Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Ravens: Week Nine Preview

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Updated: November 1, 2013

The 3-5 Cleveland Browns will try to stop their losing streak this Sunday as they welcome their division rival Baltimore Ravens to First Energy Stadium.

The Ravens aren’t experiencing the level of success they’ve grown accustomed to in the past. Coming off a bye week, Baltimore has lost two games in a row and stand at 3-4 so far this season. With both teams at, or as close to, full strength as they’ve been all season (in terms of injuries) this has the makings of another close game between the Browns and Ravens. Baltimore knocked off Cleveland in week two by a score of 14-6. Cleveland will look to even the season series and stay alive in the AFC North. Here’s a look at this week’s keys to the game for the Cleveland Browns.

Don’t Take – Attack!
In last week’s game preview, this writer said that the Browns offense should take what the stingy Chiefs defense gave them through the air. Jason Campbell did that to the tune of nearly 300 yards passing and two touchdowns. This week, the Browns should look to strike downfield. The Ravens defense has allowed 10 passing plays of 40-plus yards this season – that’s the second most in the league. Campbell has a strong arm, the Ravens have a questionable secondary and the Browns have an x-factor that wasn’t present in week two in Josh Gordon.

Starting cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Ladarius Webb give up an average of 14.65 yards per reception (14.5 and 14.8 respectively) while only notching one interception between the two of them. While these numbers might be skewed slightly for Smith, who has played well this season, opposing quarterbacks have a QB Rating of 102.8 when throwing into Webb’s coverage this year. That’s the 7th highest among CBs who’ve taken 200-plus snaps so far this year. In week two against the Browns, Webb allowed 101 receiving yards on five receptions (six targets) including a 53 yard reception to Jordan Cameron and a 22-yard reception to Travis Benjamin.

No Third and Long
It’s important for the Browns to stay out of third and long this week against the Ravens. Obviously these situations probably won’t be completely avoided, but minimizing them will be imperative for the offense if the Browns want to win. Baltimore’s defense ranks 5th in the league in third down conversions allowed at 34.3 percent (36-of-105) while Cleveland is 27th in the league at converting on third down at 34.1 percent  (42-of-123). It will be important for the Browns offense to move the chains, especially on third downs, and sustain drives. If they put themselves into third-and-two instead of third-and-seven situations, converting and driving downfield will be much more realistic.

Cover Up!
While the Browns didn’t have Gordon in their last meeting with the Ravens, Baltimore’s receiving corps wasn’t at full strength either as they were without wideout Jacoby Jones. Jones, who missed several weeks with an injury and returned to action a couple weeks ago, is a nice complimentary receiver to the smaller, quicker Torrey Smith.

Smith, who leads all NFL receivers in receptions of 20-plus yards with 14, dinged the Browns for seven catches and 85 yards in their last meeting, however he did manage to stay out of the end zone. Smith and Jones aren’t the Ravens only two weapons in the passing game. While he isn’t having his usual season statistically, Ray Rice is still a threat out of the backfield. The real wildcard, however, may be more of an unknown.

Wide receiver Tandon Doss has proven to be somewhat of a difference maker.

Doss, who was previously cut by the Ravens and resigned this year due to injuries, has been able to carve out a role in the Ravens offense. In the four games he’s appeared in as a receiver Doss has managed 13 receptions and 239 yards. His 18.4 yard per reception average puts him fifth among NFL receivers with 20-plus targets. While Doss hasn’t found the end zone yet this year he has had a reception of 20-plus yards in each of his four games as a receiver this year, his longest being a 63-yard reception. Doss doesn’t have blazing fast speed but he is elusive, has the ability to get open and pickup yards after the catch with 80 of his 239 yards coming after catching the football.

Doss has also returned 15 punts for 267 yards (a 17.8 yard per return average) and a touchdown, the touchdown coming on an 82-yard return. Needless to say the Browns cannot forget about Tandon Doss. Joe Haden and Buster Skrine have generally been good in coverage this season, now it’s up to everyone else to step up.

Prediction
The Browns did not play at their best against Baltimore back in week two and the Ravens have their own problems this season in terms of talent and winning football games. If the Browns are able to execute these keys as well as continue to get after the quarterback, a win is very realistic.  The Browns beat the Ravens on Sunday by a score of 24-21.

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