Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It won’t be a rout

The Browns should send a thank you card to the New England Patriots for what they did Sunday night in Baltimore.

With more than a little help from the scab officials, the Patriots played the perfect guest and fell, 31-30, to the Ravens in front of a national television audience in a highly entertaining game.

So why the thank-you card?

Can you imagine how ticked off the Ravens would have been for Thursday night’s nationally televised date with the Browns in Baltimore had they lost that game and fallen to 1-2? Thank goodness the Browns don’t have to play the Patriots in Foxboro.

It’s bad enough they have to go to Baltimore, where they haven’t won since 2007 when Phil Dawson kicked five field goals in a 33-30 overtime thriller that featured the flange kick by Dawson with no time left in regulation that tied the game.

Ever since that game, however, it’s been all Ravens for four straight seasons. Eight games, eight Cleveland losses. About half the Ravens have no idea what it’s like to lose to the Browns. That includes core players on both sides of the ball.

So there is no question Baltimore will have a clear psychological edge on the Browns, most of whom have no idea how exhilarating it feels to beat the Ravens.

However, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are still around for the Ravens. Even though they are well on the down side of their careers, they almost always seem to make their two meetings a season with the Browns a special occasion.

No one gets his team emotionally and psychologically prepared for a game better than Lewis. There is none better in the league. Too bad the Browns don’t have someone of his ilk who can stir the juices.

Reed, on the other hand, goes about his business quietly. You hardly know he’s on the field until he makes a play and breaks your heart in the process. Doing it twice a year for the last dozen or so years, these men have left a trail of broken hearts in Cleveland.

The two defensive playmakers seem to come up with big plays in clutch situations with uncanny ease and remarkable timing. Both are headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and their performances against the Browns definitely play a significant role.

There is no question the Ravens, whose aspirations this season include something well beyond just making the playoffs, are a better team than the young Browns. From a sheer talent standpoint, it’s not even close.

They are better just about everywhere on offense and defense. The only weak spot might be the young, relatively inexperienced offensive line. On defense, not even a deep probe can find a weak spot unless it’s at outside linebacker with Terrell Suggs still out with an Achilles injury.

And in John Harbaugh, they have one of the sharpest coaches in the National Football League.

The Ravens can beat you in so many different ways. On offense, if it isn’t diminutive Ray Rice gouging holes in the run defense, it’s Joe Flacco playing pitch and catch with a group of outstanding receivers.

And this season, coordinator Cam Cameron has swung his offense clearly in Flacco’s direction. In a bold display of confidence in his young quarterback, Cameron has Flacco throwing the ball on nearly two of every three plays.

Rice’s production has been reduced in favor of the strong-armed quarterback, who hasn’t disappointed, connecting on nearly 65% of his passes for 913 yards and six touchdowns. Even so, Rice has scratched out about 70 yards a game on the ground, giving Flacco good reason to go play-action on occasion.

It’s on defense where the Ravens are showing a little wear and tear. A check of the stats reveals they have surrendered more than 400 yards a game, including 290 through the air, and 26 first downs an outing.

All of which stands to reason that Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress figure to target the Baltimore secondary Thursday evening. Considering the Ravens probably will hang a bull’s-eye on Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson and force Brandon Weeden to throw, that seems to be the preferred course.

It’s never easy to win in Baltimore. The Ravens’ crowds are among the loudest and most boisterous in the NFL. Look for the possibility of a few false starts from the Browns.

So is it too much to expect Weeden, Richardson & Co. to go into that hostile stadium and do the unthinkable? Is it too much to expect Shurmur and Brad Childress to come up with a game plan that makes sense and could be successful?

Yes and yes. But it won’t be as ugly as some would believe. The Browns fall to 0-4, but it’ll be a lot closer than you think. The Ravens win it late. Make it:

Ravens 20, Browns 16

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