1. No-huddle offense: The Ravens operated from a hurry-up, no huddle attack through their opening series in games against Carolina, Washington, and New York. One would have thought they were gearing up to use that approach in their opening tilts against the Jets and the Bengals.
However, the offense huddled up in those games, perhaps in anticipation of the crowd noise.
Now that the team will be at home against the Browns, there is a perfect opportunity to breakout their speed offense. Moreover, if the Ravens use this attack on early downs, they will force Cleveland to defend this open attack using their base defense while limiting substitutions.
The mentality on offense should be to attack quickly and furiously, gain an early lead, and gradually slow the tempo down as the game progresses.
2. Stretch the field: While Cleveland will attempt to play games upfront to put pressure on Joe Flacco, they lack the rushers to generate a consistent pass rush. They won’t be able to get home without blitzing.
3. Break out the three-headed monster: Where has the three-headed monster gone? It’s almost as if some mighty hero like Beowulf came from nowhere to smack it back into its cave. Or maybe Cam Cameron has ignored the beast entirely.
Between Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain, there should be a 35 carry share. This is the type of game in which the offense can reestablish its power running game.
1. Contain the edges: With wide receiver Josh Cribbs and quarterback Seneca Wallace – likely to be the starter in place of Jake Delhomme – the Browns will have a formidable wildcat duo that could test the Ravens’ gap integrity. Cribbs was already going to be a headache to deal with but if Wallace is the quarterback, the defense will have to account for the quarterback keep.
The defense has terminated wildcat offenses in the past, including the one that Cleveland runs. They are usually successful because they maintain their gap responsibilities. In addition, the outside defenders don’t get caught up in the inside wash. As long as the corners and the outside backers come downhill to defend the perimeter, there won’t be many opportunities for the ball-carrier (whether it is Cribbs or someone else) to bounce the play outside.
2. Pressure off the right side: If the Ravens are going to get pressure on the quarterback, they’ll have an easier time getting through off of the right side of the line as opposed to the left. In Cleveland, there aren’t many constants; but left tackle Joe Thomas and left guard Eric Steinbach are rock solid and rarely lose their pass blocking battles. Meanwhile, center Alex Mack is quietly developing into one of the better players at his position.
On the other side, the Browns have a patchwork combination of right guard Floyd Womack and right tackle John St. Clair. The two players are veterans, but neither player has even seen starting time up to this point – Womack and St. Clair both missed the first two games of the season.
The point of emphasis for the defensive attack should be to run some overloads to the right side. If they can get enough pressure off of that side, Cleveland will have to slide their protection, possibly leaving some openings elsewhere for defenders to shoot through.
3. Finding a nickel: The loss of linebacker Tavares Gooden for the next month or so leaves a spot open for a defender to step up on third down. Gooden was the strongside backer who had coverage responsibilities against tight ends and backs in the flat.
Now, the defensive coaches have to decide whether to use another linebacker to fill Gooden’s third down role or a defensive back.
Although Gooden lacked natural coverage instincts, he had the speed and size combination to run with tight ends and provide protection against the run. It will be tough to find a player who presents that type of physical ability.
At this point, it would behoove the coaches to slide a safety over to play the linebacker role, especially in third-and-long situations. Either they can slide Haruki Nakamura from the slot position to the designated rover position next to Ray Lewis, or perhaps use Dawan Landry in that role as he is physical enough to play the run at the line.
Regardless of which direction the coaches chose to go in, they will need an answer against tight end Ben Watson, who has the speed to stretch the field for Cleveland. Going forward, the Baltimore defense will face a rouges gallery of pass catchers, including Heath Miller, the young New England combination, Owen Daniels, Kellen Winslow, and Jeremy Shockey.
One-on-one Matchup to Watch
Shaun Rogers versus Matt Birk: As always, for the Ravens to have success running the ball and keeping the inside lanes clear, they will have to find a way to contain Mr. Rogers. Although the neighborhood that this Mr. Rogers patrols is much meaner and nastier than of the iconic figure that young children came to know and love. Rogers is a powerful player who pushes the pocket and understands how to disengage blocks. Birk will have to be quick off the snap and maintain perfect technique to keep the Cleveland nose tackle from being a disruptive force on Sunday.