It will be a quick turnaround for both the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns as the AFC North rivals will battle on Thursday night. The teams are headed in opposite directions as game day approaches.
The Ravens come off an emotional one-point victory over the New England Patriots. Wide receiver Torrey Smith got the gameball for his huge effort in the wake of tragedy. Smith went off for 127 yards and two touchdowns some 15-plus hours after his 19-year-old brother Tevin passed away from a one-vehicle motorcycle accident. Joe Flacco out-dueled Tom Brady, as he threw for 382 yards and three touchdowns. Ray Rice finally got the magic number of touches, as he finally had 20 rushes, and 25 touches overall. The Ravens are now 19-3 in games that Rice has at least 20 carries, and that formula held true Sunday night, as Rice had 150 all-purpose-yards in the victory.
Defensively the Ravens bent without breaking, as they only allowed one passing touchdown to Brady. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (pictured below) had his best game of the season with 1.5 sacks and seven total tackles. The best part of the defensive effort was against the run. The Patriots did score two very short rushing touchdowns, but were held to 2.3 yards-per-carry on their 34 rushing attempts. The defense as a whole did a solid job forcing Patriots’ drives to end in field goals, which ended up being huge in the one-point victory.
The Browns meanwhile appear to be the worst team in the NFL, as the New Orleans Saints are the only other 0-3 team besides the Browns. The Browns come off a loss to the Buffalo Bills, characterized by another abysmal offensive effort. Quarterback Brandon Weeden threw two more interceptions to put him tied atop the league with six picks on the season. The rushing game was even worse, as rookie running back Trent Richardson was held in check all day. Richardson did have a 6-yard touchdown run, but his 27 yards rushing for an average of 2.3 yards-per-carry was dismal.
The Browns have been equally as bad on the defensive side, as they are allowing 25 points-per-game. Last week against Buffalo, the defense allowed roughly five yards-per-play. The Browns defense is ranked 25th in the league and has been put in bad situations by the anemic offense.
Head-t0-head, the numbers are about as one-sided as possible. Since Flacco came into the league in 2008, he is 8-0 against the Browns. The average margin of victory in those eight games is a tidy 14 points. That difference is nearly identical to this season’s stats, as the Ravens are second in the league averaging 32.7 points-per-game, while the Browns are 28th averaging 19 points-per-game. The Browns meanwhile are 3-22 against the AFC North since 2008. The last time the Browns beat the Ravens was November 18, 2007 when Kyle Boller was at quarterback for Baltimore.
Baltimore is riding high in the division, as they are on a nine-game winning streak versus the AFC North. The Browns are on the opposite side of the spectrum in that regard, as they haven’t won a divisional game since they beat the Cincinnati Bengals on October 3, 2010.
At home, the Ravens have won 12 straight games including the playoffs. Meanwhile the Browns are 3-9 all time at Baltimore.
This season though , the Ravens’ defense is uncharacteristically located in the bottom-quarter of the league. Their passing defense is ranked 28th in the league, but they have played the likes of Brady, Michael Vick, and Andy Dalton. Expect those rankings to rise precipitously as the Ravens’ pass defense should have a field day against Weeden and the Browns 23rd-ranked passing attack.
The Ravens’ 18th-ranked run defense should also see a spike in productivity as Richardson and the Browns rushing game is ranked 26th in the league. You have to figure the Ravens’ plan of attack will be to shutdown Richardson and make the mistake-prone Weeden beat them.
The biggest mismatch though is between the Ravens’ offense and the Browns’ defense. The Ravens’ offense is cranking out just over 419 yards-per-game, good for fourth in the NFL. Joe Flacco is averaging just over 300 yards passing per game, while the Browns defense is yielding 269 yards-per-game in the passing department.
Meanwhile, Rice is coming off his most productive game of the season, as he eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time this season. Rice averaged just over 145 yards rushing in the teams two meetings last season. Another spark for Rice may be what happens at halftime. Former running back and Super Bowl champion Jamal Lewis will be immortalized as he will be inducted into the Ravens’ Ring of Honor. With the Ravens’ best all-time running back in the house, expect a monster game from Rice. The Ravens only rank 11th in the league in regards to rushing yards-per-game, so all signs point to a concerted effort to pound the rock against a porous Browns’ defense.
All the numbers indicate this game could get ugly, and I expect it will. The Browns are 9-3 all-time in Baltimore, but have only one win in their last nine trips there. The Ravens will be playing their fourth game in 18 days, so that is a little bit of a concern. It is less concerning considering that fourth game is against the hapless Browns. With the Browns in rebuild mode and the Ravens having Super Bowl aspirations, expect a big margin of victory for Baltimore. 34-13 sounds like a reasonable score as the artist formerly known as the Browns will move to 3-1, while the current Browns will stay win-less. Things won’t get any easier for the Browns as they will travel to New York in week five to take on the defending champs, the New York Giants, while the Ravens will get the Kansas City Chiefs.