This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Baltimore Ravens just before the bye week. To help preview this week's game, I reached out to Matthew Stevens from Baltimore Beatdown and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: "Bernard Pierce really struggled in 2013, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. Meanwhile, you have Justin Forsett, who has averaged a ridiculous 5.0 yards per carry since 2009, and yet nobody seems willing to commit to him as their starter. Which running back do Ravens fans seem more supportive of as the team's starting running back this season?"
Matthew: "The Ravens were always going to utilize a 1-2 punch with Pierce and Forsett and that is a lot of what we have seen so far. While Forsett is breaking off better runs, a lot of it is from the punishment that defenses are taking with Pierce earlier on in the game. I think the Ravens will slowly give Forsett a larger chunk of the playing time as the season goes on, especially if Pierce keeps putting the ball on the ground, simply because of Forsett's experience in blitz pickup and his quickness both as a runner and as a pass catcher. While the last name I want to bring up is Ray Rice, Forsett is doing a good job to be a poor man's Rice two games into the season."
Chris: "For a second there, I had to wonder if Torrey Smith even played for the Ravens any more. Has he been struggling, or has the veteran Steve Smith just become Joe Flacco's new best friend?"
Matthew: "I think you can look to the fact that Torrey Smith still can't get separation on his route running alone as a factor for why he has so few catches this season. Unfortunately for Smith, in his contract year, he is quickly gaining a name for himself as a guy that can only stretch the field which makes him a bit of a one dimensional receiver. Then you add inconsistent hands to his route running and a clearer picture emerges about Torrey Smith and Joe Flacco's chemistry.
Meanwhile, Steve Smith has been able to gain separation fairly easily while playing against lower caliber defenders than he is used to. That attitude and his skills have immediately translated to Joe Flacco trusting him in 3rd down situations, which has meant that he sees far more passes even if he isn't completely open. While Flacco has a cannon for an arm and really can make all the throws on the field, you've seen a shift towards making easy completions so far this year instead of the coin flip that is bombing it 70 yards down the field with one-on-one coverage you saw so much last year. It's meant a much more effective passing attack and more looks for the tight ends and slot receivers, but less so for Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith on the outside."
Chris: "The Ravens drafted ILB C.J. Mosley with the 17th overall pick in the draft. Mosley has racked up a lot of tackles over the first two weeks, but stats don't always tell the story -- how has the rookie looked to date?"
Matthew: "Mosley, like any rookie has had a few moments where he chose wrong and took himself out of the play. However, the difference between Mosley and most other rookies is that Mosley has only a few times of doing that total and far more times where he was exactly where he should be to make the play. He's fast, agile and he plays a lot bigger than his size would indicate. So far, Mosley has exceeded expectations and looks to be starting one hell of a career here in Baltimore."
Chris: "Ravens safety James Ihedigbo is now a member of the Detroit Lions and Darian Stewart, formerly of the Rams, has taken his spot. What have the reviews been on Stewart, and what is the word on Lardarius Webb -- his lower back injury seems to be keeping him out longer than expected."
Matthew: "I'll say this.... you haven't heard Stewart's name so far. And that is exactly what Baltimore fans want from their free safety. He has kept things in front of him for the most part and is steadily improving. He has a middling talent level, so don't look for him to stay there all season long, especially with Terrence Brooks and Will Hill breathing down his neck for playing time. I think by the end of the season, you see the Ravens cycling all three of those players in depending on the package they are using and their strengths.
So far Webb's injury is surprising everyone. On one hand, everyone including Webb keep talking about how it's feeling better and it's not that bad but yet he still is inactive. I figured he would suit up week one, but that failed to happen. At this point, your guess is as good as mine where Webb really is at but I expect that we should see him sooner rather than later even if he only plays in a limited role initially until his game legs are back. That being said, the Ravens secondary has been surprisingly not bad so far this season against some very dangerous receivers and passing offenses. Jimmy Smith is playing at a Pro Bowl level and the combination of Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown have been keeping plays in front of them and wrapping up which has allowed the Ravens to limit scoring opportunities."
Chris: "As an outsider looking in, let's say the Browns once again insert Johnny Manziel into the game for a couple of plays. Does that make you concerned as a Ravens fan (because of possibly catching the Ravens off guard), or would you rather have Manziel on the field (because it takes Brian Hoyer off the field, who is playing rather well)?"
Matthew: "Not to be cocky, but that doesn't really surprise me and it doesn't concern me. Neither Hoyer or Manziel are going to light the world on fire with their arms at this point in the season and with the Browns receiving personnel, which really only leaves Manziel's legs as a possible problem. As you saw with Roethlisberger and both the Bengals and Steelers' rushing attacks, the Ravens are playing lights out run defense. I'd expect the Ravens to immediately have Mosley as a spy on Manziel if he gets put into the game and I expect Mosley to win that matchup nine out of ten times. The Ravens have a history of playing mobile quarterbacks and excelling against them. That kinda puts the pressure more on Manziel to do something unique, which I'm not sure he could do right now."
Thanks again to Matthew for taking the time to answer my questions.