1. Don’t press
Quarterback Joe Flacco’s patience will be tested on Sunday. The Browns play a more conservative scheme than what Flacco has seen from other defenses this season. They are not nearly as exotic and keep their safeties back, which is a big reason for why they are ranked first in pass defense.
The Browns try to generate a rush using their line and sparingly using their backers. Although they haven’t exactly generated a consistent rush (22 sacks), they’ve been able to force quarterbacks to hold the ball for coverage sacks.
This is the type of game in which Flacco doesn’t need to take unnecessary chances. Although he’s gotten better and better with fitting the ball into tight windows, he’ll need to pick his spots carefully against an underrated Cleveland secondary.
If he stays patient, takes the underneath options – dumpoffs, screens – the offense should stay on course.
2. Bunch formation
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has incorporated the bunch in his offensive play sets. The formation was on full display against the 49ers, when receiver Anquan Boldin broke free as the inside route runner over the middle.
This formation is very difficult to defend. The cross motion of the receivers can disrupt man coverage. If the defense chooses to use a zone scheme to defend, the receivers will be open for the short gain. Either way, the bunch can put any pass defense in a bind.
Against a Cleveland defense that plays with tremendous technique and gives up little space, using the bunch would create openings for the receivers.
3. Stick with the run
As great as Cleveland has been against the pass, they’ve been equally awful against the run. They rank 29th in run defense. If an opponent needs to restart its rushing attack, playing Cleveland will do the trick.
For the Ravens, running the ball has been a struggle. However, in their past two games, they have stuck to running the ball, despite producing a low yards per carry average.
Against the Browns, staying committed to the run will eventually pay off. The Browns have an undisciplined front and they have given up some long gains.
Look for Cameron to use more of a mix of unbalanced formations – as he did against San Francisco – and more power sets to get the running game back on track.
1. Hands up
Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy has come under some scrutiny this season. The second year signal caller — who displayed so much promise last season — has had a steady, yet unspectacular season.
McCoy is capable of making plays inside and outside the pocket. He’s got enough mobility to buy extra time.
However, McCoy is not the tallest quarterback and defenses have been able to bat his passes down. If the Ravens are able to keep him confined in the pocket, they should be prepared to get their hands up to knock the ball down or up and create turnover opportunities.
2. Stunts, loops and twists
Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano called arguably his finest game against the 49ers. His defense tied a team record for sacks and held tailback Frank Gore to less than 50 yards. Much of the front’s success stemmed from playing aggressive yet disciplined football.
Pagano used an array of games up front. The lineman would exchange rush positions and those moves confounded the San Francisco offensive line.
Given the versatility of the Baltimore rushers, it makes sense to use stunts and twists to create certain mismatch opportunities up front. For example, Terrell Suggs is big enough to rush up the gut. Cory Redding is a natural inside rusher but is nimble enough to get past an offensive tackle.
The ultimate hybrid, tweaner rusher appears to be rookie Pernell McPhee. He is has incredible quickness and timing, yet possesses the size to play inside or outside.
It will be fun to watch Pagano’s schemes on display against a beatable Cleveland defense.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Torrey Smith versus Joe Haden: Haden is having a Pro Bowl season. The second year corner is living up to his billing as the top cornerback in the 2010 draft. He is a natural cover corner with fluid hips and impeccable ball skills. Smith has been a revelation in his rookie season. He’s been able to get behind some of the top cornerbacks in the AFC, including Darrell Revis, Ike Taylor and Johnathan Joseph. This battle between two of the finest young players in the AFC North will have a major impact on the outcome of the game.