On Sunday, the Ravens will play the Browns for the 30th time. Baltimore is 22-7 all-time in this series.
The Ravens are also coming off of their bye week, a situation in which they are 5-0 under John Harbaugh.
And as you may have heard, since Harbaugh and Flacco came to town, the Ravens are 11-0 against the Browns. In that time, the Browns have scored 20 or more points just once.
Something tells me you’re still skeptical about how the Ravens will play on Sunday.
Based on their play this year, you’d be right to have questions.
Despite those stats, the Browns still have excellent talent and toughness. Last week, led by their third-string quarterback on the road against the NFL’s only unbeaten team (Chiefs), the Browns only lost by six points.
This game is the second of three consecutive AFC North games the Ravens will play, so needless to say winning is vital.
We all know how Baltimore’s last game turned out. Here are five ways the Ravens can avoid a similar fate on Sunday.
1.) Block Cleveland’s front seven
With players such as Barkevious Mingo, Paul Kruger and Craig Robertson, the Browns have one of the best front seven units in football. In fact, Cleveland ranks third in the NFL in sacks (26).
Inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson is as solid a linebacker as there is in the league. He’s sixth in the league and first on the Browns with 69 tackles this year.
These guys are quick, strong and hungry to win. Accounting for all of them won’t be easy, but the Ravens can’t let them wreak havoc.
2.) Fire off the ball
It seems like in the Steelers game, the Ravens were giving up seven and eight yards per carry while only gaining two and three yards per carry. In fact, the Steelers averaged 4.9 yards per carry to the Ravens’ 3.2 yards per carry. However, the total rushing margin wasn’t so close (Pittsburgh 141, Baltimore 82).
The Browns aren’t a particularly good rushing team, but they run enough to keep defenses honest. They’re offensive play-calling is a 60-40 split, in favor of passing. That’s more a product of today’s NFL rather than impatience or imbalance.
If the Ravens don’t take control of the line of scrimmage from the first snap until the last, Cleveland will. When you control the line of scrimmage, you control the game.
3.) Stay focused for 60 minutes
When the Ravens beat the Browns in Week 2, the final score was 14-6.
This time around, not much has changed, except for the fact that Cleveland now has the stellar services of wide receiver Josh Gordon, who’s second in the NFL with 18.2 yards per reception (minimum of 30 receptions).
Fortunately for Baltimore, the leader in that category is Torrey Smith (20.3 yards per reception).
The last four games in this series have been decided by 10 points or less. This Sunday shouldn’t be any different. Points may be hard to come by and there will likely be stretches of the game where nothing seems to be working for either squad.
Cleveland may get out to a hot start and may even score first, but Baltimore needs to stay focused throughout the game.
4.) Contain Cameron and Gordon
If you’ve seen the Browns play at all this year, you know they have two special pass catchers.
Tight end Jordan Cameron (6’5”, 245 pounds, 25 years old) and wide receiver Josh Gordon (6’3”, 225 pounds, 22 years old) are putting the NFL on notice. Together this duo has a combined 81 receptions for 1,178 and nine touchdowns halfway through this season.
These young stars compose probably the second-best tight end/wide receiver combo in the league (behind Denver’s Julius Thomas and Wes Welker).
It’ll be interesting to see how Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees combats this Cleveland passing attack.
5.) Respect your opponent
The Ravens need to view the Browns as a credible threat to win this game.
Although last year is history, the Ravens need to make a statement to the division and to the league that it wasn’t a fluke. They need to show the league they’re for real this year.
While a game against the Browns won’t garner huge ratings, it’s still a very important game for the Ravens. It’s not a must-win game, but the Ravens can’t afford to lose it, either.
Prediction: Ravens 27, Browns 23