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Ravens vs Browns – Week 3 – Defend Cleveland Preview

Ravens vs Browns - Week 3 - 2014

 
Last week I was on record for saying that outside of Roger Goodell stepping onto the field, stopping the game and outright proclaiming the Browns the victor, Cleveland stood no chance of winning against New Orleans. And never has it felt so good to be wrong when it comes to this team. And furthermore, in 5 years of doing this show, no other time have the Browns looked more like a legit NFL team.

Truly shocking developments all the way around.

To not totally lose ourselves in flights of fancy, it’s still easy to point out the Browns obvious shortcomings. Things like their issues at receiver, in that outside of Hawkins and until Gordon returns they don’t have anything that even qualifies as average outside of a Miles Austin who catches just a few more than he drops. There also remains big reasons to think the QB position is far from settled. Especially where I feel Hoyer looks best served as a guy to not cost you many games in the meantime of keeping the spot warm until something better settles in (insert all Manziel mania here), rather than the “Hometown Hero” script that most probably is too good to be true. In addition we have a defense that’s sold on getting pressure on the quarterback and so far they haven’t proven anymore capable than they were last year at doing it, and all the while their secondary and coverage, even with a strong showing against the Saints, still has some serious depth concerns. Outside of that, which is a shorter list of issues than we’ve had since Belichick called Cleveland home, this team not only looks good on paper, out of the 4 halves of football played so far they’ve been pretty impressive over the last 3 and find themselves at .500 going into Week 3.

As meager a sample size as this may be, can’t say I recall a solid stretch like that since Colt McCoy first showed some rookie flashes back in 2010 when the team put together back-to-back wins against the Saints and Patriots. For a starved fan base, even for some of us with a skeptical eye for things, this team looks like it might be for real and the test to see as much continues this week with what Coach Pettine calls the biggest challenge of the season so far, the Baltimore Ravens.

Matchups to Watch For

 

– The Ravens Running Attack. For those of you out there who think the Ravens can no longer move the ball on the ground with Ray Rice out, that’s thinking that couldn’t be more untrue. Besides for the fact Rice had pretty much become a non-factor anyway, the plays split between second year guy Bernard Pierce and journeyman Justin Forsett will surely be a challenge for a Browns rush defense that so far ranks 28th overall, giving up 129 yards to the Steelers and then 174 last week to the Saints. Granted in the Saints game Cleveland sold out on pass coverage holding 6-8 guys back which opened up the running game, but simply given that teams have had success against the Browns on the ground, you can expect the Ravens to fully attempt to try the same.

Expect the Browns to mix up its coverage and zero in on stopping the #1 target of Flacco’s so far, a rejuvenated Steve Smith. Also expect them to keep a close eye on Flacco’s safety valve, tight end Dennis Pita. But to have real success against this team you must also take away the running game altogether and force the Ravens to beat you through the air. Flacco isn’t near as good as his contract and Super Bowl ring might suggest, and nor are any of his aged targets capable of taking over a game like they once could, but if this team can establish the run and keep the Browns defense on its heels, all the warm fuzzy feelings we’re having about our team right now might abruptly change like the seasons around here.

 

– Brian Hoyer vs the Deep Ball to the Sidelines. Yes, Hoyer has been steady. Yes, his completion percentage is at 60%. Yes, he manages the game well and avoids making many big mistakes. And, yes, he even has his own ballad now. But he also is 4 of 13 on balls thrown deeper than 10 yards to either sideline. That’s not good. The biggest fear with this offense who has had some success running the ball and with short passing routes is that when the defense knows you can’t beat them downfield, they tighten up and the margin for error and success narrows across the board.

In the second half last week you could already see signs of the Saints defense, a defense that’s nowhere near as good as the Ravens, figuring out some of the misdirection and schemes Shanahan has in place in an attempt to fool the defense. Most notably you could see it on blind roll outs by Hoyer, who on a couple downs late in the game went to go the other way and ran right into defenders there waiting for him. Keeping the running game going will surely be the key that’s needed to keep this offense successful, to which the Browns run game ranks 10th overall and their line is 2nd in run blocking, but if Hoyer and his receivers can’t find ways to get the ball downfield and stretch the defense, opposing teams will focus their attack further in and strangle this offense into being ineffective and making mistakes. In other words, it could quickly begin again to look like the Browns offenses of the last 5-6 years.

 

The Prediction

 

I’m 0-2 this season and who cares, the Browns won their season opener and without the dud of a 1st half against the Steelers, arguably they could be 2-0! I was a firm believer in the Browns going into the Bye 1-2 but I, again, never would have thought it possible they beat the Saints. Furthermore, that 1st half turd laid at Heinz Field, which I believed going into last week to be more a representation of this team going forward than anything else, also appears to be completely wrong. It’s like I said to open this Preview, it’s never felt so good to be wrong about the Browns.

Unfortunately, I still believe the Ravens to be the better team right now. Maybe it’s not way better anymore, but it’s still better. The line opened a close -1 for the Ravens and so far the degenerate gamblers of the world have already pushed that to -1.5. As much as the Browns have a renewed sense of self and just like their legions of blindly faithful fans, they might even believe a winning season is possible, when it comes to gambling, until you’re proven otherwise expecting the unexpected is a fool’s bet.

Though I believe the Browns can indeed win this one and feel more invested in their chances of doing something positive this season than I’ve felt since 2007 when they won 10 games and just missed the postseason, but until they back up a strong victory with another, and then another…it’s going to be hard to keep the thoughts of them being the same ol’ Browns suppressed.

If the Browns win, Monday is sure to be the most fun Defend Cleveland show we’ve ever had during the football season. I wouldn’t bet on it though. Not on Monday’s show being great, that will be the case no matter what. What I wouldn’t bet on is the Browns winning two in a row by beating the Ravens. I’m just not there yet in believing what we saw last week is for real. Win or lose though, this team you’re watching might indeed be the start of what we’ve at minimum been hoping and praying for over the last quarter century, having the Cleveland Browns actually be a competitive team each and every week. Though expecting a win this Sunday might prove to be too much too soon, if it’s again a game where Cleveland has some success and at minimum makes it a fight, the rest of the year might just indeed turn out to be well worth our time.

And to think just 2 weeks ago 4-12 seemed the biggest possibility. Winning is so awesome.

Go Browns.

 
 

– Mike James

 

Listen every Friday to “Defend Cleveland Friday with Mike and Joe”  by clicking here, a weekly hour long Cleveland sports podcast companion to the DC Show that’s the best way to end you week, and the only way to begin your weekend.

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Posted by on Sep 18 2014. Filed under Featured, Show Reports. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “Ravens vs Browns – Week 3 – Defend Cleveland Preview”

  1. […] your Week 3 – Ravens vs Browns – Defend Cleveland Preview, click HERE   To download this week’s episode of DCF with Mike and Joe, right click here and […]

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