Cleveland Browns: What Must Be Corrected to Defeat Baltimore Ravens in Week 2
In the dud that was Cleveland's 23-10 Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins, few things occurred to please the Dawg Pound.
The few positives came mostly from Ray Horton's defensive front seven and the club's two kickers.
What Needs to Improve the Most for Cleveland to Defeat Baltimore?
Four quarterback sacks all came from the Browns' free-agent signings. Desmond Bryant contributed a pair while Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves had singles.
Giant question marks surrounded the team's new legs.
Punter Spencer Lanning delivered booming balls as he averaged 45.0 yards on five punts.
Kicker Billy Cundiff wasn't used often but was effective when called upon. He connected on a 39-yard field goal and was good on the one extra-point conversion.
Now on to three specific adjustments that are needed to handle a Ravens group coming off of an embarrassing manhandling by the Denver Broncos. To add more fuel to the fire, Baltimore will also be unveiling their Super Bowl championship banner.
Give Trent Richardson the ball early and often
Miami's defensive line was ferocious in clogging up the inside lanes for Trent Richardson this past Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Ravens' 3-4 base doesn't make things easier on the Browns with the likes of nose tackle Haloti Ngata as well as outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil.
With the right side of the offensive line collapsing on Sunday, it will be up to left tackle Joe Thomas and left guard John Greco to make space for No. 33.
Handing Richardson the rock 13 times is simply not acceptable. However, it's not so much the number of carries but the plays being called and the lanes being opened up.
T-Rich ran into a brick wall in Miami's four defensive linemen, and that resulted in abandoning the ground attack. The Alabama alum is dynamic in space, and that's why if the middle isn't available, then offensive coordinator Norv Turner must find ways to roll him outside.
Pitches, screens, quick dump-off passes, whatever it takes to get Richardson the rock quickly and often.
Part of the lackluster 47-yard rushing performance does fall in the lap of the 2012 third overall draft pick.
On several of his carries Richardson danced before hitting the hole and by the time he decided, the gap had closed. Committing sooner and attacking an opening is vital if the Browns hope to have any success in Baltimore.
Figuring out cornerback
It didn't seem to matter whether Buster Skrine or Chris Owens lined up opposite Joe Haden in the home opener.
It demonstrated once again what the Cleveland faithful feared from Skrine's outside corner play in 2012. His 5'9" frame simply cannot hang with the bigger, faster receivers.
The trouble is that the other option is another 5'9" veteran in Chris Owens. Battling arch strains in the preseason, Owens was given more duties covering the slot in nickel packages.
He was caught upon nine times for 89 yards and was targeted on 10 occasions according to ProFootballFocus.com (via Ohio.com) in the loss to Miami.
What about rookie Leon McFadden you ask? Well, he is also 5'9" and from his exhibition play does not seem anywhere near ready to take on a starting role.
Potential good news for the Browns secondary is that Baltimore's other wideout behind Torrey Smith is unproven rookie Marlon Brown.
Keep in mind that despite not having much of a pro resume, Brown is still a physical specimen at 6'5" and 205 pounds. That's three inches taller than the Dolphins' Brian Hartline.
The best adjustment that defensive coordinator Ray Horton can make is to see if swapping Owens to the outside and Skrine back in gives a better result. This all depends on Owens' health and how he is performing in practice leading up to the weekend.
If Skrine still plays above Owens during scrimmages, then the next step is to assign more responsibility in assisting the corners to safeties T.J. Ward and Tashaun Gipson.
Cleveland simply cannot afford to let Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco get in a groove and pick apart the right side of the field as Miami's Ryan Tannehill did.
Holding back the safeties takes away some of the pass-rush options for Horton, but he doesn't have much of a choice with how vulnerable the right corner spot is.
Better and faster decisions by Brandon Weeden
Yes, the pass protection by Mitchell Schwartz and Oniel Cousins was atrocious in Week 1, but it does not let Brandon Weeden off the hook for another dismal opening-day performance.
It's tough to get any type of rhythm going when you're sacked six times and hit a total of 16.
On Sept. 12, Norv Turner commented to the media, “We had two different times where we had [receivers] running free, and we just broke down in protection...[Weeden] could’ve had a couple really big plays..."
That is true. However, Weeden's slow decision making and failure to adapt looked eerily similar to 2012.
Too often his throws were behind, low or not in stride to his receivers. This either negated the chance for large gains if caught, or in two instances resulted in tipped passes that became turnovers.
Being attacked by the sack specialist Cameron Wake was a huge reason for why Weeden was hurried all afternoon, but the upper-echelon quarterbacks overcome that and find a way. Tannehill adjusted and got the job done.
So how can No. 3 make a drastic turnaround and lead the orange helmets to victory?
It starts by focusing precise plays around Davone Bess and Jordan Cameron. Routes 10-to-12 yards out can happen fast and get the ball into the offense's two most reliable sets of hands.
That distance over the middle should be consistently open as the sometimes overaggressive Ravens pass rush bears down on the Oklahoma State product.
Simplifying the game plan like this early will give Weeden confidence, which then creates opportunities for the rushing and deep-ball strategies to develop.
Andy McNamara is an international sports broadcaster and journalist.
Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyMc81
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