Good morning, Cleveland Browns fans, and welcome to gameday! Be sure to check out our game preview and prediction for the Browns' Week 5 matchup today against the Baltimore Ravens. In this week's edition of "The Sunday Five," I take a look at the basis of my projection for today's game, how the defense can find a little more stability, the team's red zone issues, and more.
1. If Baltimore Wins, It's Not Because They're Turning Things Around: I picked against the Browns for the first time this season, but it's not because I don't believe in the personnel Cleveland has in place, and it's certainly not because of the product that Baltimore is putting on the field. As Dan pointed out in his statistical preview of this week's game, the Ravens are very consistent with the way they've played, which is that of a below-average football team. I do believe the return of Eugene Monroe at left tackle will provide a big boost for the Ravens, but that boost should be negated by the Ravens being depleted at the receiver position. The problem is, "can Cleveland's defense take advantage of that?" Against the Titans, they did for seven sacks, four forced fumbles, and one (negated) interception. Against their other three opponents, the number of "difference-making defensive plays" haven't been there.
2. Defensive Stabilizers: One guy the Browns really miss this year vs. last year is Jim Leonhard. As crazy as it may sound, Leonhard played a lot of snaps last year as the third safety and helped prevent the big play while also contributing to several big plays with the turnovers he caused. Big plays have burned the Browns this year, largely due to missed tackles at the safety position and their inside linebackers not reacting well enough. Jordan Poyer will start for Tashaun Gipson this week, as Gipson is out with an ankle injury. Does that mean that Ibraheim Campbell has a shot at playing that third safety role?
We definitely know K'Waun Williams will be back from his concussion after he had a solid Week 2 against the Titans, so that is one "stabilizer" the defense is adding. Even though Scott Solomon doesn't have much starting experience, defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil believes in him and his return to the depth chart might allow all of the other outside linebackers to be entered into the rotation in more appropriate situations. We'll call Solomon a potential "stabilizer." And then, we have Desmond Bryant set to return after missing two straight games. Bryant is the team's best and most stable defensive lineman. With three "stabilizers" returning, is that the right formula for Cleveland to start preventing the big plays from burning them again?
3. Red Zone Offense: The Browns' offense has exceeded expectations at this point of the season, but there is one area in which they are failing miserably: the red zone. The Browns rank 32nd in the NFL in red zone efficiency, scoring a touchdown just 27.27% of the time they've been down there. The league average should hover around 60%, and last year, the Browns were at 49%.
As much as offensive coordinator John DeFilippo doesn't want to admit it, the lack of a big receiver hurts in the red zone. That's why Dwayne Bowe was intriguing when he was first signed, and it's one of the reasons fans were enamored with Terrelle Pryor so much. Pryor didn't pan out, and we all know about Bowe's situation. Penalties here and there have killed a couple of red zone drives, and our running backs failing to score at the goal line have killed a few others. There's no real easy fix to it other than executing better. Bumping that percentage up even just a little will make a world of a difference throughout the flow of the game, though.
4. Tight Ends Trying Out: Although a move wasn't made, in GM Ray Farmer's first week back as general manager, it was interesting to see that the team tried out four tight ends on Friday: Cameron Clear, Konrad Reuland, Brian Leonhardt, and Connor Hamlett. None of them are known as prolific receivers and are more along the lines of a blocking tight end. I've pointed out in my film reviews that TE Jim Dray has had some issues blocking. TE Rob Housler is mainly a receiving tight end, but is not contributing much on gameday. Cleveland could be looking for a blocking tight end to help shore up pass- and run-blocking. Don't forget about TE Randall Telfer, though. He could be back a few weeks from now if his foot is healed enough.
5. Projecting the Inactives for the Browns vs. Ravens: It's time to predict the inactives on gameday, as the team can only dress 46 players. The players we know for sure will be inactive this week are RB Robert Turbin (based on him saying he'll be out), ILB Craig Robertson, and FS Tashaun Gipson. The other four inactives I'm projecting are QB Austin Davis, RB Shaun Draughn, WR Brian Hartline, and TE E.J. Bibbs. Hartline would be the biggest question mark, but this list could certainly change if guys like CB Joe Haden, DE Desmond Bryant, and OLB Scott Solomon are still a week away from playing.