The Cleveland Browns are at home on Sunday against Baltimore for their penultimate home game in the 2011 NFL season.
Baltimore record: 8-3 (1st in the AFC North)
Offensive rank: 17th overall/13th passing/27th rushing
Defensive rank: 3rd overall/5th passing/3rd rushing
All-time record: Ravens lead 17-7; the Browns are 4-8 at home against the Ravens
Last meeting: Baltimore won 20-10 in Week 16 last season
The line: Browns (+7)
What to Watch For
The Browns have been making progress on offense the pass three weeks and actually scored a first-quarter touchdown against the Bengals last week – a first for the season.
But this week is going to be different.
The Ravens come in with the third-best defense in the league, and have been resting since Thanksgiving, when they decimated an over-rated San Francisco team. Baltimore held the 49ers to just 170 yards and sacked quarterback Alex Smith nine times.
Which means this is a particularly bad week for the Browns to struggling in pass protection. According to Pro Football Focus:
After a sub-par, by his standards, start to the year where he allowed nine total pressures through the first four games, Joe Thomas (+10.6) has been back to his best and has allowed just one sack and four pressures since.
Sadly, nobody else along the offensive line can come close to Thomas’ level of play but none have been more disappointing than left guard Jason Pinkston (-12.8). Pinkston has allowed 24 total pressures in the passing game and sadly has been worse as a run blocker with a grade of -9.8 in that regard.
That’s not what you need going up against a very talented Ravens defensive line. You already know about Terrell Suggs (+27.3) and Haloti Ngata (+15.0), both among the very best defensive linemen in the league. However, what’s impressed so much about the Ravens’ defensive line this year is the supporting cast. Paul Kruger (+6.2) is relishing his role as a pass rusher lately, with no game more impressive than the Week 11 win over the Bengals where he had five pressures on 28 rushes. And then you have Pernell McPhee (+13.1), who has delivered a PFF grade of +3.0 or better in four of the last six games.
And if that is not enough, Baltimore safety Ed Reed likes to torment quarterbacks in the AFC North, especially the Browns. In his career, Reed has more interceptions (10), more return yards (356) and more TAINTS (3) against the Browns than against any other team.
Reed picked off Browns quarterback Colt McCoy twice in the team’s last meeting, but McCoy has avoided multiple-interception games this season and that needs to continue on Sunday.
“In this division, you’re going to face a tough defense every week,” Browns quarterback Colt McCoy said. “Cincinnati’s a really good defense; Baltimore’s really good; Pittsburgh’s really good. This is just one more test for us. We’re excited that we get to play at home. That’ll be good for us and we want to get one week better. We felt like we got better, we just didn’t finish like we wanted to last week.
“I think it’s important for us, as a young team, to really focus on some of the positives things that we did and build off those and then, correct the things where we were short, where we messed up or we didn’t finish and then, put it behind us and move forward.”
One way the Browns can do that is to start completing some passes down the field.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, McCoy has thrown a league-high 76.1 percent of his passes 10 yards or fewer downfield this season. He averaged a career-low 4.4 yards gained on his 34 pass attempts at the Bengals last Sunday. McCoy’s average yards per attempt is 5.9, the lowest of any qualifying quarterback.
Whether its McCoy, the fact that the receivers are average, at best, or the struggles along the offensive line (probably an equal combination of all three), the Browns need to start moving the ball through the air better.
The one thing the Browns have working in their favor is that the Ravens have stumbled all year following big wins. They’ve lost on the road to Tennessee (after beating Pittsburgh), Jacksonville (after beating Houston) and Seattle (after their second win against the Steelers).
So there is a precedence, and hope, no matter how slim.
The Browns have never beaten Joe Flacco as the Ravens have won six games in a row in the series.
That includes four games over the past two seasons where the Browns lost by an average of 18.5 points a game.
If the Browns don’t turn the ball over, limit the stupid penalties, and force the Ravens into a couple of turnovers that result in short fields for the offense, the Browns have a chance. You know, the same game plan from every other week this season.
It seems hard, though, to see that happening. But we do like the Browns to keep the game close, so we’ll take the good guys plus the points.
Record picking the Browns (using the point spread) this year: 7-3-1.
(Photo by The Plain Dealer)