Ravens need to return to roots, focus on defense
The Ravens can't get on the field at M&T Bank Stadium soon enough. Sure, it's the home opener, and the Super Bowl championship banners will be unfurled. But kicking off against Cleveland also means that humbling 49-27 loss to Denver will officially be behind them.
Here's what figures to take place when the Ravens host the Browns:
1. The Ravens will have at least 25 carries ...
The Ravens want to establish a ground game, something they were unable to do in Denver last week. The Ravens ran 21 times last week, but only five after halftime as they fell behind by 18 points by the end of the third quarter.
2. ... but the Ravens will average fewer than 4 yards a carry.
Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce figure to pound the ball for the Ravens, especially if the Ravens have a lead, but they will face a formidable Browns front seven led inside by nose tackle Phil Taylor and defensive end Desmond Bryant. Miami ran 23 times for 20 yards against the Browns last week. Granted, the Dolphins don't have Rice, but the yardage won't come easily.
3. Torrey Smith will catch a touchdown pass.
With the Ravens trailing at Cleveland in the fourth quarter last year, Smith caught a pass in the right flat, faked inside and then spun to the outside and outraced the Browns defenders to the end zone for a 19-yard, go-ahead score. Smith figures to draw every team's top cornerback every week, but he will find a way to the end zone.
4. Marlon Brown will equal or better his numbers from last week.
The undrafted rookie receiver was in the starting lineup last week and made four catches for 65 yards. With Jacoby Jones (knee) and Aaron Mellette (knee) out, the Ravens are down to four healthy receivers, and with the Browns focused first on stopping Torrey Smith, opportunity will knock for Brown. Miami's Brian Hartline piled up 114 receiving yards against Cleveland last week.
5. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will both record sacks ...
Cleveland's quarterback Brandon Weeden was sacked six times and hit 16 times by the Dolphins, and starting guard Shawn Lauvao (ankle) is out again this week. Former Raven Oniel Cousins replaced him at right guard but had a rough day against Miami. Suggs and Dumervil will have the chance to show how ferocious this 1-2 pass rushing punch can be.
6. ... but former Raven Paul Kruger will not.
Former Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger will be trying to bring down former teammate Joe Flacco this weekend. Kruger had a sack in his Browns debut, but the Ravens pass protection, which allowed four sacks last week, should be improved provided right tackle Michael Oher can play as expected on his sprained ankle.
7. The Ravens will get an interception on a tipped pass.
Dropped passes were a problem for the Browns last year, and they were again in the opener against Miami. Weeden threw three interceptions, with two of them bouncing first off a receiver's hands. The Ravens' pressure will force a hurried throw, or will affect the timing just enough for that to happen again.
8. Justin Tucker will make a longer field goal than Billy Cundiff
Tucker and Cundiff on the same field again, just like Ravens training camp 2012. Tucker will show Ravens fans once again why he won that competition. Cundiff is 1-for-1 for the Browns, but there's no doubt Tucker has the longer, stronger leg.
9. Tandon Doss will return at least one punt.
With Jacoby Jones out, the Ravens used Lardarius Webb as the punt returner against Denver. But the Ravens might want to limit Webb's role on special teams given that he's the team's top cornerback and coming back from a second ACL reconstruction. Tandon Doss was re-signed, in part, for his ability to return punts.
10. Ravens 30, Browns 16
The Ravens have never lost to the Browns in the John Harbaugh era, and they aren't going to do so the day they unveil their Super Bowl banner. Flacco and the offense find some rhythm, the defense pressures Weeden into mistakes and the Ravens pull away for a win that will be more tightly contested than the final score indicates.