Predicting three stars for Sunday's Ravens-Browns game

September 20, 2014|By Jon Meoli | The Baltimore Sun

Some sports name three stars of the game after the game. I'll do that one better: I'm going to name them before the Ravens even play. These will be the three stars of the game when the Ravens (1-1) travel to Cleveland for a third straight division matchup against the 1-1 Browns.

1. Browns RB Isaiah Crowell

Fellow rookie Terrance West is stealing the headlines in Baltimore because of his Towson and Northwestern High connections, and it's good to see him entering his first game against his hometown team carrying some success. But it will be Crowell, who scored twice in Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers and has 16 rushes for 86 yards, who produces the most in Cleveland's running game.

The undrafted rookie from Alabama State won't get as many carries as West, who's slated to be the primary back, but I think his will be the bigger ones — Crowell's two Week 1 touchdowns were from the three- and 15-yard lines, respectively. In less than half as many carries as West, Crowell is averaging more yards per carry (5.4 to 4.8).

Crowell isn't your typical undrafted small-school rookie, either. He was the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year in 2011 at the University of Georgia. He had his high-major career derailed because of criminal issues, but he showed himself as a strong runner in the SEC and through two weeks in the NFL with starter Ben Tate out.

It's not a revelation to say this game will be decided in the red zone. The run-happy Browns are facing a Ravens defense that hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown all season and hasn't given up a touchdown in the red zone at all. We'll see which gives first, but I think the Browns do damage here.

2. Ravens TE Dennis Pitta

Through two weeks, the Ravens passing game has centered around wide receiver Steve Smith and the tight ends, with Smith, Dennis Pitta, and Owen Daniels combining for 53 of the Ravens' 91 pass targets (nearly 60 percent). Smith has been a revelation and will likely continue to be so, especially if Cleveland's star cornerback, Joe Haden, lines up against Torrey Smith.

Daniels was the primary red zone target last Thursday against Pittsburgh, but expect that to change. I think Pitta leads the team in both catches and touchdowns as quarterback Joe Flacco continues to get into a rhythm and works the underneath passing game as offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak wants him to.

The Browns held Steelers tight end Heath Miller to three catches for 26 yards in Week 1, but Saints tight end Jimmy Graham ripped the Cleveland defense for 10 catches for 118 yards and a pair of scores last week. Sure, Graham is the best tight end on the planet, but he may have exposed a weakness for the Ravens to take advantage of.

The Ravens have basically lived in two-tight end sets through the first two weeks, which for most teams would be a run formation. The Ravens are more than willing to throw out of it, though, and if the Browns don't have a linebacker that can run with and cover Pitta, he's a prime candidate to lead the offense.

3. Ravens ILB C.J. Mosley

The Browns' determination to run the ball, and the Ravens thin defensive line, will put a spotlight on Mosley, the Ravens' first-round pick this year, and veteran inside linebacker Daryl Smith. West and Crowell will likely attack the inside of the Ravens' line, and if they get through the first level, the ability of Smith and Mosley to bring the backs down will likely determine the outcome of the game.

Through his first two games, Mosley has been the Ravens' second-leading tackler with 15, behind only Smith. His run defense was particularly strong against the Steelers, and he also recovered a fumble last week. I think Mosley doubles that turnover number and plays a role in two turnovers against the Browns — an interception and another fumble recovery.

This is going to be a low-scoring game, and Mosley is going to help the Ravens win the turnover battle and give them a chance to win. His stats will earn him a spot on the proverbial podium, but they will be in vain if Crowell goes off like I think he will.

Jon Meoli is the lead writer for the Baltimore Sports Blitz blog. Go to baltimoresun.com/blitz for more.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jonmeoli

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.