This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns will take on the Baltimore Ravens for their first road trip of the season. Both teams suffered disappointing losses to open the season. To help preview this week's game, I reached out to Jason Butt from Baltimore Beatdown and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: "The Ravens struggled to run the ball last week against Denver, and Cleveland's run defense held the Dolphins to 20 yards on 23 carries. With the loss of Matt Birk and a couple of physical non-linemen (Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta), are you concerned about Baltimore's ability to run the ball in 2013?"
Jason: "It's hard to make a bold prediction about the rest of 2013 based on one game. But for the time being, yes, it's a concern. Neither Ray Rice or Bernard Pierce could find running room and collectively averaged 2.8 yards per carry against a Denver defense without Von Miller — though that's not to say the rest of the Denver defense wasn't up to snuff.
The Ravens' offensive line was pushed back a good bit when run blocking, though a lot more pressure was coming once Jacoby Jones and Michael Oher got hurt. I do expect the Browns to bring a lot of pressure since the Ravens don't have a second deep threat offensively with Jones out for a month."
Chris: "I'm sure Baltimore fans have all the confidence in the world in Joe Flacco, but is there a sense that he'll have a tough time succeeding this year due to the drop-off in receivers at his disposal? Dallas Clark looked awful against the Broncos and was the most targeted player."
Jason: "I think most football fans understand a quarterback's success, to a degree, is tied to his targets. Flacco actually had a pretty good game against Denver, all things considered. But as you said, he had little help from his receiving targets, especially at tight end. Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson combined for seven drops.
Torrey Smith was doubled and will see even more attention as the season goes on. Marlon Brown had a good showing, though he won't be sneaking up on any teams in the near future. Brandon Stokley and Tandon Doss don't exactly scare opponents in the slot, either. Though I think Flacco is a better quarterback than Philip Rivers, his situation right now reminds me of his the last couple of years, where he just couldn't get any help from his playmakers. If one or two guys step up, it would make things much easier for the Super Bowl MVP."
Chris: "Peyton Manning can make any defense look horrendous at times -- it happens. With that said, after seeing last week's game, what area on defense concerns you most moving forward?"
Jason: "It's weird because normally when a quarterback rips a team the way Manning did, it's an indicator that no pass rush was present. The Ravens actually put a great deal of pressure on Manning. It's just no quarterback in this league makes quicker decisions faster than Manning. He got the ball out quick and was able to hit his slew of open targets.
That said, the No. 1 problem was the secondary as a whole. It was mostly fundamental too. Corners weren't trailing correctly after jams. Safeties weren't wrapping up when tackling. Corey Graham will still have a good season, I think, but Wes Welker got the best of him. The defensive backs have to shape up, put this loss behind them and get back to basics against the Browns."
Chris: "Tell us about a player on the Ravens who might not be known very much but could have a big day on Sunday."
Jason: "I mentioned his name in the answer for question two but Marlon Brown could wind up having another solid outing. Flacco's been impressed with him and his body frame, at 6-2, 217 pounds, certainly helps. He can play wide and in the slot, which is one reason Baltimore coveted him in the undrafted free agent ranks. He had 65 yards and a touchdown last week in his first NFL game and stood out throughout the entire preseason. He had an ACL injury at Georgia last year which caused him to go undrafted."
Chris: "You've had the chance to get a true vibe about how Ravens fans felt about not hosting the opening game of the year as Super Bowl Champions. Were fans very upset that the game was on the road, or was it viewed as not much of a big deal? Also, since the home opener is this week, is there anything special that Baltimore has planned in terms of a celebration?"
Jason: "Oh, Ravens fans were ticked off that they didn't get to open the season at home. Depending on the viewpoint, either the Ravens, Orioles or NFL were blamed for this. It is what it is, though. If you've ever been to that area where the stadiums are, traffic is a nightmare from 4-6 p.m., precisely when the Orioles would be getting done with their game and Ravens fans would be showing up. The NFL could have probably scheduled the game for Wednesday, when the Orioles were in Cleveland, considering the league broadcasted last year's league opener on a Wednesday due to the Democratic National Convention (I know, baseball vs. the President of the United States isn't exactly a fair fight).
With the home opener this Sunday, the Ravens will be raising the Super Bowl banner, so fans will have that to look forward to. I'm sure Paul Kruger would love to see that even though he's now with the Browns. It's got to be a good feeling for Kruger to know he was part of a Super Bowl championship team."
Thanks again to Jason for taking the time to answer my questions. You can read my answers to Jason's questions here.