It’s time for our weekly feature, “Six Pack of Boh,” where we ask six questions about the upcoming Ravens game. So grab an ice cold Natty Boh and let’s get started.
Will the defense finally make a statement?
The Ravens enter tonight’s game as the 27th ranked defense in the NFL – certainly not the position they’re used to finding themselves in.
However, in their defense, the three teams they have gone up against so far in 2012 – Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and New England – are all high-powered offenses, currently ranking eighth, fifth, and ninth, respectively, in total offensive output.
Tonight, in their second consecutive nationally-televised game, it’s time for the defense to finally show the league that they are still Top-10 caliber. Cleveland comes in to town with the 26th ranked offense in the NFL, with a rookie quarterback, rookie running back, and without their leading receiver, Mohamed Massaquoi, who is out with an injury.
The Ravens defense finally hunkered down in the fourth quarter of the New England game, allowing Tom Brady and co. to manage only a field goal in the decisive fourth quarter. Let’s hope the momentum from those last few stops against one of the league’s best offenses carries over into tonight.
If the Browns crack 250 yards of offense, I’ll consider it a disappointment.
Will Cary Williams pick up his game?
Piggybacking off the last point, we have to ask if Cary Williams will continue to hold onto his spot in the starting lineup. Williams was picked on repeatedly by Brady, who seemingly threw Cary’s way every time he needed a third-down conversion – with much success.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees was supportive of his starting cornerback, opting to give all the credit to Brady rather than criticize Williams.
With the Browns missing a starting receiver, this is a golden opportunity for Williams to redeem himself a bit. He’ll need to improve heavily on the technique he showed against New England, though. Keep an eye out for Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden – will he throw to Williams’s side of the field every time he needs to move the chains?
Will Ed Reed keep hitting like the Reed of old?
Staying in the secondary, one of the most pleasant surprises of the Patriots game was the physical play of Ed Reed. Reed, who has been tentative to hit over the past several seasons due to a lingering nerve impingement injury in his neck, was laying the wood against New England like we haven’t seen him do in years.
According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, Reed went through a strenuous offseason weight lifting program in order to strengthen his upper body and improve his durability.
The results were on full display against the Pats, as both Julian Edelman and Deion Branch can readily attest.
If Reed can indeed be even nearly the thumper he used to be from the free safety position, then along with Bernard Pollard the Ravens will easily have one of the most complete safety tandems in the NFL.
Can Torrey Smith put up a repeat performance?
Torrey Smith’s performance on Sunday Night was nothing short of incredible. Playing with the heaviest of hearts after losing his younger brother, Tevin, just a few hours earlier, Smith caught six balls for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
Comparatively, the 23-year old had only four catches for 108 yards and zero touchdowns through the season’s first two games.
The Browns did a great job on Torrey in 2011, holding him to just three receptions for 70 yards and no scores total in the two matches.
However, the Browns are without their top cornerback, Joe Haden, tonight. Haden is serving the fourth and final game of a four-game suspension for failing a drug test. His absence should open things up for not only Smith, but also for Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones, Dennis Pitta, and the rest of the Ravens passing attack.
Playing without Haden, the Browns have allowed 269 passing yards per game, 27th in the league. They do have nine sacks, however, which is tied for fifth most, so Joe Flacco will need to continue to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
Will Justin Tucker stay perfect?
Though he just barely squeaked the game-winner inside the right upright on Sunday night, the rest of rookie kicker Justin Tucker’s six field goal attempts have gone pretty much right down the middle.
Tucker is 7-for-7 on the young season, and has kicked 13 touchbacks on 20 kickoffs.
While we don’t anticipate this game coming down to field goals – the Ravens should win going away – it will still be nice to see the young kicker get an attempt or two and continue the perfect start to his NFL career.
His leg strength on kickoffs will be an asset as well, as the Ravens attempt to corral Browns kick returner Josh Cribbs, who is averaging 28.4 yards per return.
Will the Ravens stay undefeated against Cleveland in the Harbaugh/Flacco era?
Since coming to Baltimore in 2008, Harbaugh and Flacco are 8-0 against the Browns, outscoring them by a grand total of 203-91 (or roughly 25-11 per game).
However, the past couple contests in Baltimore have been anything but blowouts. In 2010, Peyton Hillis ran all over the Ravens in a losing effort, 24-17. Last Christmas Eve, it took Flacco drawing the Browns’ defense offside late in the fourth quarter to secure a 20-14 victory.
In order to gain the comfortable victory tonight, the Ravens will need to jump out to an early lead and force Weeden to the air. Without his top receiver, the Ravens should then be able to tee off on the 28-year old rookie.
An early lead will also go a long way to taking dynamic rookie RB Trent Richardson out of the game. Richardson is only averaging 3.5 yards per carry so far, but he could hit a home run at any time. If the Browns hang around and make this game a dogfight, Alabama product could have quite a say in the final outcome.