By Kevin Ross II
The Baltimore Ravens have faced stiff competition to begin the season, losing to the Cincinnati Bengals and defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers. Things will not get any easier in Week 3 as the Ravens visit the dog pound at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Cleveland Browns have finally given their rabid fan base something to cheer about. In Week 1, they completely dismantled the Steelers for the entire second half, and nearly capped off an epic comeback. In Week 2, no one outside of the state of Ohio gave the Browns any chance against Drew Brees, but yet the Browns stunned New Orleans in the final seconds winning by a field goal.
The top reason for the Browns’ early season resurgence has to be centered around new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan was wildly successful in Washington with Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, as the Redskins typically led the league in all major rushing categories under his tenure. The Browns so far have seen similar results under Shanahan’s offense— they’re currently ranked fifth in the NFL in touchdowns scored and seventh in the league in rushing, and Shanahan has found his new Alfred Morris in Terrence West. West is currently ranked fifth in the league in rushing yards, and is the top rookie running back in the league by far.
West is the key for everything that Cleveland does offensively. He was drafted in the third round from the University of Towson. The Ravens were actually hoping that they could get their hands on West in the draft; Coach Jim Harbaugh elaborated on this notion: “Terrance [West] is a guy that we really liked, as you know. We had designs on him in the draft, certainly, and Cleveland jumped up there and got him and he has not disappointed. He has played really downhill. [He is a] hard runner, make-you-miss type back [who] understands the scheme they’re running really well. They have two rookie running backs who are playing extremely well. [Isaiah] Crowell is doing a great job, too. [He is] another guy we liked on tape. So, they have some young, strong backs in there. They’re doing a nice job.”
During Week 1, the Browns defense seemed confused and disoriented in the fist half against the Steelers, but since then they’ve been lights out. The Browns held the Steelers to three second half points, and then that momentum carried over against the Saints. Head Coach Mike Pettine, who spent many years in Baltimore, runs the defense and they are starting to look a lot like those old Ravens teams. Against New Orleans, Pettine called for constant pressure up the middle, and the Browns collapsed the pocket around Drew Brees. They sacked Brees twice, hit him six teams and was in his face all game long.
With three minutes before half, Brees was a god awful 7 of 13 for 23 yards, with a pick six. Coach Jim Harbaugh spoke about his friend and now opponent Mike Pettine. “Mike [Pettine] is a friend. His family still lives here in Baltimore. Our daughters play lacrosse against one another and with one another. So, [it’s a] great relationships there, great memories there. Obviously, he has done very well since he left here as a defensive coordinator, and now he’s off to the very good start as a head coach. [We have] lot of respect for him and the way he coaches. Obviously, he causes a lot of problems on defense. He walked into a good situation – he knows that – with the defensive personnel they added to [the Browns] since he has been there, and he’s put his scheme in place, which is kind of a trademark scheme that he runs.”
The Ravens Win if
For the Ravens to improve to 2-1, they will unequivocally need to stop the run, and force Brian Hoyer to be more than a game manager. Cleveland’s entire offense focuses around play action passing once the run is established. Look for Kyle Shanahan to establish Terrence West, and then unleash a myriad of bootleg pass plays to get Hoyer out of the pocket and pass catchers open downfield. The Ravens must mute Terrence West, which will essentially quiet Cleveland’s offense.
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Kevin Ross is a freelance writer covering all things Washington Redskins. His work can be found on Examiner.com.