1. Five yards and a cloud of dust
For the Ravens, it’s all about first down productivity. When they establish a five-yard gain or greater, they are on track with their no-huddle attack. If it’s three yards or less, the down-and-distance battle becomes a struggle, and they lose offensive rhythm.
Against New England, the Ravens were able to consistently gain four or five yards on first down, giving them incredible flexibility to stay unpredictable with their attack.
First down offense will remain critical against Cleveland, as the Ravens must stay on schedule with their offense to be effective.
2. Patience is a virtue
One of the principal reasons that the Ravens struggled in their first three offensive series stemmed from their insistence on forcing passes downfield. Once Joe Flacco started taking what the defense was giving him with short dump offs to his tailbacks, the rest of the field opened up.
It might take a similar approach against Cleveland. Look for a normally aggressive Cleveland defense to play some zone, knowing that Flacco can tend to get antsy and force the action. It’ll be important for Flacco to keep his poise and take the short gains to keep drives alive. The home run ball will come eventually.
3. Chips and dip
A year ago, rookie DE Jabaal Sheard was a true menace to the Baltimore Ravens. Along with free agent pickup Frostee Rucker, the Browns have two formidable bookends that will challenge Michael Oher and rookie Kelechi Osemele.
This is a game in which providing some blocking assistance would be advised. Specifically, the Ravens should use more two-tight formations and keep their tight ends on the line. The tight ends should hit the ends before they release into their routes to slow down the edge rushers
1. Tackling clinic
In rookie tailback Trent Richardson, the Browns have a multi-dimensional back who can wear out a defense as a runner and as a pass catcher. Richardson’s strength is that he can break tackles. In the open field especially, Richardson is a killer. He’s got moves on top of moves to make defenders miss, and he also has the compact power to bounce off anyone.
The key to keeping Richardson contained is to make sure he isn’t gaining yards after contact. If Richardson is bottled up and unable to break a long one, Cleveland’s offense may not have enough juice to keep up with Baltimore’s offense.
2. Watch the deep ball
The Browns may not be a consistent offense but that doesn’t mean they can’t strike big. Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has a big arm and against a Baltimore secondary that has been torched this season, there is some hope.
Nonetheless, the big plays must be kept to a minimum against a Cleveland team grasping for air. Without receiver Mohammed Massaquoi, the task should be easier for a much-maligned Baltimore pass defense. Still, it’ll be key for the linebackers, corners, and safeties to play with solid technique and force Weeden to throw into traffic.
3. Unbalanced rush
In the closing moments against New England, Baltimore’s dormant pass rush finally came alive, largely due to a more aggressive blitz attack. When the Ravens over stacked the edges with blitzing defenders, the Patriots didn’t have an answer. More than anything, because they stacked both sides, New England had a tough time figuring out which side to slide protection to.
This same strategy could be quite devastating against Cleveland in obvious passing situations. In particular, look for the tilted rush to come from the strong side where the Browns are most vulnerable.
One-on-One Matchup of the Week
D’Qwell Jackson versus Dennis Pitta
Remarkably, Jackson has emerged as one of the top inside backers in the game after recovering from two torn pectoral muscle injuries in back-to-back seasons. The former Terrapin is tremendous from sideline-to-sideline, and he’s been a force as a pass defender dropping into zone. Pitta has been able to get open against linebackers all year but Jackson is on another level.