Two weeks ago, the Ravens' ways of slipping by their opponents came to a screeching halt. After close wins in the final minutes categorized the team's first six games, the Texans delivered a 43-13 blow to hopefully wake up our boys in purple and black. In the first game without Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb, the Ravens defense surrendered 36 points and 420 total yards to a potent Texans offense. On the bright side, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs picked up 3 tackles and a sack in his first game of the year, after recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. Following a Justin Tucker field goal to open the afternoon, the Ravens began a long and painful downhill climb. What began with Joe Flacco being sacked in the end zone for a safety would opened the door for 29 consecutive Texans points, giving them a 29-3 lead at halftime. The Ravens would attempt a comeback early in the third quarter on a touchdown pass from Flacco to second-year receiver Tandon Doss, his first career touchdown catch. But the attempt would be in vain, as the Texans responded with two touchdowns, finally sealing the win on an Arian Foster 2-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter. It was an abysmal performance from the Ravens, but luckily, we are still in a good position. Heading into last week's much-needed bye, we are 2nd in the AFC with a 5-2 record, and we are one game ahead of the Steelers in the division.
Player of the Game: Texans RB Arian Foster-98 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns
Key to the Win: They kicked our asses. Simply said. There's no other way to communicate it. They played better than we did; wanted it more than we did. Part of me believes that the Ravens came in with the mindset that "we'll be fine if we lose this game. Going into the bye week, we'd be comfortable at 5-2." While this is true, it's not the way you treat a football game, especially given that you only play 16 a year. It sure looked like that played that way.
On Sunday, the Ravens will head into the Dawg Pound of Cleveland to face the 2-6 Browns. The Browns have picked up their two wins in the last three weeks, including home wins against the Bengals and Chargers. This will be the first time that the Ravens play in Cleveland since the death of Art Modell, who owned the Browns from 1961 to 1995, when he moved the team to Baltimore to become the Ravens. He isn't very well liked out in Cleveland. When the two teams met in Baltimore back in Week 4, the Ravens escaped with a 23-16 win on national television. But this is not a matchup between those two teams. The Browns defense has vastly improved since we last saw them, while it seems that the Ravens defense has regressed since then. The Browns rank higher than the Ravens in two defensive categories (Yards per Game, Rushing Yards per Game). Browns CB Joe Haden missed the first game, but will play Sunday. The Ravens will also need to worry about Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson, a former Terrapin who leads the team in sacks and tackles this year. With a Ravens offensive line that has surrendered 18 sacks (12th worst in the NFL), Jackson and fellow pass rushers Jaqua Parker and Frostee Rucker could become dangerous game-changers. On offense, the Browns' young slew of talent has been improving by the week. Rookie QB Brandon Weeden has not been picked off in three weeks, and has added four touchdowns in the meantime. Fellow rookie, RB Trent Richardson, has been battling multiple injuries. But he has still been effective, garnering almost 500 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns during the season. He has established himself as a tough, physical runner, who won't go to the ground without a fight. One of the biggest surprises for the Browns has been WR Josh Gordon, a supplemental draft pick this past year who is leading the team in receiving yards and touchdowns. For an older, struggling, beaten-down Ravens defense, these youngsters could pose some serious threats. The Ravens will also be dealing with injuries on the defensive line. Pernell McPhee has already been ruled out for the game, while Haloti Ngata's status is still up in the air as he looks to play through a shoulder injury.
Prediction: Many people in Baltimore already have this game penciled in as a win, but I'd like to think of myself as cautiously optimistic. If we see the Ravens road team we've come to know and hate, this won't be as easy as we'd like. If they come out strong, we could be in for a fun afternoon. Keep in mind that under John Harbaugh, the Ravens have never lost coming off their bye week (shouldn't have mentioned that). And after an embarrasing loss in Houston, expect them to come out hungry to prove a point. I have the Ravens winning, 26-17.
Key Matchups for Ravens at Browns
Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Browns WR Josh Gordon Edge: Williams
Analysis: Gordon is fast and has some nice hands. Williams has come up clutch in tough situations at points this year, so let's pray that that is the Cary Williams we see Sunday. But remember he still has that uncanny knack for letting fast receivers like Gordon burn him.
Ravens LB Jameel McClain vs. Browns RB Trent Richardson Edge: Richardson
Analysis: Despite Richardson's injury, I don't think McClain has the focus or intensity to keep up with and tackle a tough back like Richardson. Let's pray that I'm wrong.
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson Edge: Rice
Analysis: In my opinion, this is the biggest, most important matchup of the game. If Rice can consistently get past Jackson, he could have a big day with a weak secondary behind Jackson. If Jackson wins this one, which he very well could, the Ravens will look for other ways to beat the Browns defense. Ways that don't involve Rice.
Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Browns CB Joe Haden Edge: Haden
Analysis: Haden is great at limiting big-play receivers like Smith. But it only takes one good cut or one big play from Smith to turn this matchup the other way.
DE Pernell McPhee-Thigh-OUT
DT Haloti Ngata-Shoulder-QST
DL Brian Sanford-Knee-OUT
DL Ahtyba Rubin-DL-Calf-DBT
WR Josh Cooper-Thigh-QST
LB D'Qwell Jackson-Calf/Foot/Toe-QST
AFC North Standings
Team W L
Ravens 5 2
Steelers 4 3
Bengals 3 4
Browns 2 6
That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and Go Ravens!