There was a time when the Cleveland Browns winning a division game was about as rare of an occurrence as a winning football season for the team. However, in recent years the team has found ways to win division games—unfortunately those wins have not come on the road against the Baltimore Ravens.
As Mike Pettine and his team hit the road to take on a Baltimore team struggling just as badly as them, many think the Browns could steal one from the Ravens this weekend. Given the state of their defense and lack of receivers, it is completely understandable why many are thinking this way.
The problem with this thinking is that history is usually a pretty good predictor of future behavior (I think some intelligent philosopher said this), and in the Browns case, history is not on their side this Sunday. In fact, not only is it not on their side, but it provides a slap in the face of a reminder that the Ravens have owned the Browns in the friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium since the Browns returned to the league in 1999 (everywhere for that matter).
Three…that is the number of wins the Browns have left Baltimore with in their 16 trips since returning. One…that is the number of wins the Browns have left Baltimore with in their last 12 trips to Baltimore—which we all remember was thanks to a controversial Phil Dawson field goal back in 2007. Yes you read that correctly, the Cleveland Browns have not defeated the Ravens in Baltimore since 2007—or for those who struggle with math, that’s a seven-game losing streak that could extend to eight this Sunday.
So what do the Browns have to do to avoid dropping their eighth straight on the road and 14th of their last 15th overall to the Ravens? Well, there are three things they have to do.
Throw Early and Often
Even though the Ravens are ranked No. 13 against the pass this year, they are still giving up 347 yards passing per game. Couple that with the fact that their defense is tied for No. 23 in the league giving up 26 points per game, and it is easy to see there will be plenty of opportunities for Josh McCown and the Browns offense to air it out against the Ravens on Sunday.
When you look at two most recent losses this season to Oakland and Cincinnati, Baltimore yielded 351 yards passing and three touchdowns to Derek Carr and 383 yards passing and three touchdowns to Andy Dalton. The Ravens defense was able to come up with an interception in each of those games, but passer stat lines of 734 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions show McCown and company—especially coming off 356 yards and two touchdowns against a pretty good Chargers pass defense—could have a big day.
Specifically, McCown needs to find a way to get leading receiver, Travis Benjamin, behind the Ravens defense on their very first possession. Against the Raiders, Amari Cooper struck for a touchdown play of 68 yards. On top of that, A.J. Green hit them for an 80-yard touchdown play in their loss to Cincinnati. To put it simply, the Ravens defense is susceptible to the big play—and the Browns need to take advantage of it.
Don’t Make Pro Bowlers out of Backups
This is something the Cleveland Browns have struggled with since the beginning of time, allowing backups and backups of backups to become stars before our eyes. On the offensive side of the ball, the Ravens are without Steve Smith Sr. and will likely be touting out Kamar Aiken in his place on Sunday. Though he has put up games of 89 and 77 yards against the Raiders and Steelers this season, Aiken is certainly no Smith—so the Browns need to make sure he doesn’t beat them like Smith would.
**Friday Afternoon Update from the Ravens Twitter Account**
Ruled out vs. Browns: TE Crockett Gillmore (calf) WR Breshad Perriman (knee) DE Chris Canty (calf)
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) October 9, 2015
Probable vs. Browns: T Monroe (concussion) RB Taliaferro (foot) G Yanda (ankle) LB Smith (NIR) LB McClellan (abdomen) — Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) October 9, 2015
On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Terrell Suggs and safety Matt Elam have been lost for the season. Linebacker Daryl Smith and defensive lineman Chris Canty have also not practiced yet this week (as of Friday morning), leaving their status for Sunday’s game very much in doubt.
This means that what has long been one of the most feared defenses in the league, will likely have to push out a number of second and third unit players on Sunday. Now, as mentioned with the offense above—this is usually where the Browns allow a “no-name” player of sorts to become a star. So for the love of all that is good, put a big target on the guys who will be playing for Suggs, Elam and possibly Smith and Canty and make sure they are blocked on every single play.
Keep Justin Forsett and the Run Game Slowed Down
Okay, so I’m giving up hope on the Cleveland Browns defense stopping the run—it just isn’t going to happen. History shows the Browns have not boasted a Top 15 run defense since I was in high school (potentially longer than that), so it isn’t magically going to change this Sunday with a unit that has been thrashed all season long.
Despite being beaten up all year, the Browns run defense can take solace in the fact—or maybe they should take it as a big warning—Forsett has pretty much been bottled up all season. Until his 150-yard performance against the Steelers last week, Forsett had not eclipsed the 70-yard mark in the team’s first three games of the season. The Ravens unit as a whole is No. 19 in the league, averaging 102.3 yards per game.
Another way the Browns can potentially “slow down” the Baltimore running backs is to send extra pressure at whoever is starting at left tackle on Sunday. Current starting left tackle Eugene Monroe is currently recovering from a concussion, though he received a designation of “FP” (full participant) on the Ravens injury report for the last two days. Whether he plays or not, the Browns need to send extra attention his way, just to see if there are any lingering effects from his concussion going on.
If ever there was a time for the Cleveland Browns to win on the road in Baltimore it is this week. Despite losing to the Chargers last week, McCown and the unit showed resiliency in their comeback attempt after a slow start. If they can avoid a slow start this week and keep backups from becoming stars, I truly think the Browns can improve to 2-3 before taking on the Denver Broncos at home next week.
Prediction: Browns 31 – Ravens 27