Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Browns vs. Ravens – Week 16

The Seneca Wallace era continues, as the Browns head to Baltimore for a Christmas Eve match-up with the Ravens.

Probably not the best Christmas present the NFL could give to Browns fans.

The Opposition

Baltimore’s record: 10-4 (tied for first in the AFC North)
Offensive rank: 15th overall/16th passing/16th rushing
Defensive rank: 3rd overall/4th passing/2nd rushing
All-time record: Ravens lead 18-7′ the Browns are 3-9 on the road against the Ravens
Last meeting: Baltimore won, 24-10, in Week 13
The line: Browns (+13)

What to Watch For

How the Browns respond to playing the Ravens for the second time this season.

In the first meeting, the Ravens had their way with the Browns, rushing for 290 yards behind Ray Rice’s 204 yards and Ricky Williams’ 76 yards.

“Obviously it wasn’t what we wanted the first time,” defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said in his weekly press conference. “(Rice) is an exceptional player. I don’t know that we can make sure things happen, but we’ll certainly try not to have that happen again. They’re very good at what they do. We’ve made some adjustments. We’ll just have to see if they work out the way we would like them to work out. Obviously, they’ll make adjustments too. They do an outstanding job. He’s an exceptional player.”

In the past two games, the Browns have done better with their run defense, holding Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall to 76 yards (although the Steelers did run for 5.3 yards per carry) and Arizona’s Beanie Wells to 51 yards (and limited the Cardinals to just 3.1 yards per carry).

The Browns may be catching a break as wide receiver Anquan Boldin will miss the game with a knee injury, which means the defense may be able to focus even more on the running game. Of course, that could open up tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson as options for quarterback Joe Flacco, and we all know how much the Browns struggle in covering tight ends.

On offense, Wallace makes his second consecutive start at quarterback.

“I think any player, and you see it quite frequently early in the year, there’s a huge improvement from game one and game two and I think I’m looking for that (with Wallace),” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “He’s going to be, as I mentioned earlier in the week, more comfortable with the speed of the game. He’ll be more familiar with the receivers he’s throwing to and just generally more comfortable and I’m hoping that will mean he’ll play even better.”

Last year in his second start – also against Baltimore – Wallace’s passing yardage went down, but his completion percentage (75 percent vs. 51.6) and quarterback rating (103 vs. 73.2) were both considerably higher than his first start. So there may be something there.

Oh, and the Browns have still never beaten Flacco, who is now 7-0 vs. Cleveland.

The Prediction

The Browns have looked better the past two weeks, even though they lost both games.

And for first time in a while, the team had a relatively normal week, without dealing with any manufactured controversies.

But the Ravens are still playing for a first-round bye and home playoff game and, after their poor performance last Sunday night against San Diego, they should be up to the task of facing the Browns.

We’ll take the Ravens with a later cover.

Record picking the Browns (using the point spread) this year: 8-5-1.

(Photo by Cleveland Browns.com)

***

Take a moment to check out this feature story from NFL.com about how the Browns helped deliver a special holiday gift for Felix Poteate II of the U.S. Navy and his veteran father.

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