A lot of questions will be answered about the Ravens on Sunday, but against the 2-5 Cleveland Browns?
Exactly. While AFC North games are always tough regardless of records, a lot is riding on this game not just for the Ravens' place in the standings but to set the tone for the second half the season.
The Ravens, who beat the Browns 23-16 on Sept. 27 in Baltimore, are coming off a bye week. They've yet to play like the dominant team they appeared to be when starting the season after losing LB Ray Lewis and CB Lardarius Webb to season-ending injuries and falling to the Houston Texans by 30 points last month.
Will their fortunes change starting in Cleveland on Sunday?
5 reasons why they will:
- Bye-partisan: Coach John Harbaugh has had an extra week to prepare for a team that he has already beaten. He's 4-0 after bye weeks, and even though this game is on the road the Ravens still have better overall talent and a coach who is a meticulous planner.
- Commitment to run: Ray Rice has averaged just 15 carries per game through the first seven games. He should have at least 20 and up to 25 depending on weather conditions. Harbaugh knows they have gone away from him too much and plans to make amends for that. And that includes RB Bernard Pierce, who averages more than 5 yards per carry, and FB Vonta Leach.
- Sizzle effect: The defense has been miserable in every area except hustle, but now that Terrell Suggs, aka T-Sizzle, is all the way back from his Achilles injury just his presence should inspire them to play better if not from an Xs and Os perspective. The offense failed the Ravens against the Texans, putting them in a 29-3 hole in the first half with turnovers and a safety. Not the defense.
- Better QB play: Maybe Joe Flacco isn't top 5 at his position, but he's much better than the one who has averaged 189 ypg passing on the road. He's performed in games with much bigger implications than this one (see last year's AFC title game) and he'll at least pull it together vs. the 26th-ranked defense in the NFL. His last 300-yard game passing came in Week 4 against this same team.
- Pocket protection: After giving up four sacks in the first meeting, the Ravens' offensive line is better suited to handled the slow-developing stunts, which should give Flacco more time. Harbaugh indicated he'll make some adjustments with personnel groupings which could mean help on the edges where the tackles are vulnerable to speed. Rookie RT Kelechi Osemele, who injured his ankle against Houston, is healthy despite being on the injury report. He two-foot hopped a stool in the locker room from a standing position without difficulty and will be better because of the experience.
5 reasons why they won't
- Stalled: The no-huddle doesn't work as well away for a team that was 4-4 there last season. Now they're 1-2 and they've scored just one touchdown on the road in the last 10 quarters. These are problems that are more common with young and inexperienced teams, not veteran ones.
- X-factor: WR Josh Gordon, an undrafted rookie, was a non-factor and off the radar until recently. He has now become QB Brandon Weeden's primary target in a sub-par receiving corp that has been notorious for dropped passes. Gordon is 6-foot-3, has had four TD catches in the last four games and a team-leading 379 yards receiving (22.3 yards per catch). Without Gordon being a factor, Weeden threw for 320 yards in the first game against a Baltimore defense that can give up big plays.
- Missing piece: CB Joe Haden makes the Browns' secondary better. He didn't play in the Sept. 27 game, serving a four-game suspension imposed by the NFL for taking a banned substance.
- No separation: There's always an excuse for why Ravens receivers can't get open. It's not press coverage by opposing DBs that gives them problems (it does). It's simply a communication issue with Flacco. Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones were supposed to be the pieces to make this team a deep threat. They've yet to show they can consistently get open. Now Smith has to deal with a big, physical Haden.
- Thin line: DE Pernell McPhee only had a half sack, but he won't play Sunday. He's struggled with leg injuries all season since getting six sacks last season. DT Haloti Ngata still is bothered by an injured shoulder. While the line has been sub-par this season, they're now even weaker without that depth.