The Browns welcome the Ravens to the Factory of Sadness this Sunday in what will be the first matchup in Cleveland since Art Modell’s passing earlier this season. If you recall, the Browns had the unfortunate pleasure of playing the Ravens in their first game after their loss and, to be honest, you had to figure the Browns didn’t stand a chance. It was an emotionally charged environment, on national television, against a team playing for more than itself that night. The real surprise, however, was the fact that the Browns actually made a game of it.
Since then, the Browns have appeared to be trending upward as a team. They’ve won two out of their past three games, won two in a row at home for the first time since Bernie Kosar was the starter (I didn’t actually look that up, but would anyone be surprised?), and even in their losses the Browns have been competitive and had their fair share of opportunities to win games. Like a lot of Browns fans, my mind is officially blown. Positive steps forward aren’t something we’ve grown accustomed to since 1999, but when you look at this season as a whole it’s beginning to look as if the Browns aren’t awful anymore. Granted, they’re still bad. BUT! Things look like they’re finally moving in the right direction.
That my friends is why Sunday’s game is so critical for the development of the Browns. We’ve seen them play well against teams that we’ve come to find out are kind of crappy, but it’s the elite teams that have really given them issues. Baltimore, by all accounts, is still an elite team that may have the potential to make a run to the Super Bowl. Can the Browns put together yet another positive performance? I sure hope so.
If the Browns can find a way to do the unthinkable and actually beat Joe Flacco, something they’ve yet to do in 9 tries, it could begin to turn the tide on the whole Factory of Sadness nonsense. As much as we might all love to call it that, the lack of a home field advantage at the new stadium since 1999 is absolutely heartbreaking when you consider how much of an advantage they had at Municipal Stadium. Win a third game in a row at home and it might be the first step in improving the Browns status from awful team to decent home team. That’s a big deal and the first step in turning this thing around. Get good at home, give yourselves a built-in advantage, and then learn to become a decent road team. With time, the wins will come.
So what do the Browns need to do in order to win on Sunday? Here’s the quick list.
1. Give Trent Richardson the damn ball: He’s the Browns best player and he should be getting the ball in his hands as much as possible. If the Browns can get T-Rich going it’ll make things that much easier for Brandon Weeden and the Browns receivers in the passing game. An effective running game keeps the opposing defense honest, forces them to actually have to make decisions on the fly, and wears them down as the game goes along. By chucking the ball upwards of 40-50 times a game there are no surprises. How can the defense for the Ravens be expected to make any mistakes when they know what you’re going to do 98% of the time. You have to make them think. Plus, the Ravens run defense isn’t what it normally is. They can be run on. Why not take advantage of that?
2. Minimize the turnovers: Weeden has been much better at protecting the ball as the season has worn on. That’s played a big part in why they’ve been so competitive of late. Hopefully he can keep it up because as we all know, and Weeden learned back in week 4, the Ravens D lives and dies with turnovers. In addition, with the weapons the Ravens offense has at their disposal, it’s imperative that the Browns limit the amount of possessions they are able to have over the course of the game. Giving Joe Flacco and Ray Rice extra possessions on a short field is a recipe for disaster.
3. Take advantage of potential mismatches for Josh Gordon: Baltimore has injury issues on defense, most notably in the defensive backfield. With that in mind, the Browns should try to take advantage of that when they do decide to throw. Josh Gordon is quickly establishing himself as a legit NFL receiver and worthy of that #2 draft pick they gave up to get him. They need to use him to stretch the field and move him around to create mismatches. I’m worried about this, though. Mo-Mass is supposed to be back, meaning… he’ll take snaps away from somebody. Hopefully it’s not Gordon. He’s already our best receiver 8 games into his career.
4. Stop Ray Rice: This one is pretty self-explanatory. Ray Rice is the Ravens best player. When he goes off, something he’s really yet to do this season, no one can stop the Ravens. He makes the whole thing go. If the Browns, with the addition of Phil Taylor to the defensive front seven, can find a way to slow down or even stop Ray Rice from making an impact than they most certainly will have a chance to win this game. They should be aided by the fact that for whatever reason, the Ravens at times have neglected to get Rice involved in games this season. Let’s hope that trend continues.
5. Catch the ball: This seems pretty simple, but the Browns seem to make it difficult as all hell. On both offense and defense the Browns have had chances to make game changing/clinching plays if only they could catch the damn football. Greg Little dropped a potential game winner versus the Ravens the last time they played. Josh Gordon dropped the game winner against the Colts. The defense even dropped the game winning interception versus the Eagles in week one. Those are just the plays that we know would have changed the outcomes of games. You can create a list a mile long of dropped passes that could have extended drives and put the Browns in a better position to put points on the board. In addition, Brandon Weeden also has to hit his spots. He’s had so many overthrown passes to wide open receives in the first 8 games that would have been for sure TD’s. You have to believe that this is all something that will resolve itself over time, but until it does, the Browns might continue to struggle.
Prediction: Ravens 24 – Browns 20