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Time to get fierce
Cleveland Offense vs. Baltimore Defense
If Baltimore cannot beat Cleveland by at least two TDs in December on a playoff run, then perhaps those calling for half of the defense to retire are right.
Cleveland has had one big offensive play in 2011—last week’s 76-yard TD pass from second-string QB Seneca Wallace to rookie WR Greg Little.
It was, sadly, the Browns’ biggest play in four years. Ouch.
One word keeps coming to the fore when Cleveland QB Wallace is mentioned. And that word is “cool.” The Holmgren favorite has somewhat quietly built a very respectable career as a backup/gadget-play weapon.
Universally considered too small to play professional QB, he refused to become another frustrated QB-turned-wideout. When he met West Coast King Mike Holmgren, a match was made.
Wallace may not be the every-down back version of a signal-caller. But he is effective and confident. Particularly with a young Cleveland offense, that aura carries a lot of weight and I’m sure contributed to his success last week against Arizona.
His scrambling ability will serve him well against a frustrated Ravens pass-rush that only got to Philip Rivers twice all Sunday evening.
That’s fortunate, because starting QB Colt McCoy is doubtful as he tries to recover from a concussion, and third-string QB Thaddeus Lewis has been out with an “undisclosed injury” for several weeks.
I don’t know what that means except that I’ll bet it translates into a ticket out of Cleveland in March. I couldn’t find an official Browns emergency QB listed anywhere, but I’d be wiling to bet it's WR Josh Cribbs, who played the position in college and has thrown a few professional passes.
Under Wallace, Cleveland will probably come up with almost 200 passing yards. Great.
Now how about the rush? Peyton Hillis, if still healthy, should get the bulk of the carries. The only other choice is former practice-squad stud Chris Ogbonnaya, who at least gives it his all.
Did I mention that FB Owen Marecic is doubtful with a concussion? Terrific.
Even after Sunday night, Baltimore has given up an average of less than 85 rushing yards for a month.
For the “big picture” here, the Browns score about 10 points and the Ravens give up about 18—maximum. I give Cleveland 14 points on the day.
Baltimore Offense vs. Cleveland Defense
Every team that faces the Ravens tries to stop Ray Rice. Few are able to accomplish this goal.
An amped-up Chargers defense made Rice a complete non-factor. That alone would have sealed their victory.
Not only is Rice Baltimore's starting RB, he is also a centerpiece of the passing offense. Joe Flacco must get that connection going again on Sunday.
On the way to a post-Thanksgiving average of 27 points per game, Flacco has put together a bit less than 200 yards each week. Hmmm. Not great. Not fatal, but not great.
But Cleveland isn’t giving up a lot through the air: about 238 yards per game.
So Joe must start finding Anquan Boldin, new TE Ed Dickson and both running backs. Otherwise, he’ll never be able to connect with deep-threat WR Torrey Smith.
The Ravens offense has to at least try to stretch the field. The Browns are thin now at safety, since both T.J. Ward and Usama Young are hurt. Flacco needs to exploit that.
Because, if they can get anything going aerially, Cleveland will let Ray Rice and Ricky Williams run all over them.
The beleaguered Browns D has been handing out ground yards like, well—like it’s Christmas.
The Steelers did Baltimore a big favor by losing on Monday night. With Roethlisberger hurt, the Ravens have a shot at hanging onto the divisional crown. They cannot waste this opportunity.
Cleveland should just continue collecting game film so that they can figure out what the heck to do in the spring.