Week 3 Preview: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens

Sean O'BrienCorrespondent ISeptember 20, 2008

Week Three is full of intriguing match-ups.  We've got Dallas vs. Green Bay, Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh and San Diego vs. NY Jets.  But the one I find the most intriguing is the divisional match pitting the Cleveland Browns against the Baltimore Ravens

Ultimately, this game will determine who sits below the Steelers as No. 2 in the AFC North. 

Cleveland needs a win if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive and Baltimore wants to prove they didn't waste their unexpected bye week by being under prepared. 

There's been a lot of talk about the Cleveland offense and how much it has struggled so far.  There have even been people speculating that if Derek Anderson doesn't perform this game the Dawg Pound will start calling for backup Brady Quinn.  Another thing I find interesting is how everyone says "Well their defense actually hasn't played that bad".

I understand that Cleveland has thus far lost to two undefeated teams, first to Dallas, then to the Steelers, but let's look over their defensive stats, shall we?

Right now, Cleveland's defense ranks 28th in yards allowed per game, 24th in rushing yards allowed and 26th in passing yards.  That makes them the 28th best defense overall.  The defense only averages two sacks a game, has only amassed a single interception and is currently allowing 19 points a game.  Their offense is only scoring eight points a game on average.

Baltimore, on the other hand, currently has the number one defense in the league.  Taking into consideration that their only game has been against the Bengals, I would probably truly rank them at 10th or 11th.  Still, right now the defense has only allowed 154.0 yards, 70 rushing (4th) and 84 passing yards (1st). 

The Ravens also rank eighth in overall offense.  Their rushing attack is currently first in the league, with 229.0 yards per game.  However, I doubt that feat will be replicated against a hungry Cleveland D that is much better then the Bengals'. 

Joe Flacco finished his first professional game with a QB rating of 63.7, completing 15 of 29 passes and even rushing in for a touchdown.  Once again, these kind of stats probably won't be repeated.  However, coach Jim Harbaugh seems to be using Flacco's strengths well and I have a feeling Joe's second game will still put up better numbers then fellow rookie Matt Ryan did in week two.

The key for both these teams will be to get pressure up front.  Cleveland's receivers have been dropping balls left and right and Baltimore's passing attack isn't exactly potent.  Any pressure up front and both these quarterbacks will either scramble for a loss or throw a wild pick.

Baltimore will play it safe, trying to pound up the middle with Le'Ron McClain, Willis McGahee and Ray Rice.  It will be up to Cleveland to halt these key rushers and force Flacco to try and win with his arm.

With Braylon Edwards and Dante Stallworth both questionable for the game, Cleveland might also have to revert to good ol' power running.  If they're going to do that they'll have to get a much better performance out of lead rusher Jamal Lewis.  As of right now, Lewis is only averaging 50 yards a game.

Here's how I break down this game:

Defensive advantage - Baltimore

Passing advantage - Cleveland

Rushing advantage - Baltimore

Special teams advantage - Cleveland

If Cleveland can find some traction in the passing game, they could run away with this one.  If not, expect Baltimore to pound it up the middle, pressure Anderson and control the clock with sustained drives.

My prediction:

The Ravens win it 20-14, intercepting Anderson on a last-minute drive to win the game.


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