If defense is the name of the game in the National Football League, you can bet the Baltimore Ravens are among the best to play that game. In fact, they play it extraordinarily well.
That's why the Browns will not only lose to the Ravens Sunday in Baltimore, they will lose large. That prediction even though the Ravens have scored just two touchdowns in eight quarters this season. It is only a matter of time before that offense plays up to pre-season expectations.
When the Ravens traded for Anquan Boldin during the offseason, giving quarterback Joe Flacco a much-needed No. 1 receiver, all the smart heads around the NFL anticipated a flood of points from an offense that lacked an aerial threat last season. It hasn't come thus far mainly because the Ravens have been shackled by two very good defenses (New York Jets and Cincinnati).
The Browns, who received a strong defensive effort in their first two outings, are not the Jets or Bengals on that side of the ball, however. And Flacco, who has thrown just one touchdown pass, is way overdue to help his club's defense get more rest.
There is only one way the Browns, whose offensive performance this season against two of the NFL's weak sisters (Tampa Bay and Kansas City) has been nothing short of abysmal, have a chance in the Ravens' home opener. The defense must overachieve. It's as simple that.
That means defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has to get down and dirty in his approach. The Jets and Bengals harassed and harried Flacco, often times forcing him to deliver the ball before he wanted. That's what the Browns, who failed to do that against Tampa's Josh Freeman and K.C.'s Matt Cassel, need to do.
Playing defense is all about aggression. Just watch the Ravens and the way they play when the opposition has the ball. They are masters at disrupting plays, often forcing the opposition into mistakes. They play defense in a very belligerent, almost hostile, manner. As a result, Ray Lewis and his buddies have not allowed a touchdown (but eight field goals) this season.
The only way the Browns can win this game is to shut down Ray Rice and the Ravens' running game and intimidate Flacco by playing play press coverage against his receivers. If they play as conservatively as their offense, the Ravens will finally discover their offense.
The Cleveland offense? Forget about it. Not with Seneca Wallace at quarterback. (And isn't it about time Eric Mangini finally admits Jake Delhomme is going to be out a lot longer that originally thought?) It stands no chance against the very active Baltimore defense. Its only hope is to get close enough to the goal line for Phil Dawson to kick a field goal or three.
Given that both clubs' offenses have staggered out of the gate, there is every logical reason to believe this will be a low-scoring affair. That's not gonna happen. Somehow, I think a lot of points are going to be scored, most of them by the home team. Make it:
Baltimore 31, Cleveland 6