Last week on Thursday night you saw why head coach John Harbaugh has led Baltimore to five playoff appearances in his six years. When the distractions and noise appeared to be at its loudest concerning the Ray Rice situation, the Ravens played their best football. Baltimore dismantled the Steelers at home, 26-6, avoiding an 0-2 start. Time after time under Harbaugh, the Ravens have been able to put the blinders on and focus solely on football.
How the Browns will react
If the Ravens do expect to come into Cleveland and win on emotion, they're in for a bigger battle than they've bargained for. Both of the Browns' games in 2014 have come down to a last second field goal. Young teams normally feel nerves during close fourth quarter games, especially against a divisional rival. That's no longer the case for the professional football team in Northeast Ohio. Baltimore should prepare themselves for the Cleveland Browns to not only swing back, but initiate aggressive football– going for it on fourth-down, blitzing, etc. – to grab the momentum early, like they did against the Saints.
Taking a page from Cleveland's success against Pittsburgh in Week One, the Ravens rammed the football down the Steelers' throats (36 carries, 157 yards) which kept the clock moving and Big Ben pacing on the sidelines. Remember, Baltimore's new offensive coordinator is Gary Kubiak, a Mike Shanahan disciple. Commitment to the run in the Charm City isn't just a gimmick, even if it means leaning on both Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett. In the air, quarterback Joe Flacco was efficient (21-for-29, two touchdowns) but for only 166 yards. Many times Baltimore would send two receivers on deep routes to occupy the safeties and find an easy underneath route. So far in 2014, wide receiver Steve Smith, Sr. has been a problem for cornerbacks, hauling in 13 catches for 189 yards. Even at 35, he can shake tacklers in the middle of the field – and let them know about it with his notorious motor-mouth.
How the Browns will react: Flacco was not sacked once last week against Pittsburgh and most of the time he stood in the pocket like a statue without flinching. That won't be the case at FirstEnergy Stadium. Cleveland will line former Raven Paul Kruger on both sides, scheming him up for one-on-one situations where he can attack. When the Ravens lost to the Browns in 2013, Cleveland pummeled Flacco, sacking him five times. The constant pressure was the reason for the win and the strategy will be the same on Sunday.
Video: wants to be an all-around back
The first thing noticeable on tape is how physical the Ravens play. Baltimore is smacking ball carriers and ganging up together as a unit to make sure nobody breaks free. Rookie linebacker C.J. Mosely is living up to the hype (16 tackles, one fumble recovery), defensive end Elvis Dumervil already has two sacks. The problem has been on the back end. The Bengals exposed the Ravens' secondary in Week One, throwing for 300 yards – and only rushing for 76 – en route to a road win at M&T Bank Stadium.
How the Browns react:
The game-winning drive against the Saints has given Cleveland even more confidence in their passing game. Brian Hoyer is quickly shedding the game-manager label so many thrust upon him, proving he's capable of making plays with his strong arm and vision. But the Browns will still do their best to wear down Baltimore's front seven with their "Baby Backs," Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West.
Video: breaks down his winning field goal