5 Baltimore Ravens Players to Watch vs. Cleveland Browns
Five Ravens to Watch: Week Nine
The second matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns in 2013 is set to take place this Sunday in Cleveland. While the Browns come in at 3-5 and Ravens at 3-4, this game already has bigger implications due to the Cincinnati Bengals' 22-20 overtime loss Thursday night to the Miami Dolphins.
With a win over the Browns, Baltimore can inch back to 1.5 games out of first place in the AFC North and seemingly put themselves right back in the hunt for a playoff spot. The odds would seem to be in the Ravens' favor as they have won 11-straight over Cleveland and have yet to lose in the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era. However, these aren't the same old Browns and I know we say this every time they face the Ravens, but it is warranted this time around.
Sure, offensively, they are a bit challenged with Jason Campbell as their starting quarterback for this game and it's pretty much been throw to wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron or bust. While the offense isn't going to win them any games, their defense is sixth against the pass and 11th against the run. Hard to believe this Browns team is 3-5 with those numbers, but when the offense can't find any rhythm, especially with their 26th-ranked ground game, it is hard to defeat any opponent in the NFL.
Baltimore won the first matchup 14-6 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, but it wasn't an all that decisive game for the boys in purple as the Browns played them tough until the end. When the Ravens take the field Sunday, there are several key positions and players that should garner your attention. Here are my five players to watch:
In case you haven't heard, the Ravens will be without left guard Kelechi Osemelefor the rest of the season due to a back injury that will require surgery. In his place, Baltimore will use a mixed bag of A.Q. Shipley, Jah Reid and Ryan Jensen at the left guard spot, but Shipley gets the nod as the starter. The former Penn State Nittany Lion did a nice job filling in for Osemele back when the Ravens faced the Dolphins, and looks to be the best available option at this point. While his traditional position is center, and despite the fact that he has short arms like Ravens center Gino Gradkowski, maybe the Ravens have a diamond in the rough; or maybe, they have another dud.
I don't think there is a guy you can root for on this Ravens team more than inside linebacker Jameel McClain. It was uncertain as to whether or not the former Syracuse Orange was ever going to play football again, but he was inserted into the starting lineup against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 7 and didn't appear to miss a beat. Clearly, rookie Arthur Brown is still behind on the learning curve, so it's the veteran's job to lose. Having two solid guys in the middle like McClain and Daryl Smith can only benefit this defense going forward and it should make a difference in this game against the Browns. McClain is a stout run-stopper and given that Cleveland doesn't have a consistent ground game, having his presence could force the Browns to rely on Campbell's arm.
I know I've mentioned a lot about the Browns' defense and how solid they are, especially in their front seven, but one of these days, Ravens running back Ray Rice is going to have to get going. Rice has had good and bad games against Cleveland in years past, but it is hard to believe that he could have one against this defense, even the second time around. The good thing is, Rice has now had the bye week to recoup and recover, assuming that hip injury was still lingering from their Week 2 matchup. We'll see just how active Rice can be on the ground and if the Ravens look to insert him more into the short-passing game on second and third downs this week.
It seems like every week Jimmy Smith's name comes up as someone the Ravens need to rely on for a solid performance. Smith is usually asked to cover the opponent's best wideouts when Lardarius Webb is moved inside to the nickel cornerback position. This week, Baltimore must find a way to stop one of the better deep threats in the league in Josh Gordon, but outside of him and tight end Jordan Cameron, there isn't much to offer in the Browns' aerial attack. If Smith can keep Gordon in front and not allow any big plays to give the Browns ample opportunities to sustain long drives, expect the Ravens to prevail in this game.
Ravens tight end Dallas Clark has found the end zone in his team's previous two contests and could possibly be developing some rapport with Flacco in the red zone. As much criticism as he has received this season for his lack of athleticism and inconsistent hands, Clark has certainly rebounded and is quietly putting together a decent campaign for a 34-year-old tight end. While there aren't a lot of holes in this Browns' defense, if they are keying on stopping wide receiver Torrey Smith too much, look for Clark to slip through the cracks and make a bigger impact than expected in this one.