- I think we're all very familiar with what type of quarterback Joe Flacco is. He has a 13-2 record against Cleveland with 19 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. The big-armed quarterback made 137 consecutive starts before tearing his ACL in Week 10 last year. He was on pace for the worst season of his career, though, turning the ball over at an inordinate rate due to his receiving corps being depleted.
- Last week, Flacco went 22-of-33 for 258 yards and 1 touchdown. He didn't throw an interception, but he did fumble once and was sacked four times. Keep in mind that this was against a Bills defense that just allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick to torch them for 374 yards through the air and big play after big play.
- Some fans may feel it is a little premature to make this an “even” ranking — how can I do that to a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and playoff champion against a guy (Josh McCown) who is 2-17 as a starter over the past two seasons?
- I can’t speak as much for his time with Tampa Bay, but anyone who watched the Browns play last year would know that, despite the team’s 1-7 record in games that McCown started, he was the MVP of this football team. He finished the season with 12 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions. There was a three-week span in which he threw for 341, 356, and 457 yards, the latter of which came against the Ravens in an overtime victory.
- McCown really had Baltimore’s number last year, and it was often said that he was the best quarterback Cleveland had in camp this year.
Aside: If I need to bring this up again for new readers asking, “then why didn’t he start to begin with?”, it’s because he’s 37 years old and the Browns were trying to see if Robert Griffin III could be a servicable, younger option who improves as he spent more time with Hue Jackson.
- McCown also has a good deal of mobility. His biggest knock is that he’s not durable — he had to leave Week 1 last year with a concussion, and later in the year suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
- The Ravens held a competition for the running back position this offseason, and things were still up-in-the-air leading into Week 1. The team had even cut Justin Forsett at one point, but it was for roster-related reasons as they brought him right back.
- The Ravens’ top two backs will be Forsett and former Cleveland Brown Terrance West. Yes, West just can’t get enough of Cleveland, and I’m still fascinated by the fact that he played in FirstEnergy Stadium with three different teams in 2015 — the Browns, Titans, and Ravens. Last year with the Titans, he had a costly fumble against Cleveland in Week 2 as a member of the Titans. In Week 12, with the Ravens, he had 7 carries for 37 yards. This week, West said that he was the one who requested a trade last year when Cleveland ended up dealing him to Tennessee.
- Forsett played 50% of the team’s snaps last week, finishing with 10 carries for 41 yards, along with 2 catches for 15 yards. West played 44% of the snaps but saw more carries — 12 carries for 32 yards, just a 2.7 average.
- Here is why stats can lie: Based on Week 1 stats only, the Browns are the No. 2 team in the league when it comes to rushing yards per play, as they are averaging 5.71 yards per carry. That number is inflated by Crowell’s three straight draw plays when the team was down 29-10 in the final minute, and by RGIII’s big run earlier in the game.
- With that said, I still have a confidence in Cleveland’s running game. Last week, it couldn’t get started very well due to some uncharacteristic dropped passes that put the team in 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations. Isaiah Crowell will continue to be a key early down piece.
- Some may look at Duke Johnson’s snap count last week and say, “he’s not getting enough looks.” I wouldn’t agree. He was in the lineup at a pretty even rate per half and made a couple of nice runs after the catch to pick up first downs. We can’t give everybody a ton of snaps. Hue Jackson wanted to use both Crowell and Johnson at the same time a couple of times last week, but either a penalty or a quick dumpoff by Griffin prevented us from seeing what concept he wanted to pull off.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- Our good friend Steve Smith decided to return to the NFL for another season. He might not be the receiver he once was, but I guess if he can still mix it up with defensive backs, he’ll still have a spot playing football.
Never retire, Steve Smith https://t.co/aCSzMBRVVM— Barstool Sports (@barstooltweets) September 11, 2016
- Smith had 5 catches for 19 yards on 8 targets last week, a rather unusual stat line for him. He led the team with 66% of the snaps at receiver, but that low number also indicates how much the team will be using their reserve receivers. Before we get to the reserves, Baltimore’s other starter is free agent acquisition Mike Wallace. We all know that Wallace’s game is the long ball with his speed, so that would seem to suit Joe Flacco well. In his Baltimore debut last week, Wallace had a 66-yard catch-and-run score.
- The other Ravens receivers who will see playing time are Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman, and Chris Moore. In two games against Cleveland last year, Aiken caught 10 passes for 158 yards and 1 touchdown. Perriman was the team’s first-round pick in 2015, but suffered a season-ending knee injury on the first day of training camp. Last week was his first regular season game, but he only played 31% of the snaps.
- Speaking of players who have had a long layoff, Dennis Pitta is finally back! I usually don't have much of a soft spot for AFC North players, but I can get behind Pitta. He suffered a hip injury against the Browns in September 2014, and missed the rest of 2014 and then all of 2015. Since Pitta last played, the team has added two fairly-well-known tight ends in Crockett Gilmore and Maxx Williams. That doesn’t matter, though: Pitta is firmly entrenched as the top guy again, playing 82% of the snaps last week. Gilmore will see some work in two tight end sets, and Williams will only play a handful of snaps.
- This needs to be a big-time redemption week for tight end Gary Barnidge, who dropped two early passes last week and then didn’t have a target the rest of the way. Last year, he was Josh McCown’s favorite target. I’ve talked before about how Barnidge should get touchdown opportunities, but not as many yards in 2016 in Hue Jackson’s offense, but that was with Robert Griffin III under center. McCown knows how much of a security blanket Barnidge can be and will find him accordingly.
- Terrelle Pryor and Andrew Hawkins ran a couple of nice routes from the slot near the red zone last week to get open by NFL standards, but they weren’t rewarded as Robert Griffin III overthrew them both. McCown throws the ball with better touch, so that could be an avenue Cleveland goes after again.
- Griffin was known for his deep ball, but McCown’s not too bad at it either. He made a living off of it in 2014 with the Bears, throwing it up left and right to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey. Those deep shots won’t go away, but I also don’t think we’ll see them taken amidst triple coverage.
- The Ravens’ left side of the offensive line was re-shaped this offseason. After shuffling between players at left tackle last year, the team invested it’s No. 6 overall pick of the draft in Ronnie Stanley.
- The big void that Baltimore is still looking to fill is at left guard, since Kelechi Osemele departed in free agency to the Oakland Raiders. The plan at left guard is still up-in-the-air between John Urschel and Alex Lewis. Lewis, a 4th round pick this year, started last week, but Urschel was trying to come back from a shoulder injury and was inactive. Urschel had been playing at left guard throughout camp, but could also be worked in at center.
- Right guard Marshal Yanda is the Ravens’ best offensive lineman. He was the Ravens' highest-graded player on offense last week.
- For the Browns, I am frustratingly willing to be patient with center Cameron Erving. What irritates me is how perturbed his answers have been when he’s been questioned about his high snaps. Maybe having a taller quarterback will help, but that’s a really big deal. In my film reviews last week, he also had some trouble getting to his target when he was a lead blocker on screen-like passes.
- Austin Pasztor is doing what he can at right tackle, but there is no doubt in my mind that either Spencer Drango or Shon Coleman will replace him in the next few weeks. For now, his strength remains being a run blocker.
- Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, and John Greco are an underappreciated trio. This category was close to being even, but I gave the Browns the edge because Stanley hasn’t been tested a whole lot and that left side of the line (at least last week) was insanely inexperienced.
- The Ravens' defensive line consists of DT Timmy Jernigan, NT Brandon Williams, and DE Lawrence Guy. Those three guys were used as work horses to open the season, with NT Michael Pierce and DE Brent Urban getting a little bit of substitution work.
- Williams will play a high volume of snaps (about 75%) each week and is one of the better run-stopping nose tackles in the NFL. Jernigan could be looking to see an uptick in playing time this year. He’s always been more of the pass-rushing type, something that was on display in Week 1 when he logged 1 sack and 2 quarterback hits on the Bills’ Tyrod Taylor.
- In Week 1, NT Danny Shelton had a pretty impressive game, and DE Carl Nassib was all over the place for the Browns. These are the two players who fans are interested in seeing because they could be long-term, high-impact players if they work out, as opposed to just role players.
- One of the surprising aspects in Week 1 was the fact that DE John Hughes was limited to just 29% of the snaps. After the injury to DE Desmond Bryant, I thought for sure that he’d be a starter, as he had the most experience on the team.
- Cleveland promoted DL Gabe Wright from the practice squad this week. The Browns are now up to 8 defensive linemen on the 53-man roster, and DE Armonty Bryant could be returning from suspension in Week 5. For the Browns to call Wright up to the roster so quickly tells me that he must have looked pretty impressive on the practice squad, and may even see some substitution work this Sunday.
- The Ravens' starting outside linebackers typically include OLB Terrell Suggs, ILB C.J. Mosley, ILB Zachary Orr, and OLB Elvis Dumervil. Orr is starting for the first time in his career.
- On the surface, the Ravens’ outside linebacker duo sounds like a nightmare for Cleveland, given their pass-rushing abilities. However, Dumervil is out this week with an injury. Suggs had a sack last week, but his snaps are being monitored a bit as he’s coming off of an Achilles injury last year. Pro Football Focus also graded him as having a pretty rough first week of action. The Ravens' best reserve outside linebacker, Za'Darius Smith, might miss this week's game to injury too.
- The Browns’ combination of Emmanuel Ogbah and Joe Schobert was...not too bad in Week 1. What stood out to me was that there were no major blunders — you could see a general level of competency, something that defensive coordinator Ray Horton pointed out:
“To start two rookies is a first for me at the outside backer. What they showed to me is it was not too big. No mental errors, they did not line up wrong and they didn’t not cover the correct guy. As they learn what a NFL offensive tackle looks like – the power, the speed that you need to play – they are going to grow in how the game plan changes and the subtle feels of how heavy is the guy, how he is standing in his stance, how he is sitting, what he is looking at. Our players are going to play well for us as they keep maturing and it is going to be probably – I don’t want to sound like a broken record as I sit here – but we know we are young and everything is a new experience for these guys. We have to get them where, once they learn it, once they have experienced it…where it is not new and it is not ‘Oh wow coach, I did not know that.’
- The linebackers are even because Dumervil is out, Orr only has one start under his belt, and Suggs might not be the same ol’ Suggs, either because he’s coming off of injury or because he’s just getting up there in age. Cleveland’s inside linebacker play was also solid last week as Christian Kirksey continues to impress.
- The Ravens' top two cornerbacks are Shareece Wright and Jimmy Smith, with Tavon Young seeing work as the nickel corner, although we might not see much of Baltimore in the nickel. Wright had a fantastic Week 1, registering 11 tackles and making several nice stops against the run. Pro Football Focus says he only allowed 4 catches for 13 yards, and had three tackles for losses. It was no doubt a banner week for Wright, but not something he’s done a lot of throughout his career.
- Where Baltimore got a big upgrade this season is at the safety position, thanks to the free agent signing of Eric Weddle. It paid immediate dividends for the Ravens, as Weddle was their highest-rated defensive player in Week 1. Their other safety is Ladarius Webb, who was formerly a starting cornerback for the club.
- Besides a deep shot as Joe Haden last week, Carson Wentz largely stayed away from the middle of the field. I wouldn’t expect Joe Flacco to do the same, so our young safeties, Jordan Poyer and Ibraheim Campbell, need to be prepared to make some plays in coverage. Poyer had a very good game last week when I reviewed the tape. Rookie Derrick Kindred was also all over the place in limited substitution time.
- At cornerback, the good thing about Haden, Jamar Taylor, and Tramon Williams last week was that I didn’t think they blew any assignments. The bad thing was that when he came down to Wentz making good throws against their decent coverage, Wentz was the one who came out on top. Baltimore gets the edge in the secondary due to Weddle at safety and Wright’s stellar game to start off the year.
- Baltimore’s kicker and punter remain the same: K Justin Tucker and P Sam Koch. Tucker was his usual self to start the season, connecting on a 50- and 37-yarder. He also typically booms the ball out of the end zone for touchbacks, but he did kick one shorter last week that was returned shy of the 25 yard line. The Ravens did allow a 21-yard punt return last week.
- The Ravens signed the ageless wonder Devin Hester to return kickoffs and punts this year. To open the game last week, he tried to take the kickoff out of the end zone and was stuffed at the 14 yard line. He attempted another return and got to the 23. He also returned a punt for a loss of 7 yards. He can still be dangerous, but is also prone to taking some unnecessary risks.
- The good thing for the Browns last week is that K Patrick Murray and P Britton Colquitt weren’t problems. What was nerve-racking was watching CB Tramon Williams try to field punts. I’d rather them just give WR Corey Coleman a shot there, but I wouldn’t bank on it.
This year, we’re going to list predictions for multiple staff members here at DBN. If they opt to participate each week, we’ll also keep running tallies of everyone’s record in picking Browns games.
Chris Pokorny: “The Browns ran very few offensive plays last week, and the Ravens’ defense was on the field for very few defensive plays. With Josh McCown under center for the Browns this week, those trends should reverse a bit, as Cleveland will sustain some more drives.
With the way the Browns are being built compared to the type of roster currently assembled in Baltimore, the Ravens’ potential talent pool doesn’t match what Cleveland has in place. However, it was discouraging to see how much the Browns faded last week in the adversity of just one play (the safety-snap by Cameron Erving). As much as I liked the play of the Browns’ safeties last week, I think Joe Flacco will take better advantage of the coverage voids we’ll leave in the middle of the field, and I have to give some credit to the Ravens for holding an NFL team to 160 yards last week. Ultimately, this game will come down to the Browns’ defense showing some promise, but not quite being there just yet.” Ravens 27, Browns 20
Matt Wood: “Joe Flacco looks good against the Browns. The Browns offense looks good, better than last week. But the defense still can't get stops when it matters.” Ravens 31, Browns 17.
Zach Miller: “Flacco looks ELITE and the Ravens offense gets whatever it wants, but McCown steadily manages the game to keep it close. Hue goes for two at some point and the Browns win a close one at home.” Browns 29, Ravens 28.
Jon Stinchcomb: “The Browns defense is bad and I think there's a chance they are feasted on, both through the air and on the ground by the Ravens. McCown's hope to avenge last season's woes against the Ravens will sputter out quickly, I suspect.” Ravens 31, Browns 10.
Mike Krupka: “Browns defense continues to improve upfront, but the secondary can't hold it together. Meanwhile the offense will have success moving the ball in the air but will struggle overall, scoring their final TD late in an already lost game.” Ravens 27, Browns 17.
Josh Finney: “Terrance West with a rushing TD, Forsett with a receiving TD, Mccown with a fumble and 4-6 WR drops.” Ravens 27, Browns 16.
Dan Lalich: “It's supposed to be rainy and windy on Sunday, and sometimes weather is the great equalizer. Neither team will get the passing game going, but thanks to some big defensive plays the Browns win a sloppy nail-biter.” Browns 11, Ravens 5.
Joe Ginley: “The Ravens' offense runs roughshod over the Browns in the second and third quarters, with another high Cameron Erving snap-safety sparking it all in the second quarter. The Browns manage a pair of early field goals and a late touchdown with Josh McCown and a decent running game, but the offense can't do enough to counteract a measly Browns defense.” Ravens 30, Browns 13
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below!