BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 24: Sheldon Brown #24 of the Cleveland Browns intercepts a pass in the end zone intended for Lee Evans #83 of the Baltimore Ravens during the second half at M&T Bank Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Things did not get off to a great start defensively for the Cleveland Browns, as it looked like quarterback Joe Flacco was going to be able to take advantage of situations in which linebacker D'Qwell Jackson was caught in coverage. As the game progressed though, particularly in the second half, the tone of the game swung more in Cleveland's favor. Here is a list of five defensive plays that stood out to me from the Browns vs. Cardinals game, in the order in which they took place during the game.
1. Rubin Beats Yanda for a Sack: Near the end of the first quarter with the Ravens driving again, Flacco dropped back to pass. After scanning the field for about a second, defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin made a move to blow right by offensive guard Marshal Yanda. His direct-line to Flacco was so sudden that the quarterback had no time to get out of the way. Rubin grabbed Flacco and tossed him to the ground for a nice 10-yard sack. As Rubin was on the ground, he did a small celebratory cheer by pumping his fists in the air.
2. Maiava and Gocong Recognize the Pitch Out: The Ravens continuously ran the same type of runs plays against the Browns, but mid-way through the third quarter, they tried to mix it up by having a misdirection pitchout to Ray Rice in isolation. Kaluka Maiava was on the edge and was not fooled in the least. He held his ground on the outside, forcing Rice back inside where he and Chris Gocong combined to bring Rice down. It was on a 2nd-and-3 play that went for no gain, helping set up a field goal (versus a touchdown) two plays later.
3. Pure Power for Schaefering: Toward the end of the third quarter with the Browns down 20-0, the Browns needed a spark. On a 2nd-and-5, the Ravens handed off to Rice again. Brian Schafering was playing one of the defensive tackle positions, and he pushed center Matt Birk far into the backfield, causing Rice to bump into his own center. At the same time, safety Eric Hagg had come through to offer some backside help in bringing Rice down for a loss of three yards. Two plays later, the Ravens punted and gave up a touchdown return to Joshua Cribbs.
4. Don't Throw it to Lee Evans: Word of advice for the Ravens, based on what I've seen from Lee Evans this year: don't throw it to the guy. At the start of the fourth quarter on a second down, Sheldon Brown almost jumped a route on Evans for a pick, but he could only knock the ball away. On the next play, Flacco decided to go deep to the end zone for Evans. This time, Brown was able to snag the interception for a touchback. It took the Browns a full 80-yard drive, but it resulted in a touchdown to put Cleveland back within one possession.
5. Maiava is the Difference Maker: I firmly believe that the quick maturity of Kaluka Maiava is the difference between Rice breaking out a few weeks ago and being more contained this past Sunday. After the Browns made it 20-14 and Baltimore got the ball back, they were looking for a big play after starting off with a 1st-and-15. The Ravens called a run play for Rice, but Maiava cut fullback Vonta Leech low in the backfield and also got a piece of Rice while he was on the ground. It led to a 2nd-and-16, which was too big of a hole for Baltimore to dig themselves out of. The defense got the ball back for Cleveland with a chance to come back.