3TFO: Browns @ Ravens, Week 2
Baltimore will try to improve upon their abysmal defensive performance against the Broncos last week. Scott Hanson looks at three key factors in this inter-divisional matchup.
3TFO: Browns @ Ravens, Week 2
Two teams looking to put Week 1 behind them will bump uglies in this division rivalry. Cleveland’s stifling run defense in the opener just wasn’t enough to overcome their offensive ineptitude. All the positives from the preseason went right out the window as the Browns were intercepted three times in the first half and failed to achieve a first down on half of their drives for the game. They’ll need to take advantage of some of the Ravens’ coverage issues that were exposed last Thursday night.
Baltimore will have had about a week and a half to think about their poor performance. After seeing Broncos’ receivers find the end zone seven different times against them, the Ravens’ coverage unit will welcome the opportunity for redemption. Although they won’t have to deal with Peyton Manning this week, the Browns will present a challenge in their own right. Let’s get into some of the matchups that will shape the outcome of this game.
Jordan Cameron vs. Baltimore’s Coverage
There wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about last week for Cleveland, but Jordan Cameron continued to put his pass-catching talent on display. Cameron appeared worthy of all the offseason hype as he caught 9-of-11 targets for 108 yards and a touchdown, piling up 42 yards after catch along the way. The Browns will most certainly try to create mismatches with Cameron this week.
Baltimore had plenty of trouble with Denver’s tight end Julius Thomas a week ago, and now they’ll have to face yet another former basketball-star-turned-tight end in the form of Cameron. Both possess the type of size and athleticism that makes them tough to cover man-to-man. Still without suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon, the Browns lack playmakers on the outside. This will allow Baltimore to devote much attention to stopping Jordan Cameron. Still, the Ravens will need to step up their effort significantly. Last week, the combination of Michael Huff and Corey Graham were obliterated in the passing game, allowing a combined 12-of-14 for 254 yards and six touchdowns into their coverage.
Torrey Smith vs. Joe Haden
This pair of rising stars will likely go toe-to-toe for most of the game. With Dennis Pitta injured and Anquan Boldin in San Francisco, Torrey Smith is the clear number one option in the passing game for the Ravens. Smith found himself well-covered for much of the game against the Broncos last week, but still managed 92 yards on four catches. His game-breaking speed makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the field. A season ago, Smith accumulated 13 catches for 425 yards and five touchdowns on Deep Passes. The yardage was good for seventh best in the league in that area. Baltimore figures to use him a lot more on short and intermediate routes this season as well. Tracking him will be Joe Haden, a very good cover corner who last week held Mike Wallace to just one catch for 15 yards on five targets. The Browns have a lot of confidence in Haden, and they may allow him to handle Smith without any help over the top in plenty of situations. Haden has the skill and athleticism to keep Smith in check if he’s on his game, but even one lapse against a player as dangerous as Smith could prove costly. If one side can win this matchup handily, it would go a long way toward securing a victory.
Paul Kruger vs. His Old Team
One of the prized pass rushers of this offseason’s free agency, Paul Kruger gives the Browns an excellent edge presence on the left side. Kruger established himself as one of the better pass rushers in the league last season, as he led all 3-4 outside linebackers in Pass Rush Productivity with a mark of 12.0 (including the playoffs). During the preseason this year, Kruger graded out at +3.2 in run defense as well, and he continued his solid play in that regard in the opener with a grade of +1.7. He’s quickly becoming one of the better all-around outside linebackers in the game.
Stopping Kruger may prove difficult for Baltimore this week. Right tackle Michael Oher sprained his ankle in the opener and remains questionable at this point for week two. If he does play, he won’t be at 100 percent, and Kruger should be able to take advantage of a hobbled Oher. If Oher can’t go, the Ravens could be in even more trouble, as replacement Ricky Wagner proved no match for Shaun Phillips and company last week. Wagner allowed three sacks and four hurries in his 48 pass blocking snaps, for a Pass Blocking Efficiency of 87.2. That mark placed him 48th out of 52 qualifying offensive tackles a week ago. This matchup figures to sway heavily in Cleveland’s favor unless Baltimore double-teams Kruger often.
Staying with the former Ravens theme, another little bonus matchup is Bobby Rainey returning kicks against his old team. Rainey appeared to have the No. 3 running back spot locked up with Baltimore after an impressive preseason, but was surprisingly cut as the Ravens elected to keep only two running backs on the active roster. The Browns quickly snatched him up off of waivers and put him out there as the kickoff returner in Week 1. He would surely love to take one the distance against the team that let him go.
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