3TFO: Ravens @ Browns, Week 9
After being brought back down to earth in a big way at the hands of the Houston Texans in Week 7, the Baltimore Ravens no doubt used their bye week to rest up some injured players and bruised egos, before heading out on the road to take on the Cleveland Browns. There wasn’t much to smile about after that loss to the Texans, but the play of Terrell Suggs will provide a boost to an ailing defense.
While they currently sit bottom on the AFC North with a record of 2-6, the Browns have won their past two home games and have been at least competitive in most outings this season. Losses to the Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts and the Ravens by a combined 12 points are the difference between them being 5-3 right now.
There’s always bad blood when the Ravens return to the city the franchise left for Baltimore, but the fact that the Browns have looked better than their record suggests, combined with the Ravens’ recent problems, make this one even more intriguing. Here are the three main areas to focus on in this one.
Ravens Wide Receivers vs. Browns Cornerbacks
The main strengths of the Ravens’ passing attack come from their top two receivers. Veteran Anquan Boldin might not be putting up the numbers he did in Arizona, or even in his first two seasons in Baltimore, but he continues to be productive from the slot. With 207 yards from his 160 routes run from the slot, he averages 1.29 Yards Per Route Run. Teammate Torrey Smith doesn’t operate much from the slot, but he has become an even better deep threat this year than he was in his rookie season. With 21 of his 47 targets on the season coming on passes beyond 20 yards, he has managed to pull in eight receptions for 258 yards, trailing just Vincent Jackson and A.J. Green among all receivers on yards from deep passes.
The bad news for the Browns is that Buster Skrine is likely to be matched-up against Boldin in the slot. Skrine is currently giving up a reception every 4.9 snaps in coverage from the slot. His average of 1.48 yards given up per snap in coverage is unlikely to make anyone feel any better about the upcoming matchup. With Skrine taking Boldin in three wide receiver sets, either Joe Haden or Sheldon Brown will be responsible for Smith. Brown looks the best bet to have success, given that he has allowed the same number of completions over 20 yards, two, as Haden, despite playing four more games.
Ravens Outside Linebackers vs. Browns Offensive Tackles
The biggest boost to the Ravens’ pass rush comes from the returning Suggs. After defying what many believed was medically possible to even get onto the field in Week 7, he wowed everyone further with a Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP) Rating of 13.9, with three pressures from 18 snaps as a pass rusher. Having him back is particularly good news given the struggles of Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw as pass rushers — the pair have managed PRP Ratings of just 7.1 and 7.2 respectively. Albert McClellan has been used much less than Kruger and Upshaw, but has actually been more productive, with a PRP Rating of 11.3.
As always, Browns left tackle Joe Thomas is up there with the best in the league, particularly in pass protection. Allowing just 10 total pressures, including just one sack and one hit, he has a Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) Rating of 97.6. That’s well above the PBE Rating of 94.4 for rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who has given up 23 total pressures from the same number of snaps. However, 11 of those pressures came in just two games, and, while he has taken his lumps as a rookie, he has generally been solid at keeping quarterback Brandon Weeden clean in the pocket.
After looking awful in Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Weeden has rebounded to have a rookie season that, while not up there Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, has still been good enough to give Browns fans hope that he could be the answer at quarterback they have been searching for since the franchise returned to the NFL. What doesn’t help the rookie is the number of dropped passes he has been forced to deal with. The 29 drops that have come from Browns players is the most in the league and, taking them into consideration, Weeden has an adjusted Accuracy Percentage of 72.1%. Some of those drops have been more costly than others — a dropped pass from Greg Little denied them a tying touchdown in the first meeting between these two teams in Baltimore, and a drop by Josh Gordon cost them a late lead in Indianapolis. If the Browns receivers want to start winning more games, they could help out by hanging onto more passes.
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