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Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns: Positional Breakdown & Notes

The Browns will need to find a way to contain Anquan Boldin and company this time around.
The Browns will need to find a way to contain Anquan Boldin and company this time around.

I hope everyone had a Happy Holidays. It would be great if the Cleveland Browns could give all of their fans a late Christmas present today by delivering the Baltimore Ravens a crushing loss, a team that only needs one win to clinch a postseason berth.

Colt McCoy will be under center for the Browns and face the Ravens for the first time in his career. He looked good against Cincinnati last week and seemed calm in his debut against Pittsburgh half-way through the season. With the home crowd behind him, hopefully the right side of the offensive line protects him well enough to have another solid game.

Here are some notes heading into the game, followed by my positional breakdown and prediction for the game:

  • If I'm being a fantasy offensive coordinator here, I am picturing Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs biting hard on the running game every time, to the point where they will want to blow the play up in the backfield. I would love to see if the Ravens are overpursuing the run so much that either Peyton Hillis and/or Benjamin Watson are wide open or uncovered off of playaction. I am interested in seeing McCoy run playaction passes to those two receivers on every play of our first drive to see where it gets us.
  • Earlier this week, Eric Mangini commented on how it'd be ideal to give some other backs some carries. Mike Bell has played some fullback before -- why not try a little bit of Lawrence Vickers out at running back? It's something we expected when he was first drafted, and I think the results would be positive. As horrible as the passing plays to Vickers have been this year too, I think we can sneak some plays in to him as well, as long as the routes don't require Vickers to catch the ball running away from the quarterback with his back to the defense.
  • Some of the Browns defenders admitted the defense seemed to lack emotion the past two weeks but believe that things were much more up-tempo this week in practice. I hope that is the case, but the fact still remains that this is a defensive unit that is playing without four of its projected Week 1 starters. In case you lost count, that would be LB Scott Fujita, LB D'Qwell Jackson, DE Robaire Smith, and CB Eric Wright.
  • Say what you will about Wright, but his injury is going to result in a chain reaction. I don't think the team will trust Coye Francies as the nickel back right away, meaning Mike Adams will play cornerback instead of backup safety. That means the likes of Ray Ventrone will be seeing the field again, probably against tight end Todd Heap in certain situations. It would make my day to see Francis active, playing, and making physical plays. The thing I always loved about him in his first preseason was that he wasn't afraid to stick his nose in there and deliver a good hit.
  • I want to see the Browns play in a little bit of snow this year. Light flurries are possible during the game today.

Position-by-Position Breakdown

Pos Adv  Reason
QB - There have been times when we thought Baltimore's offense was underachieving, but overall the weapons he has had on offense has helped quarterback Joe Flacco significantly. The number of mistakes he makes have been reduced dramatically, and he always dumps the ball off to Ray Rice in the right situations. Colt McCoy has done a lot of positive things in his rookie year, but Flacco has a couple of years worth of experience on him.
RB - One reason it is tough to imagine the Ravens missing the playoffs is the fact that Ray Rice and the running game has been finding a groove as of late against teams who don't stop the run well. Right now, Cleveland is one of those teams.
The big story in this game will be whether Peyton Hillis can truck through the Ravens defense again. Although I'd love to see it happen, it won't be possible unless McCoy starts lighting up the Ravens' secondary through the air. Even then, the Ravens will still probably try to key in on Hillis.
- One of the things that still puzzles me is the lack of production that T.J. Houshmandzadeh has had this year. I guess that's what happens when you have Boldin, Mason, Heap, and Rice as four preferred targets over you. I envy the Ravens' depth at the receiver position.
Todd Heap has missed the past couple of games with an injury but is expected to return against Cleveland. The Browns need their receivers to run deeper routes on third down. I'll be sick if I see another 1-yard crossing pattern to Stuckey on 3rd-and-4.

OL -

Based on the liability John St. Clair has been since Tony Pashos' injury several weeks ago, I've seen the right side of the offensive line go up in flames. It is to the point now where I can't even give the Browns a positional advantage here, despite the contributions of Joe Thomas and Alex Mack.
DL - The Browns are hurting at depth on the defensive line. There were too many stretches last week where Brian Schaefering and Derreck Robinson were in the game together. That is basically putting our below average second-string line in against the opposition's starting offensive line. Shuan Rogers and Ahtyba Rubin apparently can't play together in long stretches without needing a breather.
LB - Peyton Hillis knows full well that Ray Lewis, Jarrett Johnson, and Terrell Suggs will all be glued in on him the duration of the game. Hopefully Hillis' rest in practice this week was to make him extra fresh for the wear-and-tear he is about to put on his body, and not related to some lingering injury that he has. As for Cleveland, although stopping the run is a priority, I'd like to see Marcus Benard or Matt Roth step up today. Sure, they have some sacks this year, but when has either player really had an impact as a pass rusher?
DB - The Browns weren't tested in coverage over the middle very much last week. If the Ravens stick to a similar formula (running the ball against our front seven), I'd like to see Rob Ryan sneak a safety up into the box at the last second. The Ravens' secondary has gotten a lot better since the return of Ed Reed, but overall I still feel it is the weakest defensive unit on the Ravens and can be exploited.
ST - Since Week 9, David Reed has been explosive for Baltimore on kick returns. He suffered an injury last week though and is ruled out for this week's game. If he was playing, Baltimore would get the advantage here. Billy Cundiff is still driving his kickoffs into the end zone, and Ravens punter Sam Koch has more punts inside the 20 and inside the 10 than even Reggie Hodges does.

Even though the Browns are back at home, the eggs they have laid the past two weeks makes it impossible for me to pick them against a Ravens team that is most certainly not overlooking them. Baltimore knows it is crunch time -- if they win, they are in. They also are on a mission to not be embarrassed by Hillis again. I think the game will be competitive, but will result in the same outcome as the first time these two teams met.

FINAL PREDICTION: Baltimore Ravens 24, Cleveland Browns 20.