Browns-Ravens: Five keys

Posted Sep 13, 2013

Browns Senior Editor Vic Carucci breaks down the five keys for Sunday’s game at Baltimore.

>>Brandon Weeden must be perfect. Or, at least, as close to that as the Browns’ quarterback can get. Regardless of whether all of the three interceptions he threw against Miami last week were his fault, he needs to do a much better job of taking care of the football. He must be more accurate with his throws. He must be mindful of reducing the velocity of his shorter and intermediate passes. He must be more decisive while showing greater awareness in the pocket. The Browns won’t have a chance if they have to overcome turnovers, and they need Weeden to come up with more big plays.

>>The front seven has to be prepared to win the game. The outcome is likely to come down to whether the Browns’ defensive line and linebackers are able to minimize the rushing impact of running back Ray Rice and force the Ravens to try and win the game through the air. Quarterback Joe Flacco is more than capable of delivering difference-making throws, but he’s working without some key weapons (the biggest of which is tight end Dennis Pitta, who suffered a season-ending hip injury). As they showed against the Dolphins, the Browns are capable of making an opposing offense one-dimensional and applying strong pressure. This time, however, they need to do it from the very start of the game rather than waiting until the second quarter to turn up the heat.

>>The right side of the offensive line needs a whole lot of help. The Browns clearly didn’t anticipate how bad things were on the right side of their offensive line. They thought they would be able to at least hold their own with Oneil Cousins filling the injury gap at right guard, but it didn’t come close to happening. He drew four penalties and was consistently losing battles against Miami’s exceptionally strong defensive line. Even more surprising was how badly Mitchell Schwartz struggled at right tackle. The Browns have to do some scheming, with tight ends and backs chipping and otherwise assisting with blocks, to try and close the leaks in pass protection and put more push into the blocking on the right side.

>>The offense has to have greater balance. Offensive balance is always the goal, although no game plan is constructed with the idea of having a certain ratio of passes to runs. The game almost always will dictate that. And the fact is, the Browns’ philosophy is to attack through the air first, looking to gain yards in chunks and setting up the run with the pass. That won’t change against the Ravens. What should be different, however, is becoming a little more selective about when and where to throw and giving the running game more opportunities to establish itself. The Browns won’t have a prayer if, as they did last week, are throwing 53 times and running 13. Trent Richardson is capable of hitting some big runs against a Ravens defense that is built more to rush the passer than stuff the run and is going to take its share of chances by often blitzing.

>>Special teams must be special. The Browns simply can’t afford to be ordinary here. They generally figure to be overmatched in this game, and will need to perform at the highest level in all phases to have a chance to win. That means Bobby Rainey not only needs to be much smarter in his kick returns against his former team, but he has to have at least one and perhaps two or more big ones to flip the field – or produce points. The same goes for the Browns’ youthful coverage units.

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