1) Bigs out wide: With tight end Todd Heap part of the passing attack again, and Kelley Washington as a viable No.3 receiver, the Ravens have big targets to turn to downfield. The size advantage could especially come into play against the undersized Cleveland secondary.
The cover duo of Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald is solid. They have good short-area quickness and straight-line speed. However, at 5-foot-10 and nearly 180 pounds, both cornerbacks are mirror images who lack the build to man up bigger receivers.
This is a game that calls for Heap and Washington to be involved in the vertical game. Both players should flex out wide in obvious passing situations to force the corners to slide over top of them. Once quarterback Joe Flacco sees the matchup, he should look to lob the ball, and let his taller receivers box out the defenders for the football.
2) Two tight end sets: For the first time all season, tight end L.J. Smith could be active on Sunday. Smith has been hampered by nagging injuries during training camp and the preseason. When he’s at full speed, Smith is a terrific seam route-runner who can stretch the second level. With him in the lineup, the coaching staff would have the ability to flex both tight ends to the slot to create a four-wide look.
Against the Browns, Heap and Smith could have productive games operating from the two tight end alignment. The Cleveland outside linebackers have struggled to cover the tight end. It will be tough for them to keep pace with Smith and Heap in open space.
3) Checks and balances: Although the Browns remain in a 3-4 scheme, with head coach Eric Mangini overseeing the unit, it will have different rush patterns than it has in the past. Specifically, Mangini is known for using a lot of bait-and-switch looks in which linebackers show blitz at the line, only to drop into zone coverage. He employs this strategy to get the quarterback to make the wrong protection checks, so that the true rushers are unaccounted for.
Sound communication between center Matt Birk and Flacco is paramount. The battery tandem will need to make the right pre-snap reads and set the protection accordingly. In addition, Flacco will need to recognize where the linebackers are after the snap.
1) Communication Breakdown: Last week against San Diego, there was a high level of miscommunication on the back end. Safeties were visibly out of position, not honoring their deep coverage responsibilities when the cornerbacks expected help. On the whole, there were too many instances in which defenders seemed lost in space.
These mistakes have to be cleaned up against the Browns. Although the Cleveland offense has lacked bite in its downfield passing attack, it has enough weapons to spring big plays against a secondary that is not cohesive in its technique and alignment.
2) Bracket Edwards: When Cleveland had tight end Kellen Winslow in the lineup along with Braylon Edwards, the offense boasted two dominant pass catchers who demanded double coverage. Now Winslow is out of the picture and Edwards is the lone cog.
Edwards remains a dangerous wide receiver despite coming off of a year in which he dropped a lot of passes. He is long, acrobatic, and able to gain separation downfield.
Unlike what happened against San Diego wideout Vincent Jackson, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison must use bracket coverage on the outside to take away Edwards. The corners should press and the safeties must shade over the top. The goal is to render Edwards into an underneath target.
3) First down defense: Tailback Jamal Lewis is listed as doubtful and could be out of the lineup on Sunday. As it is, the Browns would have had a difficult time running the ball against the Ravens, and with Lewis out of the lineup, the task will be even tougher.
The front seven needs to be locked in against the run on first down. If the defense is able to consistently limit the Browns to three yards or less, they will force the offense into third-and-long situations. Given its protection problems, third-and-long would be a very uncomfortable spot for Brady Quinn and the Browns.