The Cleveland Browns will meet a very familiar foe as they try and bounce back from a disappointing loss at home in Week 1. The Browns travels to Baltimore, where they trail the all-time series 21-7, including losses in their last 10 meetings.
The rivalry between these two teams is no secret. Since the Browns have returned to the league, however, the venom has been very one-sided. It’s tough to be a rival of a team you never beat.
The Browns will try and break their losing streak on the night the Ravens will receive their Super Bowl rings.
Luckily, a new owner and new regime means a fresh start. Even though the Browns laid an egg in their opener against Miami, the team knows it has a huge opportunity to turn things around this week.
“We’re excited about playing this game and embracing the challenge of what that brings and the opportunity to play the team that just won the Super Bowl. Our guys are excited about it already,” said head coach Rob Chudzinski.
The Competitive Edge
This one is a no-brainer. Joe Flacco not only won the Super Bowl last year but carried his team down the stretch. He takes very good care of the football, and despite two interceptions in a loss to Denver, he had only 10 all of last season.
Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden cannot be mentioned in the same breath as Flacco yet.
Richardson, on the other hand, is still trying to prove he can live up to the draft hype. The advantage goes to Baltimore in this category as well.
If Josh Gordon were playing, this group would actually be slanted in Cleveland’s favor. Since he will still be suspended, this category goes to the Ravens by a nose.
Torrey Smith is one of the better deep threats in the game, but someone will need to take the pressure off of him. Jacoby Jones, who injured his knee in Week 1, did not practice Wednesday.
For the Browns, it is the same old story. Greg Little and Travis Benjamin dropped too many passes in their opening loss. While Davone Bess is a stellar third-down target, Weeden couldn’t seem to find him on any other downs.
The Browns have a distinct advantage in this category. Jordan Cameron emerged as a playmaker last week, catching nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.
While Dallas Clark still has big-game capability for the Ravens, he does not have the speed or athleticism Cameron possesses.
Heading into the season, it looked as though the Browns would have an advantage on the line over just about any opponent they faced.
Injuries have since derailed that hope, and they are now coming off their worst performance in over a year.
The Ravens, while much better pass-blockers than run-blockers, were still slightly better than the Browns in both categories last week. This is a stalemate between the two teams.
For the first time since their return to the NFL, this category is not a blowout. The Browns’ defensive front with Desmond Bryant and Phil Taylor anchoring is formidable. The Ravens still have Haloti Ngata, but the Browns may be deeper and more talented in this category.
This category is also closer than in the past but still tilts the Ravens’ way. The Browns signed Paul Kruger from the Ravens, hurting their depth in the offseason.
How did Baltimore respond? By signing Elvis Dumervil, one of the best pass-rushers in the league. He and Terrell Suggs make the Ravens one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL. The Browns will get a boost from rookie Barkevious Mingo, who is set to play in his first NFL game.
While the Browns have a distinct advantage with Joe Haden, the Ravens see less of a drop-off in talent between their first and second corner backs. The safety position is a coin toss as well, unless T.J. Ward is not able to play Sunday.
If Jacoby Jones cannot play Sunday for the Ravens, then the Browns have a huge advantage in the punt return game. Jones is explosive and one of the biggest threats at his position in the league. Browns punt returner Travis Benjamin has proven he can make huge plays and is one of the league’s best young punt returners.
Bobby Rainey, who was cut by Baltimore, will return kicks for the Browns. He is a relative unknown.
Browns Offense vs. Ravens Defense
Lord help the Browns if their offensive line doesn’t improve between the first two weeks.
Oniel Cousins was one of the worst guards in the league, and Mitchell Schwartz had his worst performance as a professional. Brandon Weeden was hit 16 times and sacked six times.
In the running game, Trent Richardson couldn’t find an inch of daylight and finished with just 13 carries.
The Ravens’ rush linebackers are two of the best in the league. If the Browns don’t have a better scheme to help the right side, it could be déjà vu. Elvis Dumervil is more explosive and powerful than Cameron Wake of the Dolphins, and Wake spent the entire afternoon in the backfield.
If the Browns can get any type of running game going, the Ravens are susceptible to giving up yards on the ground. They have had so much personnel turnover on the defensive side of the football that once a back gets into the second level, no one really knows what to expect.
If the Browns can find any kind of pass protection, they can definitely do damage through the air. Last week Peyton Manning threw for seven touchdowns against their secondary, and it wasn’t a fluke.
Another pass-catcher besides Jordan Cameron must step up, however, as the Ravens will surely plan to take him away from Weeden as an option.
Browns Defense vs. Ravens Offense
This could be a heavyweight slugfest.
The Browns bolstered their defensive front in free agency. Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant and Quentin Groves paid immediate dividends.
They were stellar on run defense against Miami, allowing just 20 total rushing yards. They also pressured Ryan Tannehill into bad throws for three-and-a-half quarters.
The pressure up front was so good that it even masked the Browns' deficiencies in the secondary. Until they ran out of gas, the Browns’ front seven was dominating the football game.
With that being said, Ray Rice is on another level at running back and Joe Flacco is on another level at quarterback. This will be a real test to see just how good the Browns’ defense truly is.
If Weeden and the offense cannot keep the defense off the field, however, it doesn’t matter how good they are because sooner or later they will run out of steam.
Browns kicker Billy Cundiff is not a popular man in Baltimore. He has not been back there since January of 2012 when he missed a 32-yard field goal that would have tied the AFC Championship game. He was let go by the organization.
Ravens kicker Justin Tucker is a very solid young player. He is consistent and has a good leg. If the game comes down to field goals, you have to think Baltimore has the edge.
In the return game, Jacoby Jones is one of the best in the business. Unfortunately, he is dinged up and may not play Sunday. If he can’t go, the Browns have a distinct advantage in the punt return game.
What They’re Saying
Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski on his memory of the team moving to Baltimore: “I was in college or had just been out of college. I wasn’t here locally at all. I was down in Florida hearing about it. I think everybody was surprised at the time; but we’re back, and we’re working. Right now the team, we’re all aware of that. Everybody knows it and the fans are aware of it, but we’re focused on this game and this game alone, like we have had the focus all season long.”
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on if he thought about a team like the Browns making a huge offer in the offseason: “I knew that was a possibility. Like I said, it never got to a point where I truly had to think about that and weigh those options, and I’m happy it didn’t.”
Browns’ Wednesday Injury Report
Did not participate: Guard Shawn Lauvao (ankle), defensive end Ahtyba Rubin (calf) and safety TJ Ward (shoulder).
Lauvao is expected to miss at least one more week but has been out of a walking boot for several days. Rubin is day-to-day but missed significant time last season with a calf injury. Ward is the most likely to return this week, with Chudzinski calling him “sore.”
Limited: Corner back Buster Skrine (shoulder), outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (lung) and wide receiver Travis Benjamin (thigh).
Mingo getting cleared to practice is huge. He had been out of action almost five full weeks and fans were dying to see what the young man can do. He will most likely see limited reps as a situational pass-rusher and maybe some special teams work.
Neither Skrine, who was limited last week with the same shoulder injury, nor Benjamin are thought to be a real issue. Both should be ready for Sunday.
Full Participation: None
This Week’s Game Stats and Facts
(Courtesy of the Browns’ communications department)
The Browns’ season opener marked the first time that the Browns did not have a rookie in their starting lineup since Week 16 in 2008, a streak of 65 consecutive games.
For the fifth time in six seasons, the Browns will face the defending Super Bowl champions. Cleveland has topped the Super Bowl champion from the previous season three times during that span.
DL Desmond Bryant needs a sack to extend his streak to six consecutive games. He ended 2012 with a sack in each his final four games with the Raiders.
TE Jordan Cameron could become the first Browns player to record back-to-back 100-yard receiving games since Braylon Edwards in 2006.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.