Battle Plans: Ravens vs. Browns

Joe Haden Torrey Smith copy

Offense

1. Manufacture Separation  

The Baltimore receivers have been struggling against press coverage. Everyone knows it. Even after an impressive performance against Dallas’ formidable corners, the Texans didn’t back off and the receivers came back down to earth.

At this point, it will take scheme to break these receivers open against tight coverage. With corner Joe Haden back in the lineup, the Browns will pack some additional bite on the back end. This is a game in which motioning receivers and using bunch route formations should help receivers uncover against man coverage.

2. Quick draws and screens  

In the first matchup, the Baltimore offensive line struggled to keep the DE tandem of Juqua Paker and Jabaal Sheard from wreaking havoc off the edges. The Ravens decided to use more open sets and keep their tackles on islands and they paid dearly for using that strategy.

Weeks later, the tackle play continues to be inconsistent, and the Ravens need to consider helping tackles Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele. This is a game in which quick-hitting draws and well-designed screen passes could slow down Cleveland’s pass rush and deter them from blitzing too often. Specifically, the receivers should also be involved on bubble screens to keep the receivers active and test Cleveland’s tackling ability in open space.

3. Portable Plan  

As ESPN analyst Tom Jackson likes to say, when you go on the road, you need a portable game plan. That means packing a defense and a running game. These are two constants in Baltimore history that have seemingly fallen by the wayside this season.

The road woes for the offense need to come to a screeching halt, even if it means giving Ray Rice 40 carries. This game should be about lining up in the “I” and reinstituting smash-mouth football. The Browns have been dreadful against the run, and there is no reason for the Ravens to get too cute in hostile territory.

Defense

1. Spy Richardson     

Since the Ravens played the Browns in Week 4, their offense has evolved. Rookie receiver Josh Gordon has emerged as a dynamic deep threat. Moreover, quarterback Brandon Weeden has been getting better and better since his breakout performance against Baltimore.

But the catalyst remains another rookie, Trent Richardson. Richardson was an open-field monster against the Ravens and although he’s playing with tender ribs, he still remains dangerous.

In this game, the Ravens may need to keep one of their inside linebackers shadowing Richardson on every snap. In particular, when Richardson leaks out of the backfield as a receiver, he must be accounted for. This could be a game in which Albert McClellan is used more on the inside to chase from sideline-to-sideline and reprise his ILB role—especially with the return of Terrell Suggs at OLB.

2. Keep the Safeties Back  

Cleveland’s deep passing game was mentioned at the top, and it is a major concern for Baltimore’s leaky secondary. If Richardson gets going on early downs, play-action will be in full effect as the game progresses.

While the Ravens will need to keep Richardson contained, they can’t do so at the expense of leaving their cornerbacks completely vulnerable. As bad as the run defense has been, defensive coordinator Dean Pees may need to rely on his front seven to win the battle up front and keep his safeties back to protect against the deep ball—especially in predominant passing downs.

All it takes is one deep shot between Weeden and Gordon to swing the momentum in Cleveland’s favor. Weeden should be forced to stay patient and work the ball against tight zone coverage.

3. Double Trouble

With cornerback Jimmy Smith taking over for Lardarius Webb, the Houston Texans went right after him with double moves and pump-fakes.

Smith’s propensity to bite is a major concern coming into this game. If Smith isn’t able to play with better technique on the outside, Weeden will pick up from where Matt Schaub left off in Houston.

One-on-One Matchup of the Week

Torrey Smith vs. Joe Haden

Haden is back and he’ll likely check Smith all game long. Smith has been hit or miss most of the season and he’ll have a tougher time winning jump balls against the physical Cleveland corner. Haden has outstanding leaping ability to contend with Smith when the ball is up for grabs.

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