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Browns vs. Ravens: NFL Week 2 Preview and Prediction

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Can the Browns dish the Ravens a little bit of revenge after last year’s Week 2 loss?

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.


Position-by-Position Evaluation


Quarterback

  • Talk about an oddity in Joe Flacco's first game of the 2017 season. He completed 9-of-17 passes (52.9%) for 121 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. To give you some perspective, in 2016, he averaged 42 pass attempts per game and never had fewer than 30 attempts in a single game.
  • Flacco has been stuck as a middle-of-the-road quarterback for the past few years, including an unimpressive touchdown to interception ratio. Last year, Cleveland allowed 5 touchdown passes to Flacco over two games, but also registered 4 interceptions.
  • The Ravens held him out all of camp and the preseason with a sore back, but targeted a return date for Week 1. Although he said he still isn’t 100%, Flacco added that there are “no limitations” to what he can do on the field. So at this point, he’s claiming it’s just a discomfort thing. For an average-at-best offense, though, it can’t have helped having Flacco on the sidelines for such a long stretch.
  • One of the funnest things this week will be to watch and cherry pick what DeShone Kizer does better compared to Week 1. Which parts of his game was he able to look at the film against Pittsburgh and say, “I’m etching it in my brain to fix this for Week 2.” We can’t expect him to be a perfect quarterback overnight, but the key for rookies is to look out for that incremental progress over the course of a season, as slow as it may take.
  • If I could pick three things I’d like to see change this week for Kizer, it would be: (1) at least 2-3 plays where he keeps the ball in the read-option, (2) always know where the running back is so he can check it down to them if too much time has passed, and (3) be careful of Baltimore’s dangerous safety tandem.

Running Back

  • The Ravens' top running back is Terrence West, and this will already mark the fifth time in three seasons that he’ll be facing his former team. He led Baltimore with 774 yards rushing (4.0 YPC) and 5 touchdowns in 2016. Entering the 2017 season, he and Danny Woodhead were expected to share the load, with Woodhead playing a big role in the receiving game.
  • Unfortunately for Baltimore, they lost Woodhead in Week 1 to a hamstring injury, so he’s on injured reserve now. West had 19 carries for 80 yards (4.2 YPC) and 1 touchdown to begin the season, and backup Buck Allen had 21 carries for 71 yards (3.4 YPC). 40 rushing attempts explains some of what happened to Joe Flacco with respect to his low number of passing attempts. Both backs are pretty underwhelming, but if Baltimore gets a lead, it seems clear that they’ll try to establish the ground game.
  • The one thing I stressed about the Browns' running game to begin the season is that I felt they would significantly cut down on penetration in the backfield. Wouldn't you know it, Isaiah Crowell's first carry of the season went for a loss of nine yards. Getting the handoff out of Shotgun doesn’t suit his strength of hitting the hole quickly, but he’ll have to adjust and the offensive line will have to be better because we’re not going to see a lot of Kizer under center. Running backs coach Kirby Wilson talked about the difficulty of running out of Shotgun:

“No. 1 is the ball security because when you are in the shotgun, you don’t always have the ball in the proper arm to leverage the defense and you can’t use your off hand as a weapon as opposed to when you are in the shotgun, that is the first thing. No. 2, you don’t see the entire football field when you are running from the shotgun. You are cutting it in half, you are cutting it to a section and you are trying to read one specific thing. Often more times than not, you don’t see that second defender. You have to know through preparation this is what is occurring on the back side of me because of how you prepare and how you know the defense is going to fit in a particular scheme so it is different for the runner, but it is something that they prepare for in practice, and it is not a big deal.”

  • One of the biggest things that needs to improve this week is the running backs’ protection, specifically when it comes to Crowell. Fullback Danny Vitale only played four snaps last week too, and I’d like to see him a little bit more. Remember that Crowell had an 85-yard run against the Ravens last year. Former Browns fullback Malcolm Johnson had a key block on that one. Despite the run game struggles last week, I’d take Crowell and Duke Johnson over the Ravens’ room any day.

Wide Receiver / Tight End

  • With Steve Smith retired (thankfully), the Ravens' top two receivers are Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin. Wallace had over 1,000 yards receiving last year and 4 touchdowns, 2 of which came in the same game against Cleveland. He had 1 catch for 8 yards to begin the 2017 campaign. Maclin, coming over from the Kansas City Chiefs, had a 48-yard catch-and-run touchdown, finishing the day with 2 grabs for 56 yards.
  • Baltimore’s other receiving options are Breshad Perriman and Michael Campanaro. Perriman, a first-round pick in 2015, didn’t debut until last season due to injury. When he comes in, Maclin will often play from the slot, as he did on that big touchdown grab last week:
  • At tight end, the Ravens are allocating even playing time to Nick Boyle and Benjamin Watson, both of whom will see more work blocking. Former second-round pick Maxx Williams will see some reps too, but hasn’t lived up to billing in the NFL for a variety of reasons.
  • Watching the tape, and with the preseason he also had, there’s not much else that can be asked of Corey Coleman. If anything, I think it’s time the Browns consider targeting him even more. I know he was known for his open field moves in college with the ball in his hands, but from everything I’m seeing, he’s better when he catches the ball away from the line of scrimmage.
  • A lot of talk has gone around about whether Kenny Britt will start this week or not. Whether he starts or not won’t matter. However, I think we’ll see a combination of a slight decrease in Britt’s reps and a slight decrease in Duke Johnson’s reps. Johnson’s rep decrease would not be an indictment on him at all; even if he plays 50% of the snaps, that’s still a ton of snaps, but would be a drop from last week. Countering Britt and Johnson’s decrease will be more snaps for Kasen Williams, and then I think we’ll see Sammie Coates get some work to stretch the field too.
  • I really like how Seth DeValve looks in this offense, and Kizer seems relatively comfortable with him. We didn’t see a whole lot of David Njoku last week, but even if he’s still having some things he needs to work on, we need to see him a little more, and on something besides the tight end screen pass (which he looks pretty slow on).

Offensive Line

  • The Ravens’ starting offensive line includes LT Ronnie Stanley, LG James Hurst, C Ryan Jensen, RG Marshal Yanda, and RT Austin Howard. The good news is that Cleveland won’t face a unit as good as the Steelers’ line the rest of the season. Much like the Browns, the Ravens’ best spots on their offensive line are at left tackle and right guard with Stanley and Yanda.
  • Jensen was a 6th round pick in 2013. He's started 9 games in the NFL over the past two years, all of which came at guard. John Urschel retired this offseason for Baltimore, leaving Jensen as the team’s new starting center by default. He was flagged for 3 holding penalties last week.
  • Howard was signed at the beginning of camp after being in the league since 2010 with 73 starts. Howard has gotten a bit slower, though, and it's one of the reasons the Raiders benched him in 2016. Hurst is starting at guard for the first time in his career in 2017 after being a reserve tackle with some spot starts since 2014. So there are three players who Cleveland can attack and find some vulnerabilities with.
  • For the Browns, there are several things to watch this week. First, although we all love Joe Thomas, Terrell Suggs can win some battles against him. Second, we need to see improvements from Joel Bitonio and J.C. Tretter. Third, we don’t know if Kevin Zeitler’s cast for his thumb will impact his game.
  • For Bitonio, I think it’s simply about having had more time to return from his injury. For Tretter, I’m a little concerned for the second week in a row. He was bull-rushed too often by Javon Hargrave a week ago, and Brandon Williams presents the same type of match-up issue against a guy who’d rather be using his athleticism to move than holding up against more powerful players at the point of attack.

Defensive Line

  • The Ravens run a 3-4 defense. Their starting defensive line includes DT Brandon Williams, NT Michael Pierce, and DE Brent Urban. Going off of Week 1, Baltimore only played four defensive linemen, keeping the rotation thin -- and that fourth lineman, nose tackle Carl Davis, hardly played himself.
  • Williams is a damn good player against the run. You won't see him light up the stat sheet; for example, his high grade by PFF last week came with him only having 1 tackle. He also isn't known for registering sacks, but he’s one of the game’s best at defending the run and was rewarded with a 5-year, $52.5 million extension this offseason.
  • Pierce is another solid interior run defender. He was an undrafted free agent gem for Baltimore last year who is taking on a starting role in 2017 now. Urban made his first career start last week and has hardly played in his three-year career. But he did have one memorable highlight in 2015 -- he is the guy who blocked the Browns’ kick in prime time for a “kick six” to end the game.
  • It’s tough to compare defensive lines with 4-3 base alignments vs. 3-4 alignments, and plus I often just think that Terrell Suggs should be included in the defensive line ranking. But I give the Ravens the edge because they have one high level player, and Cleveland still has to prove themselves more over time. Without Myles Garrett too, it’s concerning if we’re not seeing enough of a pass rush from the backup defensive ends.
  • Larry Ogunjobi is one to watch this week, as he graded very well against the run in limited snaps a week ago.

Linebacker

  • The Ravens' starting linebackers include Rush LB Terrell Suggs, MLB C.J. Mosley, WLB Kamalei Correa, and SLB Matthew Judon. Suggs is of course the star of the group, followed by Mosley. Last week, Suggs had 2 sacks and 1 forced fumble. Suggs vs. Joe Thomas has become one of the top match-ups to watch in the NFL.
  • Correa, a second round pick from a year ago, is now a starter after hardly playing as a rookie. But it appears as though he’ll rotate with Patrick Onwuasor regularly. Judon, a fifth-round pick from a year ago, is also starting for the first time. Considering the strengths Baltimore has up front and at safety, Cleveland’s gameplan could be to attack these younger guys with their running backs and tight ends in coverage.
  • Despite Baltimore having Suggs, I’m giving the edge to Cleveland. It’s a remarkable turnaround in terms of positional units. Last year, there was a stretch where I thought Christian Kirksey was the only viable option. Now, Kirksey and Jamie Collins are the firm outside linebackers, and the stock of Joe Schobert has shot through the roof faster than I’ve ever seen for any Browns defender. One thing to watch this week is whether Collins will get some more pass-rushing opportunities to make up for Myles Garrett not being around.

Secondary

  • The Ravens' two starting cornerbacks are Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith. Rookie first-rounder Marlon Humphrey is their third corner on the depth chart, but he saw very limited work in Week 1. In reality, they’ve gone back to veteran Lardarius Webb to be their nickelback. Each of the Ravens’ three top cornerbacks — Carr, Smith, and Webb -- had an interception against Andy Dalton to begin the season.
  • Baltimore’s starting safeties include Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, and I will continue beating the drum that this is the best tandem in all of football. It’s kind of funny because when I do my annual free agency wishlist, in their respective years, I had hoped for both Weddle and Jefferson to join the Browns. Cleveland actually pursued Jefferson hard this offseason, but he turned them down for less money to play in Baltimore.
  • In terms of a complete veteran unit, the Ravens have it with everyone in their secondary, and then Humphrey is the youngster waiting in the wings. Cleveland is like the complete opposite team: everyone is young except for Jason McCourty. Overall, the secondary had a decent first week, with safety Derrick Kindred coming on the strongest. We know Joe Flacco can’t help himself to throw the ball long, which can get him into trouble, so we still might see Gregg Williams hold a safety back every play.
  • Jamar Taylor needs a bounceback week. I can’t blame anyone too much for being beat by Antonio Brown, but he also opened himself to criticism by referring to himself as a top 5 cornerback this camp. Briean Boddy-Calhoun might be Williams’ top five favorite players on defense, as he took on both a cornerback and safety role last week.

Special Teams

  • Justin Tucker is the Ravens' kicker and well-established as the best kicker in the NFL. I’m dying to see if he’ll actually attempt a 70-yarder in a game. Zane Gonzalez did what was asked of him last week, but we’ll need a much larger sample size on him before these two kickers can even be in the same discussion.
  • Sam Koch is the Ravens' punter. It’s too early in the season to discuss how his average compares to Britton Colquitt, but both players have been around long enough and do not present a weakness to their team.
  • Cleveland has to get their punt protection issues cleaned up, because Baltimore will be smelling blood in the water. Head coach Hue Jackson confirmed that RB Matthew Dayes was not the problem.
  • Baltimore’s Michael Campanaro is the Ravens' punt returner. He had 3 returns for 23 yards last week (7.7 yards per return). He’s not expected to break a big one. Chris Moore will handle kickoffs. Jabrill Peppers had one nice return for Cleveland last week, but also muffed (and recovered) one that could’ve improved field position had he fielded it cleanly.

Predictions

Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.


Chris Pokorny: “When I look at my projected decline for Joe Flacco, a less talented offensive line the Browns are facing this week, underwhelming running backs, and non-threatening tight ends, I think Gregg Williams will devise something to take Baltimore’s best weapons (the receivers) out of the game, unlike what they allowed Antonio Brown to do. The Browns’ intensity on defense could lead to a couple of forced fumbles, and a bit of a reality check after the Ravens were able to coast against a bad Bengals team to open the year.

The Ravens’ defense appears to be the real deal, and Baltimore won’t be easy to run on. That doesn’t mean Baltimore is a world-class unit, though, and if DeShone Kizer makes some of the small adjustments, he can negate the losses that plagued him a week ago. The key will be weather Kizer can hit any of the ‘money’ balls he missed on a week ago. I think he does, and Cleveland stuns Baltimore with the upper hand on defense to set up some managable short-field touchdowns.” Browns 20, Ravens 17.


Andrea Hangst: “Much like last week, the outcome of Sunday's game will be determined by who wins in the trenches. And much like the Pittsburgh Steelers did last week, the Baltimore Ravens will get the upper hand. That's not to say that the Cleveland Browns' defensive front won't make life hard on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, but the rookie predilection of Cleveland's DeShone Kizer to hold onto the football too long will make him more susceptible to the Baltimore pass rush. Playing on the road will also present a challenge, not just to Kizer, but to the entire young Browns roster. Yet again, the Browns should keep it close, but the ability to win and win consistently comes with time and experience, two things that the Browns are still accumulating.” Ravens 20, Browns 13.


Matt Wood: “Matchup of two good defenses and two mediocre offenses. I think the script goes the same as last week. A few rookie mistakes cost the Browns, a Peppers big kick return makes it close, but a late sack fumble from Suggs gives the Ravens the win.” Ravens 20, Browns 17.


Josh Finney: “Comedic miscues abound! Kizer takes a step back vs a very good defense. Flacco is mostly trash but has 1-2 big plays. Something hilarious happens.” Ravens 13, Browns 6.


Mike Hoag: “In 2016, the Browns had Cody Kessler at the helm of their offense and were close to knocking off the Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium. But the Ravens appear to be a much better team this year, and DeShone Kizer appears to be a much bigger difference maker than Kessler proved to be last season. While getting his first win against a Ravens team that is unbeaten at home against rookie quarterbacks would be nice, it's probably not a very realistic outcome. But nothing about this Browns team should surprise us. Despite the continuous roster turnover, and all of the youth from its top to bottom, last week the Browns played themselves into a competitive fourth quarter against one of the better teams in the AFC. I think the Browns' offensive line shines this week, Hue Jackson designs some more quickly developing plays, and Kizer makes the Ravens pay a couple times, most importantly, enough times for the Browns to steal their first win of 2017.” Browns 13, Ravens 12.


Ezweav: “Browns outplay the Ravens in both trenches, but don't capitalize on multiple opportunities. DeShone Kizer makes improvements in getting the ball out, but also has a few turnovers. Defense is stout but somehow we give up safety and lose.” Ravens 19, Browns 18.


apocrylle: “The Browns manage to move the ball against an over rated Ravens defense but struggle in the red zone as Kizer misses connections with Britt, Devalve, and Njoku. The Ravens don't do any better than the Steelers against or offense. The Browns are still in it late and Kizer delivers a huge play to set up a last second field goal.” Browns 19, Ravens 17.


Robo Dawg: “The Brown’s defense has another strong outing, but struggles to contain the Raven’s resurgent WR Maclin. Kizer continues to show improvement, even against a retooled Raven’s defense.” Browns 24, Ravens 21.


Dan Lalich: “The offense moves the ball but fails to put up many points as they continue to gel and gain experience together. The defense confirms that it's really good and makes some big plays to seal the victory.” Browns 11, Ravens 5.


Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below

Poll

Who do you think will win, Browns or Ravens? Pick the one closest to your prediction.

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Browns by 7+
    (216 votes)
  • 42%
    Browns by 3
    (482 votes)
  • 17%
    Ravens by 3
    (203 votes)
  • 21%
    Ravens by 7+
    (245 votes)
1146 votes total Vote Now