Teasing the law of averages
Sooner or later, the law of averages is bound to catch up with the Baltimore Ravens whenever they play the Browns.
Like this Sunday, for example.
The Ravens bring an 11-game winning streak into the edifice formerly known as Cleveland Browns Stadium. Not an 11-game winning streak overall. An 11-gamer against the Browns.
Overall this season, the defending Super Bowl champions are just 3-4 and have played nowhere near the caliber of football they displayed in 2012. Not even close.
The law of averages says the Browns are going to win a game against the Ravens sooner rather than later. It will happen. The question is when. More on that later.
The Ravens will arrive relatively refreshed, having enjoyed their bye week last week. That brings up another interesting statistic, which does not bode well for the Browns.
Since the 2002 season, the Ravens are 10-1 in games following the bye week. The lone loss was a 38-7 drubbing in Pittsburgh in 2007. They finished 5-11 that season and cost Brian Billick his job. Under coach John Harbaugh, they are perfect in five seasons the week following the bye.
This will be the third time the Ravens face the Browns following a week off. In 2008, they won, 28-10, in Baltimore in week three. That was Harbaugh’s first season at the helm. And last season, they prevailed, 25-15, in Cleveland in week nine.
All these numbers mean nothing, of course, once the game begins. They are nothing more than interesting stats to chew, swallow and regurgitate for radio talk show hosts, members of the print medium and bloggers.
Not many experts thought the Ravens would be looking up at the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North at this point of the season. It has become obvious that they suffer from a serious lack of offense this season and it seems to be chronic.
But the Ravens, coming off consecutive losses to Green Bay and Pittsburgh by a total of just five points, almost always somehow seem to regain their health against the Browns. It’s as though playing them seems like an elixir.
Joe Flacco and Ray Rice have no idea what it’s like to walk off the field against the Browns hanging their heads because they lost. The Baltimore defense, which lost emotional leaders Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, also seems to kick it up a notch when it sees Seal Brown and Orange.
Flacco is having a less-than-ordinary, for him, season with only eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions. He clearly misses veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, traded to San Francisco in the offseason, and injured tight end Dennis Pitta.
Rice, on the other hand, is having a miserable season, caused in part by a hip injury suffered when the two teams met in week two. He has rushed for only 242 yards in six games. His longest run was 14 yards and he has lost two fumbles.
Rice absolutely tortures the Cleveland defense at CBS, where he has averaged 127 rushing yards a game. Included were games of 154 yards and 204 yards. Now, he seems like a shell of his former self. Unless he takes a swig of that magic elixir.
In that first meeting this season, Flacco threw for just 227 yards and one TD in a 14-6 victory. The Baltimore defense saved him in that one, sacking Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden five times.
It was also in that game that we got a good luck at the type of Cleveland defense that could eventually be the difference between winning and losing in this series. The Ravens ground out only 296 yards on offense and trailed, 6-0, at the half.
Flacco now operates behind a suspect offensive line. And the way the Browns’ defensive front has been playing, the battle in the trenches could very well swing Cleveland’s way after all these years.
Don’t forget Josh Gordon sat out the second game of his two-game suspension for that first Baltimore game. No one knows for certain, of course, but he very well might have made a big difference had he played.
Coming off two straight losses seems to have caught the attention of the Ravens. “Every game is a must-win game . . . but in the eyes of everybody and the players, I could say this is a must-win game,” said Baltimore running back Bernard Pierce.
Not certain the Browns can use the term “must-win” when talking about their three-game losing streak. They don't harbor the same playoff ambitions as the Ravens. In a season where the desire to win is there, it remains to be seen whether the ability to win is also there.
This one figures to be a carbon copy of the first meeting. The only difference is that Jason Campbell will be under center for the Browns. And he must produce a performance similar to the one he gave in the Kansas City loss last Sunday if the Browns have any chance.
It is also imperative his offensive line affords him the kind of protection he received against the Chiefs. The Baltimore pass rush is not as fierce, but the Ravens scheme their pass rush more than the Chiefs.
Linebackers Terrell Suggs, with eight sacks, and Elvis Dumervil, with five and a half, own more than half of the Ravens’ 25 sacks. But it’s the tough Baltimore run defense the Browns have to crack in order to keep the pass rush honest.
The Ravens have surrendered just one rushing touchdown this season and limited opponents to just 16½ points a game since the 49-27 pounding they absorbed in the season opener in Denver.
Here’s one more interesting stat: The Browns have been held to 17 points or less in their last nine meetings with the Ravens.
In order for the Browns to win this one and bring the losing streak against the Ravens crashing down, they’ve got to play even better defense than they did in the first game. They’ve got to win first down on both sides of the ball and win the emotional battles.
Now that we’ve seen Ray Horton unleash a much more aggressive defense against the Chiefs, we can expect to see more of the same against the Ravens. And that is something Baltimore hasn’t been used to seeing in the last . . . well . . . uh . . . 11 games.
The law of averages says it’s time for the Browns to level the playing field against the franchise that used to call Cleveland its home. The Browns will score more than 17 points Sunday and make the Ravens feel what it’s been like for the last five and a half years to walk off a loser.
Flacco, Rice, Suggs & Co. finally go down. Make it:
Browns 23, Ravens 14