ReFo: CLE @ BAL, Week 2
The defending Super Bowl champions got off the mark at the second time of asking, knocking off the Cleveland Browns as they returned home for the first time since their success in February.
Don’t think, however, that the Ravens are immediately back on the straight and narrow after their struggles in Week 1. It took their offense some time to find its feet, and the scoreboard, in this one but the defense was able to hold the Browns in check, and within reach, to allow the offense to do just enough in the second half to win the game.
For the Browns, now falling to 0-2, there was encouragement and discouragement in equal measure as the new regime looks to make progress in their first season. There was more promise on defense, but question marks on how the offense is coming together will dictate how this team will come together this season.
Cleveland – Three Performances of Note
Highlights on Defense
Things began on a high note for the Browns on defense. Top pick Barkevious Mingo got his NFL debut underway with a sack on the first series, tearing past Bryant McKinnie to take down Joe Flacco off play action. After an encouraging preseason Mingo impressed in his regular season debut (+2.4 pass rushing) and built on that sack with another hurry and a batted pass on 30 snaps. Alongside him, the Browns got strong defensive displays from the likes of backup nose tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen (+2.2) and Jabaal Sheard (+3.0), but the workload was spread fairly evenly across the unit. As a defense there were 30 defensive snaps recorded, and only Chris Owens didn’t get one, and seven defenders recorded multiple pressures.
Right Side Struggles
The Browns’ right side combination of Oniel Cousins and Mitchell Schwartz got off to a ropey start at home to the Dolphins last week, and things didn’t get much better for them in Baltimore. Cousins backed up a -7.0 grade at home to Miami with a -6.7 grade on his return to his former employer. His -2.4 run block grade matched his Week 1 grade, and his seven hurries topped the five pressures (1 Sk, 4 Hu) he allowed last week. To his outside, Schwartz’s start to the season has been in sharp contrast to how he finished 2012 with positive grades in every game from Week 8 onward. The eight pressures he allowed in this game (2 Sk, 2 Ht, 4 Hu) matched his career high from Week 7 last season, and he has let up more pressure in his first two outings this season than he did in the aforementioned nine-game spell last season. Schwartz was given a pass by some for the fact he faced off with Cameron Wake last week, and though Elvis Dumervil is a good pass rusher as well, the lineman’s form last season suggested more should be expected from him than excusing him for the class of pass rusher he is facing.
No Triumphant Return for Kruger
After collecting a Super Bowl ring with the Ravens in February, Paul Kruger cashed in with the Browns and free agency. Offered an immediate opportunity to go up against his former teammates, Kruger racked up as many missed tackles as tackles and recorded only two hurries as a pass rusher. Each of the missed tackles came in run defense, though to his credit his final two came having shed blocks by tight ends Ed Dickson and Billy Bajema respectively. Kruger did pick on one former teammate, Michael Oher, with a quick hurry to his outside late in the second quarter to pair with working to his outside for a tackle for loss at the start of the fourth quarter. This wasn’t the impact Kruger would have hoped for from this game, and he’ll want to be more settled in the Cleveland defense, and able to exact a pivotal performance, when the Ravens head to Cleveland later in the season.
Baltimore – Three Performances of Note
Better from the Defense
After being taken apart by the Broncos last week, the Browns might have been hopeful of getting on track against a Ravens defense struggling to establish a new identity. However, the promise that was shown in preseason re-emerged for Baltimore in their home opener. Leading the way was Elvis Dumervil who, in spite of playing off the bench, racked up 42 snaps with a high proportion of those coming in pass rush situations (28 of 42), which he converted into six pressures (1 Sk, 3 Ht, 2 Hu) and a +3.5 pass rush grade. Fellow new acquisition Daryl Smith also did his best work as a pass rusher, racking up four pressures (2 Sk, 2 Hu) on 12 blitzes and leading the team with five defensive stops. When added to Haloti Ngata (+2.4) and Terrell Suggs (+2.9) maintaining their strong starts to the season, produced a more secure all-around defensive performance.
Unsung Heroes Make the Key Plays
This was still far from a polished offensive performance by the Ravens, but for a team searching for more depth and new playmakers on offense it has to be taken as encouragement that it wasn’t the obvious candidates who made the key plays to take the Ravens to victory. While Ray Rice limped away to the locker room, his backup Bernard Pierce (+1.8) ably picked up the load, as he showed he could last season, displaying an ability to make defenders miss (seven forced missed tackles) and bounce runs outside to beat contain for solid pickups. With his offensive line still struggling to gel, Pierce’s ability to create plays for himself was key to any success the Ravens had on the ground. Meanwhile at receiver, Marlon Brown impressed for the second week in a row, grabbing his second touchdown in as many weeks which sealed the victory. Though his dropped pass hurts his grade, he was able to come up with some key plays once the Ravens realized the deep ball wasn’t on in this game. In the second half he recorded a pair of first downs and the touchdown which made the final result a little more comfortable for the Ravens.
Growing Pains on the Offensive Line
Considering there has been only one personnel change from the Super Bowl victory, admittedly a loss of a veteran leader, the Ravens are struggling to re-discover their form and chemistry to start the new season. After his strong start in Denver, Marshal Yanda put in a solid display (+0.9), but each of the other four linemen graded negatively for the second straight week. At tackle, both Michael Oher and Bryant McKinnie graded negatively in the ground game, with McKinnie also grading negatively as a pass protector. Between McKinnie and Yanda, the youngest starter, Kelechi Osemele, and Gino Gradkowski had their struggles for the second straight week, with Gradkowski letting up three pressures (1 Ht, 2 Hu) once again. Osemele graded positively as a run blocker (+0.7) but giving up another four hurries has seen him off to a slow start to the season in pass protection.
– While Joe Flacco went 0 of 6 on passes targeted 20+ yards downfield, Brandon Weeden was 2 of 2 for 84 yards.
– After letting up five pressures (1 Ht, 4 Hu) for the second straight week, Joe Thomas has let up as much pressure through two weeks as he did in the first seven weeks of the 2012 season.
– So far this week only Adrian Peterson has forced more missed tackles as a runner (eight) than the seven Bernard Pierce forced on 19 carries.
PFF Game Ball
His touchdown carry finally got the Ravens on the board, and some strong carries in the fourth quarter ground down the clock to ensure Baltimore’s victory. Bernard Pierce proved his worth as the Ravens’ backup running back with this display.
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