It will be a battle of AFC North foes as the Baltimore Ravens head back to their roots to take on the Cleveland Browns Sunday afternoon in Cleveland. The teams are headed in completely opposite directions as they enter their second meeting of the season.
The Ravens come off a bye, but in their final game before the bye they were lambasted by the Houston Texans. It was the most lopsided loss for the Ravens since 2007 as they were dominated in nearly every aspect. The offense regressed and the defense looked awful in their first game without Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb.
It was a couple of ugly weeks on both sides of the ball, so the bye may have been just what the doctor ordered.
Conversely, the Browns come into this game heading into their bye, and are playing their best football of the season.
After an 0-5 start, the Browns have won two of three and are showing signs of life. They have beaten the San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals, while narrowly losing a road game against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.
Wide receiver Josh Gordon has become the Browns’ top target, and the defense has played better of late, only allowing 19 points in the last two games.
The Ravens escaped their previous meeting with the Browns this season in week 4 for a 23-16 victory. Joe Flacco threw for 356 yards and had both a touchdown passing and rushing. Cary Williams had a timely interception that he took 63 yards for a touchdown that proved to be the difference.
Neither team ran the ball with consistent success, as Ray Rice and Trent Richardson were both held under 50 yards rushing.
At the moment, neither team is playing consistent on either side of the ball. It will be a battle of attrition when the Browns have the football, as their 29th-ranked offense will take on the Ravens 28th-ranked defense.
The Browns defense isn’t much better checking in as the 26th-ranked defense, so both teams should have a decent shot at getting their stagnant offenses moving.
To get their offense back on track, the Ravens need to feature a steady diet of Rice and the rushing game. Rice’s low total of 15.1 carries per game ranks 21st in the league. Put simply, Rice needs an absolute minimum of 20-25 touches per game if the Ravens are going to stabilize their offense. Too much emphasis is being put on the passing game despite Flacco’s recent struggles.
Speaking of rushing, Trent Richardson is coming off the best game of his young career. The beastly rookie had 122 yards rushing and scored the only touchdown in the Browns’ 7-6 victory over the fading Chargers.
Richardson should be licking his chops as he faces a Ravens’ rush defense that is ranked 30th in the league allowing a robust 143 yards per game.
With both teams struggling on defense, this game will have a different complexion from most Ravens-Browns defensive battles.
This game means so much more to the Ravens, as despite the recent better play, the Browns are nowhere near a playoff team. The Ravens still have Super Bowl aspirations despite their recent rough patch. If the Ravens are going to turn things around they must beat teams like the Browns.
Divisional games are always tough, but the Ravens are riding a nine-game winning streak against the team they used to be. They are also on a nine-game winning streak against the AFC North, so there are some streaks and some pride on the line for the Ravens.
The Ravens will also need to turn around their lackluster road play this season. They are 1-2 away from Baltimore, with their only win coming in an ugly 9-6 victory at Arrowhead against the lowly Kansas City Chiefs.
Despite the recent poor play for the Ravens, this game is way too important to waste. With a slate full of tough games looming, expect the Ravens to come away from this game with their winning streaks in tact. The Ravens will survive a 20-16 slugfest and start the second half of their season on the right note winning a must-win game over an inferior opponent.