Every Tuesday we’ll take a closer look at the Ravens’ next opponent. This week it’s the Cleveland Browns.
Record: 4-10, fourth in AFC North
Wins: @ Indianapolis, vs. Miami, vs. Seattle, vs. Jacksonville
Losses: vs. Cincinnati, vs. Tennessee, @ Oakland, @ San Francisco, @ Houston, vs. St. Louis, @ Cincinnati, vs. Baltimore, @ Pittsburgh, @ Arizona
Offense: 29th in NFL, 14th in AFC
Defense: 14th in NFL, eighth in AFC
Synopsis thus far: When we last looked, the Browns were sporting a 4-7 record, with a struggling offense and a rush defense that couldn’t stop anyone. A top-ranked pass defense did give Cleveland fans something to smile about, and while they still rank third in the league against the pass, it’s been another dismal campaign for the “Dog Pound.” Since the last matchup, a 24-10 win for the Ravens, the Browns have dropped back-to-back road games in Pittsburgh and Arizona. Neither contest was a blowout, but still the Browns’ season will end without a postseason appearance. It’s hard to determine what there’s left to play for, save for progression of a young squad, but this team’s confidence can’t be very high.
Where they’re strong: I mentioned the pass defense earlier, which is still allowing a stingy 188.4 yards per game, as the team’s strongest asset. But maybe we should give credit to quarterback Seneca Wallace. Wallace stepped in as the starter last week, replacing Colt McCoy. McCoy took a vicious hit in the team’s loss to Pittsburgh on “Thursday Night Football” and is still reeling from the effects of a concussion. The coaching staff and personnel department took a lot of flack for the way they handled that situation, and rightfully so, but Wallace emerged as a capable replacement for the young gunslinger. Wallace will almost assuredly get the nod in Baltimore, and while he didn’t come away the winner in last week’s 20-17 overtime loss, maybe Wallace under center can provide a bit more stability and veteran presence for such a young roster.
Where they’re weak: During the last matchup, the Browns’ rush defense was pitiful. Ravens running back Ray Rice carried the ball 29 times for a career-high 204 yards. Let’s hope the Browns’ defense has improved since then. If not, this could be another career day for Rice. If you’ll remember, former Ravens back Jamal Lewis, who set the then-single-game rushing record of 295 yards, accomplished that feat against the lowly Browns. Cleveland ranks 30th against the run and has plenty of injuries to leave question marks along the defensive front. The offense isn’t much better, however. In the last three games the Browns have scored 30 points and will have to be more efficient facing a team that can eat up the clock with its run game.
Overall advantage: This one should be an easy win for the Ravens. Baltimore is fighting for a home playoff game and is fresh off of a humiliating loss to the Chargers. The Browns, well, they’re just fighting for pride, which can play a factor in a divisional game. But this is the team’s third straight road game, which doesn’t bode well in helping a struggling team. Ravens take this one easily.