are going to give their maligned secondary some help and chance for turnovers, but also get themselves off the field faster.
Flacco handing the ball off to Rice against Houston in Week 7
I touched on this a bit in the first slide, but it's going to get its own slide here.
The Ravens need to manage the game efficiently to win against the Browns. That means having long sustained drives, effective play-calling, and giving the defense a good rest. Going three and outs never helps a defense, especially a struggling one.
As stated, the Ravens are losing in the time of possession battle this year, averaging about 26 minutes a game of possession, while their opponents hold the ball about 33 minutes a game. That's a seven-minute disparity and not something that we are accustomed to in Baltimore.
Yes, the Ravens have had some nice drives this year, but all too often it is a quick two to four minute drive. We see good and great teams, grind out long eight to nine minute drives in the NFL, and it gives their defenses a great rest, but also takes time off the clock and gives their opponents less time to have the ball.
There has been much debate on whether the no huddle should be scraped on the road in favor of a more traditional offense. Flacco seems to run it really well at home, but struggles on the road.
I believe there are times to run the no huddle and times to slow it down. Against the Browns on Sunday it might be more effective to slow the game down, and it turn it into a ground and pound game.
If the Ravens run the ball effectively, it opens things up for Flacco and doesn't present him with more pressure than he already has. If the Ravens can run and throw when needed, they should be able to sustain some long drives, manage the game and come out of Cleveland with a win on Sunday.
Final prediction: Ravens 27, Browns 17