>>Play well from start to finish. Enough with the slow starts and strong finishes. Enough with the strong starts and slow finishes. The Browns need to demonstrate, once and for all, that they have the proper focus to play well for an ENTIRE game. Halfway through the season, it shouldn’t be an issue, as it was with last week’s bad-first-half-good-second-half at Kansas City. And with as much as the Browns have at stake on Sunday, a chance to get right back into the competition to win the AFC North, there is absolutely no excuse for having any sort of split personality. There should be an understanding throughout the team of the game’s magnitude, and the performance should reflect as much. The fiery halftime meeting that helped get the Browns’ defense back on course in KC should be the last of its kind.
>>Jason Campbell continues to have good pocket awareness and make plays. Campbell was an instant upgrade at quarterback for the Browns mostly because of his ability to manage the game well against the Chiefs. He showed tremendous pocket awareness, which enhanced the strong protection he received against the NFL’s top-sacking defense. He also made good decisions with where to go with the ball, was fairly quick with his delivery, and avoided turnovers. But the most impressive part of Campbell’s performance was that he made plays. He didn’t make enough of them to allow the Browns to win, but by connecting on a pair of touchdown throws and other passes for chunk yardage, he had the team in striking distance until the very end. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner should be able to find more against a Ravens’ high-risk/high-reward defensive approach.
>>The defense forces Joe Flacco into mistakes. Flacco has been uncharacteristically sloppy with his play. Much of that is due to working with a supporting cast weakened by injuries and, in the case of wide receiver Anquan Boldin, a trade to San Francisco. Nevertheless, it’s a primary reason the Ravens haven’t looked like the team that won the last Super Bowl. To Flacco’s credit, he did just enough to allow the Ravens to beat the Browns at Baltimore in Week 2. But he also benefitted from the fact that, with Brandon Weeden at quarterback, the Browns were unable to make the few plays necessary to prevent them from suffering a 14-6 loss after taking a 6-0 halftime lead. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton should be able to find opportunities to try and force errors by Flacco.
>>The offensive line, tight ends, and backs again do a superb job in pass protection. It was seen as monumental, if not impossible, task: keep Campbell mostly upright against a defense with an NFL-best 35 sacks and in one of the noisiest stadiums in the NFL. But the Browns managed to do exactly that. The offensive line has steadily elevated its play throughout the season, and has clearly gotten a boost since the return of right guard Shawn Lauvao from an ankle injury. Tight ends Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge have been reasonably effective on chips and in lending other forms of blocking assistance, as has fullback Chris Ogbonnaya and running back Willis McGahee. The Browns’ collective pass-protection effort will again need to be at its very best against the Ravens’ highly talented and aggressive defensive front. A key matchup to watch is that of left tackle Joe Thomas against outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
>>Special teams must do something special to make up for the absence of Travis Benjamin. Losing arguably the most explosive punt-returner in the NFL to a season-ending knee injury is a serious blow. It is unrealistic to think the Browns will come even remotely close to replicating Benjamin’s impact. Right now, the best they can hope for from replacement Davone Bess is that he avoids mishandling the ball, as he did on a late punt that effectively decided the Kansas City game and as he has done on numerous passes that have come his way in recent weeks. The good news for the Browns is that they have gotten exceptional blocking on the returns. Now, they also need their coverage units to not only excel in preventing long gains but also in forcing mistakes. And the Browns are quietly getting reliable work on kickoffs and field goals from Billy Cundiff and on punts from Spencer Lanning.
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