Browns (0-2) @ Ravens (1-1)

Our Ravens head back to Charm City for a football game for the first time in nearly a month this Sunday to take on the Cleveland Browns. And boy, could they use the home cookin’.

The Ravens, Arizona Cardinals, and Miami Dolphins are the only teams yet to play a home game through the first two weeks of the 2010 season. The Ravens, though, were not only on the road, but matched up with playoff teams from 2009 for both weeks, while the Cards and ‘Phins got some cupcakes at St. Louis and at Buffalo, respectively. Looked at through that lens, their 1-1 start isn’t nearly as disastrous and catastrophic as listening to sports talk radio in B’More right now would lead one to believe.

Many Ravens fans are already calling for Joe Flacco’s head after his rocky start to the 2010 campaign. As ridiculous as that may seem, I have to think it stems from such a desperate yearning for a true franchise quarterback in this town. The fierce desire for a Brady, Manning, or (gulp) Roethlisberger (the quarterback, not the gentleman) of our own, coupled with the still all-too-fresh memories of the struggles of the only other quarterback this franchise has ever drafted in the first round, combine to make Flacco’s leash, from a fan’s standpoint anyway, shorter than Ray Rice without cleats.

That Marc Bulger suddenly find himself as one of the most popular men in Baltimore, in just week 3, quite frankly embarrasses me to be a Ravens fan. Listening to the calls for Bulger, the ripping of the organization for trading Troy Smith (still just a backup, I’ll have you note), and the grumblings about firing Cam Cameron and even John Harbaugh are enough to make me actually thankful that my car radio only works sporadically these days.

Not that I’m a complete Flacco apologist at this point. His struggles through two games are certainly alarming, but far from a reason to panic and completely go back to the drawing board regarding the future of the franchise, as the vocal minority (I hope) would seemingly have Ozzie Newsome doing. Just as troubling is the play of the Ravens’ offensive line, so strong a year ago, that allowed the Cincinnati Bengals to consistently pressure Flacco with just a four man rush. This team is missing tackle Jared Gaither much more than any of us anticipated. Hopefully Oneil Cousins is able to play more this week and moving forward, which will allow Marshal Yanda to return to his much more natural position at right guard. Right now, the Yanda/Chester 2-guys-out-of-position situation taking place on the right side of the Ravens’ line just isn’t getting the job done. Add to that even Ben Grubbs struggling more than we expect from him, and it’s not really that surprising that Joe feels he has nowhere to step up TO in the pocket.

All that said, there are two schools of thought regarding the Ravens’ offensive game plan going into Sunday. The first is that the Ravens need to come out with the “ground and pound” mentality, running Ray Rice straight at the Browns, who have struggled mightily to stop the run through two games. This scenario would hope to get the offensive line in a rhythm, put the ball in the hands of the team’s top playmaker as often as possible, and remove the burden from Flacco to try to do too much, lest his struggles continue.

The other idea is that the Browns present the perfect opportunity to get Joe on the same page with his receivers and feeling comfortable throwing the ball again. Coming out with the no-huddle offense that Joe has been so successful with in the past, with the quiet home crowd on his side and the ability to change plays at the line could be just what the doctor ordered for Flacco, his o-line, and his receivers. Looking ahead to Week 4, the Ravens are certainly going to have to move the ball through the air to win in Pittsburgh (the Steelers just held Chris Johnson to 30 yards or something ridiculous), and so there is a bit of urgency to righting the offensive ship.

Whichever of these strategies Cam Cameron decides to employ early in the game Sunday, it would be great to see the Ravens come out firing, and avoid the type of slow start that has become par for the course here in the Flacco-Cameron era. In the first quarter this season, the Ravens have had four drives – two fumbles and two punts. They were shut out for the first 30 minutes in Cincy. It’s like its 2009 all over again (think Minnesota, New England, etc.) With the way the defense is playing right now, an offense that scores early and often would have the Ravens quickly flying as high as so many had predicted for them in the preseason. Getting up early on this Browns squad will quickly sap the wind from their sails, feed the frenzied M&T Bank Stadium crowd (it is the home opener, remember), and have the home team coast to a comfortable win. Turning the ball over in the first half, unleashing a barrage of punts, and letting them hang around could spell disaster.

The Browns offense will likely be headed up by quarterback Seneca Wallace this week, with Jake Delhomme dealing with an injured foot. Wallace threw for 229 yards against Kansas City last week, with his favorite target being Joshua Cribbs. Cribbs, who has hurt the Ravens returning kicks in years past (though they bottled him up well in 2009), can also be an effective weapon running the Browns’ version of the Wildcat offense. Now he is showing that he can catch passes as a receiver, and he is undoubtedly the one guy who can turn this game in Cleveland’s favor Sunday. Expect the Ravens defense to be keying on Cribbs, and let’s hope Billy Cundiff can continue his strong season this week with some more touchbacks.

Without Cribbs, the Browns don’t have much. Their running game consists of Peyton Hillis, who came over in a trade from Denver, and Jerome Harrison. Second year player James Davis could also get some touches this week. Hillis is the kind of straight-ahead runner that the Ravens will eat up at the line, especially if Terrence Cody is back this week as he is expected to be. Harrison, though he finished 2009 on a strong note, has been ineffective so far this season, with just 85 yards on 25 carries. Mohammed Massaquoi is the team’s deep threat, but he doesn’t seem to have much chemistry with Wallace as of yet (1 reception, 9 yards against KC).

The Ravens defense, despite being gifted two of them last week, is still looking for their first interception of 2010. They have picked off Browns’ quarterbacks in 11 consecutive games though, so things are looking up in that department. This is another area where building an early lead and forcing the Browns to play catch-up with a mediocre quarterback could lead to a nice little turnover-fest for the purple D. Again, not looking past Cleveland, but looking FORWARD to Pittsburgh sans Roethlisberger, and the get-up-early, play-from-ahead strategy should pay excellent dividends.

John Harbaugh’s teams have a long resume of winning the games that they are “supposed” to win, and this one should be no different. Unfortunately, it will only lead to another week of “so they beat the Browns, so what?” talk on the local airwaves, but that’s not for the team to worry about.

The M&T Bank Stadium crowd will be jacked up for this game, and the Ravens are ready, willing, and able to take out some frustrations on the Cleveland Browns. Ravens win big.

Ravens 31 Browns 6


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