This week’s Thursday Night Football game pits two teams going in opposite directions. First we have the Baltimore Ravens trying to ride the momentum of Sunday’s big win over the New England Patriots, then the Cleveland Browns, who are trying to define themselves as a team and get Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden their first wins in the NFL. Is there an upset in store for this matchup? Let’s take a look and see.
With two rookies behind the offensive line, we expected this from the Cleveland Browns in the beginning of their 2012 season. Brandon Weeden has been below average in his first three games, throwing 6 interceptions to his 3 touchdowns. On the other hand, the number 3 pick in April, Trent Richardson, has shown flashes of stardom averaging 3.5 yards a carry and 2 trips into the end zone. Behind a sub-par offensive line, Brandon Weeden must be prepared for a fierce Baltimore pass rush. It will be interesting to see how Trent Richardson plays against the swarming defense; maybe an early run could silence the loud M&T Bank Stadium. This team must rely heavily on the rookie out of Alabama and give Weeden as much breathing room as possible in the pocket. This defense has not been much better either. The Browns rank in the bottom ten in yards per game, allowing nearly an atrocious 392 total yards per game. With a powerful Ravens offense, which has averaged even more than the Browns have allowed, the Ravens could just walk through this young Browns team.
It has been proven up to this point, that the Ravens are no fluke. Joe Flacco has finally elevated his game to a whole other level in these first three contests. Flacco has been assaulting defenses through the air, and as proven in the second half of Sunday’s game against the Patriots, Ray Rice is just waiting for the passing game to get going. Flacco’s big plays in the first half opened up the second half for the former Rutgers standout to run wild. Nobody forget that Ray Rice is in the conversation for the best running back in the National Football League. With Flacco finding targets like he has never done before, Rice’s production will only increase. This year, the Ravens have been strange on the defensive side of the ball. They are not the defensive juggernaut that teams have so much trouble getting through and moving the ball. A shocking stat is that the Ravens have actually allowed more yardage then their opponents in this game, on average allowing 401.3 yards per game. Could this defensive unit be getting to old, are they missing injured all-pro linebacker Terrell Suggs? These could be true, but I believe this defense gains it’s old form back on Thursday at home.
What to Watch:
Torrey Smith: In his second year, Torrey Smith is trying to establish himself as a reliable number one target for Joe Flacco to find consistently in the passing game. After the receivers’ big two-touchdown game in honor of his late brother, can Smith respond with another big game? Smith has game-breaking speed and can pick holes in a secondary, but he has not been an every-play threat for the Ravens. Baltimore has not had a true number one threat since Derrick Mason was in his prime for the Ravens. Smith does have the potential to wreak havoc over defenses with Flacco throwing him the ball. Another big game like he did on Sunday night, and we might be looking at the next great receiver in the NFL.
Brandon Weeden: As I said earlier, Weeden has had a difficult start to his pro career. It’s not like the 28-year-old rookie should get rid of his pads just yet. Considering he is an older rookie, Weeden needs to prove his leadership ability and maturity in this matchup. Yes, it will be difficult for the Browns to control the tempo, but if they prove to the world that they can play with the likes of the Ravens, maybe this difficult game could spark something in the Browns locker room.
The Referees: After the outrage from Monday’s debacle, the NFL had to rush to agree to a deal with the real officials. As the agreement came out in the early morning, the entire NFL has changed. With the real refs coming back for this game, it will be a nationally televised return for the officials. Expect many jubilant fans and excited players and coaches as the ordeal with the replacement refs had gone to far. With better calls and explanations, the games will run much more efficiently and one team will not lose a game on an official’s decision. This will be the first true game in the season, and many will watch to see how the real referees perform in their first game.
This matchup could be considered similar to a David vs. Goliath like game. With one of the most balanced offensive and defensive units in football, the Ravens are going to try and take advantage of their great play against the Patriots, and run over this young Browns squad. This dysfunctional Cleveland team will have trouble responding to the short week and the overpowering Ravens. Expect Brandon Weeden to hit the turf a lot in this one, and for the Ravens to fly over the Browns and keep their eyes set on the playoffs and even more.
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