Ravens v. Browns, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD
Ravens favored by 6 ½; over/under 43 ½
No matter how good or bad divisional rivals are, the familiarity usually paves the way to a competitively fought game.
Such will be the case when the Baltimore Ravens host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at The Bank.
The Ravens are struggling with an identity crisis on offense. The toughness and attitude provided by the physicality of departed wide receiver Anquan Boldin has been replaced by finesse and undefined roles. As a result of injury Dennis Pitta, a go-to pass catcher for quarterback Joe Flacco, has been supplanted by veteran Dallas Clark. Fortunately for Flacco the Brown defensive backfield is a bit of a mess outside of Joe Haden who is likely to mirror Torrey Smith.
The offensive line has been slow to execute Running Game Coordinator Juan Castillo’s blocking schemes and techniques. Without Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce churning up real estate by ground, it becomes increasingly more difficult for Flacco to be effective by air with unproven receivers (save Smith) and without the benefit of play action.
And cranking up the running game, regardless of Rice’s previous success against Cleveland, will not be an easy task. The Browns gave up 20 yards rushing on 23 Dolphins attempts last week.
Defensively the Ravens struggled in the secondary in Denver and while the Browns probably won’t threaten Dean Pees’ backfield on the flanks, Tight End Jordan Cameron could prove to be menacing to the team’s slumping safeties, much like or perhaps even more so than Julius Thomas did at Mile High on opening night.
Of course Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, the soon-to-be 30-year-old second year player, will never be mistaken for Peyton Manning nor does he have the arsenal that the future Hall of Famer has at his disposal.
Weeden has to hope that powerful RB Trent Richardson can get it going in Baltimore. If the Ravens are forced to bring 8 men up in the box that will set up play action for Weeden and intermediate to long strikes in the middle for Cameron. If Richardson struggles against the Ravens front 7 it could be a long day for Weeden who is “protected” by a very shaky right side of the line that has seen the likes of former Raven Oniel Cousins.
Add it all up and from my vantage point this contest shapes up as a defensive struggle that will more than likely be decided by turnovers and those more often than not during the Ravens history go to the home team.
The sledding will be tough early as the teams exchange body blows but in the end the Ravens will make a few more plays than the Browns who will struggle to outscore the Cleveland Indians who pounded out 14 runs against the White Sox last night. Make it 11 straight for Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh over the Browns.
PREDICTION: Ravens 23, Browns 13
LAST WEEK: 0-1 v. Winner, 0-1 v. Spread
WHAT’S YOUR PREDICTION?