There is a unique relationship steeped in complex history between these two franchises. A team that, in some respects, became the other, then itself rose from the ashes four years later, the Cleveland Browns are the league’s perennial whipping boys. For those with memories as poor as mine, the Browns relocated to Baltimore in 1995 and became the Ravens, named somewhat arbitrarily after Edgar Allen Poe’s famously haunting poem (Poe spent time in Baltimore and died there, in 1849). The NFL then permitted Cleveland’s return in 1999, with a new stadium and renewed optimism, however short-lived. Since the Browns’ resurrection, the Ravens have won two Superbowls and hold a 27-9 record over Cleveland, who have played just one post-season game, a heart-breaking loss to true AFC North rivals Pittsburgh. Below is our Browns @ Ravens Preview:
How both teams performed in Week 1
On to the present. In week one, Baltimore shut out Cincinnati, no mean feat in an opener, when relevant game tape is scarce at best and the impact of rookie introductions is wholly unpredictable. Joe Flacco, conspicuous by his absence in pre-season, was workmanlike at best but crucially he was on the field and his team won, leaning heavily on a fantastic defensive performance led by the Peter Pan-esque Terrell Suggs.
However, for all the confidence in Baltimore, there remains some hope for Cleveland. Deshone Kizer impressed in pre-season and this translated to an extent in the Browns’ hard fought loss against the Steelers. Indeed, he’s been graded anywhere from an A- to a C, having made some true rookie errors but, importantly, passing the eye test. He is good enough to play in this league and what matters to the Cleveland faithful (and they really do deserve that moniker), is that they have a young, athletic, promising quarterback on which to project their longer term dreams of relative success.
Baltimore’s attempt to find balance on offence
Can the Baltimore Ravens run the football effectively enough to achieve the balance they’ve so desperately sought in previous seasons? There seems a reluctance to do so even when successful. Last season against Washington, Baltimore ran the ball 11 times for 74 yards in the first quarter alone, but only 8 times for 44 yards after that, falling 16-10 against a lacklustre Redskins defense. The front office swiftly fired Marc Trestman, but since then results have remained mixed. Cleveland were stout against the run in week one, limiting superstar tailback Le’Veon Bell to just 32 yards on 10 carries. If Baltimore find themselves in a tight game, the success or failure of Terrance West and Javorius Allen may be the deciding factors.
The Rookie QBs first road trip
History isn’t on Deshone Kizer’s side. Last season the Ravens had a stark advantage at M&T Bank stadium, finishing 6-2 at home and 2-6 on the road. Cleveland haven’t won a road game in 14, which was coincidentally the last time they beat Baltimore, way back in October 2015 in overtime.
More impressively though, and concerning for the Browns is that the Ravens are 5-0 all time at home against rookie quarterbacks. Granted it’s not the most impressive list (Messrs G Smith, B Weedon, A Dalton, C Wentz, C Kessler), but nevertheless it’s a stiff task for the Notre Dame product.
Better luck next time for Cleveland?
The Browns could win 5 or so games this season, including, I think, the rematch against Baltimore in December, but this game is not one of them. Despite Cincinnati losing again last night, the Ravens’ form holds true, given the strength of the defense in Houston, and it’s worth bearing in mind that Kizer has limited options at skill positions. A fledgling connection with Corey Coleman will likely not be enough. It could be a case of the Browns not being far enough in their development to truly challenge the Ravens on Sunday.
Its likely to be an 0 and 2 start for Cleveland, though no more do the words of the aforementioned poet Mr Poe, ‘darkness there and nothing more’ truly apply to the Browns (unlike in previous seasons). The Browns look to avenge a team that ripped their franchise from beneath them in 1995 but the Ravens defense is likely to be too much for this young team.
For more, read our article on the Ravens’ defense – The Baltimore Ravens are going back to their roots: Examining the 2017 Defense