Old Browns, new Browns
The platitudes rolled out from Baltimore earlier this week with regard to the Ravens’ visit to Cleveland Sunday for their second encounter this season with the still winless Browns.
“They are always a tough opponent,” said quarterback Joe Flacco of the still winless Browns.
“They’ve gotten better,” warned Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “They just continue to do a good job of getting better every single day.”
Harbaugh praised the work of Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. “They’ve really solidified what they’re doing under coach Williams,” he said. “It’s a very tough package. It’s structural, but it’s physical. They play really hard, run to the ball really well.”
The Ravens coach had some good things to say about the offense, too. “(DeShone) Kizer continues to improve and makes a lot of plays downfield,” he said.
Harbaugh and a few of his team’s veterans have cautioned that the Browns, the woebegone Browns, should not be taken lightly, especially after his club blew leads of 11 and nine points late in a last-minute 39-38 loss last Sunday night in Pittsburgh.
“It’s best for us to have a short memory on this one because if we win out, there’s a good chance we’ll be in (the playoffs),” suggested veteran linebacker and Browns nemesis Terrell Suggs.
So how did the Ravens rack up a 17-2 record against the Browns the last 19 times these teams have met? Flacco is 16-2. How in the world did that happen? Because they didn’t take the Browns lightly? Yeah, that’s it.
Or maybe it was because the Ravens had much better teams that did not fall into the trap of playing down to the Browns’ inferior talent level twice a season on an annual basis. Yeah, that’s more like it.
Harbaugh and Flacco joined the Ravens in 2008 and have racked up five double-digit winning seasons and a Super Bowl title along the way. Suggs, who joined the Ravens in 2003, is 21-5 against the Browns.
The former Browns, who moved to Baltimore more than 20 years ago, have practically no idea of what it’s like to lose to the current Browns, who lug a 15-game losing streak against the AFC North into Sunday’s affair. Their last victory against a division opponent was a 33-30 triumph in Baltimore early in the 2015 season.
Still, one has to wonder whom are the Ravens kidding with this don’t-take-the-Browns-lightly bullroar? They enjoy playing the Browns. Anywhere. They are 13-5 in Cleveland since the series began in 1999 and own a 28-9 overall edge in the series. It’s almost like two breather games a year on their schedule.
You can bet they look forward to playing Cleveland this week, especially after losing in heartbreak fashion against the Steelers.
In their first meeting this season in week two, the Browns coughed up the ball five times (three interceptions by Kizer and a strip sack) en route to a 24-10 loss that was not nearly as close as the final score indicates.
That was the game Browns fans found out Kizer suffers from migraine headaches and missed a couple of series. In his absence, Kevin Hogan steered two drives, accounting for all the club’s points, and then sat back down.
To balance the scales somewhat, it should be noted the Browns have played the Ravens tough in their last three visits to the lakefront, losing games by two, five and six points. And Harbaugh is correct about the Browns’ defense. Only problem there is inconsistency.
Until last Sunday’s killer overtime loss against Green Bay, the improved Cleveland defense went entire games playing poorly at times and surprisingly well on other occasions. Fans don’t know whether Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde will show up against the Ravens.
Against the Packers, the Browns played terrific defense for the first 40 minutes before collapsing altogether after a fading offense failed to put the game away.
The task will be much more challenging Sunday as they attempt to snap several losing streaks, including a 30-gamer on Sunday.
The Baltimore offense, coming off its best effort of the season last Sunday, features a couple of tough young running backs in Buck Allen and Alex Collins, who has booked a couple of 100-yard games this season and run for five touchdowns in the last four games.
Flacco’s numbers, though, are down considerably this season, mainly because the Ravens’ receiving corps is mediocre at best. When tight end Benjamin Watson and Allen are the team’s two leading receivers, that’s good news for the beleaguered Cleveland secondary.
Wide receivers Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace and Chris Moore have combined to catch only 91 passes this season for 1,109 yards and eight touchdowns.
Flacco is experiencing one of the worst seasons in his 10-year career. He currently is matching his career low (in his rookie season) with only 186 yards a game through the air. He has connected on just 13 touchdown passes, thrown 12 interceptions and failed to record a 300-yard game.
It’s the other side of the football and special teams that have the Ravens dreaming of playing football in January and beyond, although the Steelers might argue that point after last Sunday’s comeback. They have recorded seven touchdowns on defense and special teams, accounting for 21% of their scoring.
The Ravens had not allowed a quarterback to throw for 300 yards in a game this season until Sunday when Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers ravaged their secondary for 506 yards playing pitch and catch with wide receiver Antonio Brown all evening.
Browns coach Hue Jackson no doubt took notice of what Roethlisberger did to the Baltimore secondary and quite probably will try to give the Ravens secondary fits for a second straight week in an effort to knock them out of the playoff picture.
But the Browns must be wary of a very opportunistic Ravens defense that has forced 33 turnovers this season and has a +13 turnover ratio. The Browns are an NFL-worst (by far) -21 in the TO department.
The Ravens have sacked opposing quarterbacks 36 times (Suggs has 11), swiped 20 passes, including three pick-6s, and the defense has recovered 13 fumbles. It all points to a long afternoon for the Cleveland offense.
This one falls softly under the no-brainer category. The Ravens are clearly a better team from just about every vantage point. Let’s face it . . . the old Browns own the new Browns.
After what happened in Pittsburgh last Sunday night, there is no chance the Ravens take the Browns lightly as Cleveland’s numerous losing streaks streak on as the very forgettable 2017 home season comes to a merciful close. Make it:
Ravens 23, Browns 10