Baltimore Ravens' Home Opener: No Time to Slack Against Winless Browns

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Baltimore Ravens' Home Opener:  No Time to Slack Against Winless Browns
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At the start of the 2010 season, no one believed the Baltimore Ravens would be fighting for their lives to stay out of last place in the AFC North, in just the third week of the season. 

However, that's exactly what they'll be doing as the Baltimore Ravens (1-1) host the Cleveland Browns (0-2) in their homecoming game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

The Ravens are in the midst of the toughest part of their schedule.  After narrowly defeating the New York Jets in the Meadowlands, they took to the road in Cincinnati, only to lose a close game that was marred by two highly controversial personal-foul penalties. 

Joe Flacco didn't make it any easier for the Ravens in Cincinnati.  His four interceptions were a team-high, dating all the way back to 2001, when Elvis Grbac was at the helm of the Ravens offense.

Flacco, and the rest of the Baltimore offense, can't afford to be caught sleeping against a Browns defense that's ranked 13th in the NFL through two games.

During Friday's team press conference, head coach John Harbaugh re-instilled his complete confidence in the struggling Flacco.

Harbaugh said of Flacco, "Joe is a guy of strong character. He's shown his ability to bounce back from tough outings before, and I believe he will continue to do so."

There was no mention by the media to Harbaugh of a possible switch at quarterback, something Ravens fans have been echoing throughout the community since the loss to Cincinnati.

In order for the Ravens to be successful on Sunday against Cleveland, they need to regain their lost identity in the running game. 

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron stated Friday, that more emphasis would be put on running the football against the Browns. 

Cameron also stated that "while the focal point of our offense will be our ground attack, we are keeping the entire playbook open to Joe Flacco."

Only time will tell if this holds true for Flacco on Sunday.  Historically, when Flacco has a poor outing, his pass attempts the following week drop by an average of 15.  Not exactly a vote of confidence for the third-year starter.

The big matchup on Sunday will be Baltimore's wide receivers vs. a much-improved Cleveland secondary.

Led by newly-acquired Sheldon Brown, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles, is a secondary that's built on high-risk, high-reward plays. 

Baltimore should be able to create mismatches with their plethora of receivers, but it's ultimately up to Flacco to exploit the mismatches that are likely to occur.

Browns rookie CB Joe Haden might see a heavy dose of WR T.J Houshmandzadeh, as it's Cameron's plan to pick on the rookie corner when the Ravens go to the air.

Whether it's Derrick Mason or Houshmandzadeh, either receiver should be able to post good numbers against Haden, so watch for that key matchup all game.

Most of the pressure for a Ravens' victory this Sunday will fall on the shoulders of both Flacco and Cameron. 

With the absence of any creativity on the part of the Ravens offense, Cameron has recently been under fire for his lack of imagination running the offense. 

Cameron needs to find the delicate balance between run and pass again, something that Baltimore prided themselves on over the past several years.

As for Flacco, he's no longer a young player.  Elite quarterbacks typically start to thrive in their third year. 

This could be a good game for Flacco to show why he was worth the first-round pick three years ago, and regain some of the confidence lost in the first two weeks.

However, if Flacco's struggles continue against Cleveland, his starting job could potentially be on the line, if Baltimore falls to last place in the division with a loss to the Browns. 

 

Writer's Opinion and Analysis

This is an early-season, must-win for the Ravens.  There's a sense of urgency in Baltimore to get the win, and everyone realizes what's at stake. 

Joe Flacco is 4-0 against the Browns in his short career, and he should rebound in a big way against a Cleveland team that's still rebuilding.

Watch for Ray Rice to have a big day. He's only rushed for 130 yards in his first two outings, but look for him to top that mark on Sunday. 

Rice should see the end zone twice in a game where Baltimore uses Flacco conservatively (but not sparingly).

Flacco will have a solid game, but won't post spectacular numbers.  Houshmandzadeh will be his go-to guy, and should notch one touchdown with 90 yards receiving.

Anquan Boldin won't be as much of a factor.  Covered by Sheldon Brown, Flacco will look for other options, in an attempt to cure his ball security problems.

Baltimore will get the win, and find themselves tied with the Steelers for first place in the AFC North, as Pittsburgh loses in an upset in Tampa Bay.

 

Baltimore 23, Cleveland 3

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