Browns' Week 4 X-Factor: Pass defense vs Joe Flacco

Jason Miller - Getty Images

Ray Rice may be getting all of the Pro Bowl nods, but the key to Baltimore's success lies with quarterback Joe Flacco. What shot does the Cleveland's pass defense have against Well Above Average Joe?

Average Joe, as Joe Flacco is sometimes referred to around Cleveland, is having a well above average start to the season. This week Flacco leads his red hot Baltimore Ravens' offense at home against the Cleveland Browns' recently struggling defense on primetime Thursday night. Does this Cleveland passing D have what it takes to stop Flacco's attack through the air?

Season Stats Passing Rushing Sacked Fumbles
Week Date Opp Score QBRat Comp Att Yds Y/A Lng Int TD Att Yds Y/A Lng TD Sack SackYds Fum FumL
1 Sep 10 CIN W 44-13 128.4 21 29 299 10.3 52 0 2 2 -1 -0.5 0 0 3 21 1 0
2 Sep 16 @ PHI L 23-24 66.8 22 42 232 5.5 40 1 1 0 0 N/A 0 0 2 18 1 1
3 Sep 23 NWE W 31-30 117.7 28 39 382 9.8 41 1 3 2 3 1.5 5 0 0 0 0 0

Stats via Yahoo! Sports

Joe Flacco:

  • Clutch - This is Flacco's best attribute. He's capable of turning it on when it counts. Football Outsiders noted via Pro Football Reference that Flacco has six fourth-quarter comebacks. FO also mentioned how one of the best of his career came last week in an incredibly close game against the Patriots, in which he went "12-of-15 for 161 yards with nine first downs (including the touchdown), plus a 27-yard DPI, with no sacks or interceptions" on the Ravens' final three possessions. Although, he's not entirely unflappable as the Eagles' defense proved in Week 2.
  • Arm strength - ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski thinks Flacco has the strongest arm in the NFL. Jaworski considers this Flacco's No. 1 attribute. "The element always overlooked by those who minimize arm strength is the willingness of quarterbacks like Flacco to pull the trigger," Jaworski said this past offseason. "Flacco gives you the ability to attack all areas of the field at any point in the game." That's exactly what's happened in Flacco's fantastic start this season.

What to look out for:

  • The no-huddle - The Ravens are running an uptempo no-huddle offense that keeps the defense on their heels and doesn't allow them much time for substitutions. This could cause serious problems for the Browns' young defense. The Eagles managed bring it to a halt with the help of crowd noise. The game is in Baltimore Thursday night. The Ravens are going to be able to run what they want and the Cleveland defense is going to have to be incredibly disciplined.
  • Ravens' WRs - Torrey Smith is legit. After exploding onto the scene in Week 3 of last year, many were wondering if Smith was the real deal or one hit wonder. He had some up and down games, but ended the year with a fairly good rookie campaign. With the addition of Jacoby Jones and the veteran presence of Anquan Boldin, the Ravens have a fine receiving corps.
  • Solid offensive line - Despite allowing five sacks on the season, the Ravens' offensive line has been pretty solid. It's a mostly young group, but they're steadily improving. The Browns' pass rush is going to need to do a better job than the Patriots at getting to the quarterback.
  • Ray Rice - Rice will hurt opposing defenses in the pass game too. He's actually second on the Ravens in total receptions with 14, 127 yards, and a long of 37, but yet to record a receiving touchdown. Most of those yards come after the catch.

Browns' pass defense:

  • The secondary - It's not an excuse, but Haden's absence is still a factor worth acknowledging. Without his presence shutting down opposing No. 1 targets, the Browns' secondary has had some serious struggles in the last two games. After being pushed into a major role, Dimitri Patterson has been inadequate, despite fantastic individual coverage last season. He and the rest of the secondary need to tighten up for a chance to compete against Baltimore's talented, fast-paced offense.
  • D'Qwell Jackson - Prior to last week, Jackson was having an amazing season and a big impact on the pass defense. He had an interception in each of the first two games and a surprising three sacks against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Browns can't afford another sub-par performance from Jackson this week.
  • The pass rush - Second-year DE Jabaal Sheard has yet to record a sack after an impressive rookie season. Cleveland has been getting sacks from several others however, including Frostee Rucker, Juqua Parker, John Hughes, L.J. Fort, and even T.J. Ward. The Browns need more pressure like they managed during the first two games.

This is going to be the Browns' hardest game of the season thus far. I think their best shot comes from the possibility that the Ravens may be overlooking them. If Baltimore is looking ahead to next week, Cleveland might just sneak up and take the Ravens by surprise, which has been known to happen. That said, this is one of the best teams in the league against one of the worst. I'd suggest that the Browns might want to try their hardest to follow the Eagles' model to beating Baltimore, but the Ravens also have the benefit of playing at home, and you also can't possibly ask for that kind of luck.

Don't sleep on this guy:

  • TE Dennis Pitta - Chris Pokorny made a point of it to talk about Flacco's favorite target, "just some guy named Pitta." Pitta's not only getting a ton of targets, but he can do things with the ball too. He's second on the Ravens in receiving yards, yards after catch, and tied for receiving touchdowns with two.
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