1. Will the undefeated Baltimore Ravens be overconfident today against the winless Cleveland Browns?
Ordinarily, that would seem to be a possibility with the Ravens installed as nearly a two-touchdown favorite. However, the facts that this is an AFC North game, a traditional rivalry and that the Ravens weren’t entirely pleased with how they played on defense during a 31-26 win over the San Diego Chargers should produce a highly motivated football team. Plus, the Browns have enough recognizable personnel to allow the coaching staff to convince the players that this is a potentially competitive contest even though the Ravens have more than enough firepower to turn this one into a lopsided rout. Under new coach Eric Mangini, those halftime speeches must be stinkers. They have been outscored 41-7 in the second half through two games.
2. Will the Ravens be able to contain dangerous return man Joshua Cribbs?
Cribbs is capable of altering the complexion of a game with one return. He has averaged 27.4 yards against the Ravens in eight career games with one kickoff returned 92 yards for a touchdown last season against Baltimore. The Ravens will have to gang-tackle Cribbs and maintain lane discipline in kick coverage.
3. Will the Ravens dominate on the ground?
Cleveland ranks 31st against the run, allowing 205.5 yards per contest. This could be a field day for running backs Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and fullback Le’Ron McClain. The Ravens ran the ball effectively enough last season against the Browns that they had 85 carries last season, including Rice’s career-high 154-yard performance.
4. Will the Ravens be able to get their secondary back on track with a better pass rush?
This is the week to get well upfront as the Browns have allowed quarterback Brady Quinn to be sacked nine times, a number that ranks second-to-last in the NFL in pass protection. The Ravens’ front seven, particularly Terrell Suggs, have grown tired of being criticized this week for giving Philip Rivers enough time to pick apart the secondary for 436 yards. Baltimore will need to generate a pass rush since wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who has caught four touchdowns in six games against the Ravens, will have a distinct size advantage over the Ravens’ diminutive cornerbacks.
5. How will Joe Flacco factor into the game plan?
The Browns’ defense isn’t good enough to prevent Flacco from doing what he wants for the majority of the game. He ranks seventh in the NFL with a 96.1 quarterback rating and he’s tied for second with Matt Ryan with five touchdown passes. Flacco has completed 62.3 percent of his throws for 497 yards with just two interceptions for a 96.1 quarterback rating. Flacco has 300 career completions and needs 20 more to surpass Tony Banks to rank fourth all-time in franchise history.
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Browns LB D’Qwell Jackson
Although former Pro Bowl runner Willis McGahee has been the focal point of the Ravens’ running game lately, this could shape up as a game where Rice is featured. Rice rushed for a career-high 154 yards last season against the Browns and caught three passes for 22 yards. The Browns are allowing 205.5 rushing yards per contest, ranking 31st in run defense overall. Rice might prove to be too shifty and elusive for Jackson to deal with in the open field. Jackson is probably not fast enough to keep up with Rice out of the backfield.
Ravens LB Brendon Ayanbadejo vs. Browns KR Josh Cribbs
Cribbs has averaged 27.4 yards per kickoff return in eight games against the Ravens and is regarded as one of the most dangerous returners in the league. He ran back a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown last season against Baltimore, which represent s one of his seven career touchdowns off returns. Ayanbadejo is a speedy three-time Pro Bowl special-teams ace who excels at breaking down and matching returners’ mobility to make tackles. However, he’s going to need some assistance to contain this threat. And all of the Ravens need to maintain lane discipline while covering kicks.
THREE DOWNS WITH…
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco
1. On the respect the Ravens are garnering in the power rankings: “It doesn’t really mean anything. I couldn’t believe it. Normally, they don’t do those kinds of things to us, and I think we were pretty far behind before this week. But it doesn’t mean anything unless you’re there at the end of the season, and that’s what we’re shooting for. We don’t really pay attention to that."
2. On the Ravens’ success in the red zone: "I think it credits our receivers, it credits our offensive line, it credits our running backs. We have a couple of ways that we can beat you. Our offensive line is doing a great job right now pass-protecting and run-blocking for the backs. Anytime your offensive line is playing the way they are, it allows you to free up some time back there for me to find receivers, and it allows the backs to run through some open holes and maybe bust a couple for touchdowns rather than a couple of yards.”
3. On if the Browns’ defense is similar to Rex Ryan’s scheme under his brother, Rob Ryan: “I think so. I think they’re trying to get a little bit of that into their defense. We’ll definitely make sure we’re ready for it. We know they’re going to try to mix things up on third down a little bit and see if you can recognize things and adapt to it. So, we’ll definitely be ready.”
THREE DOWNS WITH…
Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn
1. On the Ravens’ defense: “Yeah, I think if you look at their defense as a whole, obviously they’re extremely tough against the run. And their defense in general is tough. You know, they’re not allowing a whole lot of yards, not a whole lot of points, and they’re 2-0 right now. So, yeah, we’ve got an uphill battle, and we’re just doing our best to prepare ourselves for a tough game.”
2. On his early-season struggles: "Obviously, not the way I’d like to. Again, there have been some good things, but I think as a whole, we need to get a lot better. And, myself, I need to work on not having those turnovers and converting more on third down. I think it’s been a problem for us and something we need to get the chains moving.”
3. On if he expects the Ravens to go after him: "Yeah, I would imagine so. Anytime you’re a young quarterback in this league, I think you expect that going into every game.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.