What can Brown Do for You?
In his debut performance against the Denver Broncos, rookie receiver Marlon Brown snagged four catches for 65 yards and scored a touchdown. The 6’5” former Georgia Bulldog showed the same sharp route running and ability to work in traffic as he did during the preseason.
Now, with Jacoby Jones being out for 4-6 weeks, he’ll make his first start against a Cleveland secondary that is undersized and undermanned at the cornerback position, apart from Joe Haden. With Hayden checking Torrey Smith—more on this matchup later—Brown will have his opportunities to man up against Buster Skrine and Chris Owens. Both Cleveland CBs check in at 5-9, close to 180 pounds.
Given the size advantage that Brown presents, this game has his name written all over it. Quarterback Joe Flacco should look to get him involved early and often, especially on isolation routes in the deep middle part of the field.
Work the Outside Backers
With outside rushers such as Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, and Barkevious Mingo, Cleveland has a dynamic trio that can fly to the quarterback. Sheard in particular has been a menace against the Ravens and has wrecked their blocking schemes.
In order to nullify the backer attack, the Ravens have to force the defenders out of their natural habitats. Specifically, the Ravens should look to run right at the edges and motion receivers to their sides to so they have to drop into coverage and play in space.
When it comes to Kruger, the Ravens know that power blocks at the point of attack can overwhelm him. In the case of Sheard and Mingo, the two players are still going through a coverage learning curve.
Between both sides, the offensive game plan is to keep the linebackers on their toes and prevent them from getting active as pure pass rushers.
Deciphering the Blitz
The Browns have strived to use more multiple fronts and looks in the past. But under new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, they finally have the right coach and the right chess pieces to make quarterbacks play the guessing game.
Especially in third-down passing situations, the battery of center Gino Gradkowski and quarterback Joe Flacco will have to properly identify which rushers are coming and which rushers are bluffing. Gradkowski did a nice job of setting up the blitz protections against Denver and he’ll have his work cut out once again versus a revived Cleveland front.
Short Routes from the Weeds
In Brandon Weeden, offensive coordinator Norv Turner has a big, strong-armed quarterback that can throw a pretty deep ball when he has protection. However, when Weeden is hurried and forced to work the intermediate routes, he lacks the timing and precision to complete passes consistently.
Without his favorite deep target, Josh Gordon, Weeden struggled even more to find his rhythm against the Miami secondary. He faced an even bigger problem when the Cleveland pass protection melted down consistently, as Weeden was sacked six times.
It would make sense for the Ravens to keep Weeden out of his comfort zone by bringing the heat, forcing him to release the ball quickly and work the inside routes. If he is off the mark as much as he was against the Dolphins, there could be ample opportunities for turnovers.
Stuff Richardson on Early Downs
One of the biggest problems the Ravens had last season with their rush defense was holding their ground on early downs. Opposing offenses usually had a field day on first and second down, making the task of third down conversions infinitely easier.
The current Baltimore front seven is a completely different unit that has been stellar throughout the preseason and the opening game at limiting positive yardage on first and second down. Their task will be to hold talented second-year tailback Trent Richardson to three yards or less whenever he touches the ball on those early downs. This is no easy feat, as Richardson is a bull who can break tackles and push the pocket for extra yards.
If Richardson and the running game are contained early on, the Baltimore defense will force Weeden to air the ball out on third down—which is exactly the pouncing position they want to be in.
The Jordan Rules
The only bright spot from Cleveland’s offense on Sunday was tight end Jordan Cameron. The former USC Trojan is an athletic, high leaper who can snag jump balls and run past linebackers. Cameron is especially good as a red zone and goal line target where he can use his size to out-maneuver smaller defensive backs.
The Baltimore defenders can’t let the emerging tight end run free through the secondary. Cameron should be hit at the line of scrimmage before he releases into his pass patterns. If he’s able to get a clean release, there might be a replay of the Julius Thomas show at M&T Bank Stadium.
One-on-One Battle of the Week
Joe Haden vs. Torrey Smith
Haden has developed into one of the few shutdown cornerbacks in the league. The fourth-year pro is physical and has the ball skills to disrupt the pass. Smith had a solid yet unspectacular performance against Denver last week. He’ll have to find a way to break free from Haden’s jams at the line to have a chance to win down the field.