This weekend's AFC North matchup between the Browns and Ravens has all the makings of a blow-out. The Ravens offense seems to be ascending each week, while the Browns are looking like cellar-dwellars again and a quarterback controversy is already brewing. Let's take a look at the key matchups in this game:
Ravens QB vs. Browns secondary: Joe Flacco is in the top 5 QB's in nearly every category and has shown even more poise and composure than last year. Last year against the Browns, Flacco threw for a combined 2 TD's and 2 int's (with both TD's coming in the second matchup). The Browns have done little to improve their secondary, so expect Flacco to play more like he did in the 2nd matchup last year (250 yards, 2 TD's, 0 Int's). Look for a lot of screen passes to Ray Rice, who gouged the Browns's pass defense last year. Advantage: Ravens
Browns QB vs. Ravens secondary: This has to be the primary concern for the ravens defense, who let up over 400 yards passing from Phillip Rivers and his tall wide receivers. however, unlike the Chargers, the Browns have neither a good QB, nor do they have receivers who can catch. Last year, Braylon Edwards's dropped balls may very well have cost the Browns the game, and Derek Anderson his starting job. Edwards's hands are looking just as bad this year, which will limit the Browns effectiveness on passing plays. Joe Thomas is one of the best young LT's in the game, so keep a close eye on his matchup with Terrell Suggs, who has yet to make a major impact this year. Advantage: push
Ravens RB vs. Browns Rush Defense: The ravens running backs are performing even better this year than last, with Willis McGahee really stepping it up. The Browns don't have the quickness on defense to cover Ray Rice or McGahee and Baltimore center Matt Birk, along with a likely double team from RG Chris Chester should be able to take care of Shaun Rogers, Cleveland's only really good defensive player.
Browns RB vs. Ravens Rush Defense: A total joke, whether or not Jamal Lewis plays. Expect the Browns to gain less than 60 yards rushing and to struggle in short yardage. Neither Harrison nor Davis present any real threat to the ravens run defense. Advantage: Ravens
Special Teams: Ravens kicker Steve Hauschka is off to a shaky start and can not yet be counted on to reliably hit field goals. Punter Sam Koch is one of the best in the bizzle and should have a strong outing and help the ravens with field position. The ravens have had a few key lapses on special teams already this year, allowing a punt block and a big return from the pint-sized Darren Sproles. The Browns will likely try to gamble on special teams to compensate for their lack of offensive and defensive talent. Phil Dawson is as clutch as any kicker in the league and Joshua Cribbs is perhaps the only player on the Browns who really scares ravens fans. Advantage: Browns
Prediction: Ravens-27 Browns-10
This one has blowout written all over it. Expect Brady Quinn to be under constant pressure and make at least one key mistake. The ravens are revising their defensive gameplan in light of last week's poor performance, so there should be more linebacker blitzes and Ed Reed will be playing deep to support the cornerbacks. This is a statement game for the ravens defense, considering the Browns have the worst offense in the league, so their goal will be to allow zero points. The Ravens offense looks more than up to the task of manhandling the Browns. The key matchups will be Matt Birk vs. Shaun Rogers and Michael Oher vs. Kamerion Wimbley. The only area where the browns have a decided advantage is special teams, and I expect them to make at least one big play, but it will not be enough to overcome the massive gap in talent and coaching between these 2 teams.