Usually I reserve Thursdays for talking about our opponent coming up on Sunday. While I will touch on the Baltimore Ravens in this post, in order for the Browns to have any chance of beating the Ravens, they need to find a way to convert on third down.
For the past couple of weeks, beyond Cleveland's opening drive of the first half, the offense has had difficulty sustaining drives. During the first ten games (the last one being the Jacksonville game), Cleveland converted 39.7% of their third downs. In their four games since then, Cleveland has only converted a pitiful 23.25% of their third downs. There are a lot of reasons you can come up with for the Browns' lack of third down production as of late:
- Jake Delhomme was the starting quarterback in three of those four games.
- Teams have started to load the box more on Peyton Hillis.
- Joshua Cribbs has been injured during that span, so teams have one less guy to pay attention to.
- The right side of the offensive line took a hit with the season-ending injury to Tony Pashos.
- The playcalls made by Brian Daboll have been downright terrible.
- Chansi Stuckey can no longer get yards after the catch like he did earlier this season.
- Teams no longer leave Peyton Hillis uncovered on passing plays.
Whatever the reason, Cleveland must find a way to improve their conversion rate to the league average again. Ultimately, one of the things that certainly has to be corrected is the receivers running two yard routes on 3rd-and-4 or longer. It worked very early on in the season, but it hasn't worked since and I think all of us are tired of seeing it. If we know it's coming, it should be no surprise that the defense is tackling our receivers immediately. If the route is going to be a quick hitter, at least make it a slant so the receiver can fall forward and continue running in stride.
If Cleveland chooses to run on third down, the straight up runs over the middle need to stop. This season, Cleveland ranks 30th in the league in runs that go up the middle. The Browns rank 18th in the league in runs that go off of right guard. They also lead the league in running plays off of right guard. Regarding the running game this week, there are two things that need to happen:
- On 3rd-and-5 or shorter, the Browns should have McCoy under center with Hillis (and Vickers) in the backfield to present the threat that Cleveland will run.
- The Browns are quite good when they run off of left tackle, averaging 5.28 yards per carry, good for 9th in the NFL. The Browns are also good when they run off of right tackle, but I attribute that to before St. Clair came back to the lineup. By comparison, the Ravens only average 3.60 yards per carry off of left tackle.
As far as the Ravens go, running back Ray Rice picked the right time to get hot given the recent struggles with the Browns' run defense. Rice had his best game of the season last week, carrying 31 times for 153 yards and 1 touchdown. He also added 5 catches for 80 yards and 1 touchdown. Cleveland's defensive scheme or uninspired play from a week ago, however you want to look at it, won't cut it against the Ravens.
Joe Flacco has been on a tear this season, but his success earlier this season against Cleveland came on three plays, all of which were deep passes to Anquan Boldin with Eric Wright in coverage. Hopefully Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown do better.
The Browns and the Ravens square off in Cleveland Browns Stadium this Sunday at 1:00 PM EST on CBS. A fairly strong chance of snow on Sunday is in the forecast.