Defenses to be featured in Ravens-Browns game
A pair of hard-nosed defenses could set the tone when the Baltimore Ravens host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens are coming off a 20-0 drubbing of the Bengals in Cincinnati in Week 1. Baltimore finished with five sacks and four interceptions for the first time in team history.
The Browns' defense also played well in a 21-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had just 35 rushing yards.
Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer will be facing a tough challenge in his first career road game. He was sacked seven times and threw an interception in the opener against the Steelers.
Look for the Ravens to pressure the young quarterback, hoping to force him into more mistakes. Ravens safety Tony Jefferson watched film on Kizer dating back to his days as a quarterback at Notre Dame.
"He hasn't had much experience going up against NFL-ready defenses," Jefferson said. "The more you can confuse the quarterback, the better stuff will happen. So, we're going to try to do the best we can, disguising. But let's just let our defense play the way we know it can play, and the outcome will be what we want it to be."
After building an early lead, the Ravens had a conservative game plan against the Bengals. Baltimore ran the ball 42 times and attempted just 17 passes.
The Ravens, though, could face a bigger test against the Browns' young, aggressive defense, which has been revamped under coordinator Gregg Williams. Cleveland is playing quicker and making more key tackles than in previous years.
With Tank Carder out with a knee injury, Joe Schobert took over as the middle linebacker against Pittsburgh and finished with a game-high nine tackles. He also added some swagger to the team.
Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, is still out with an ankle sprain. However, Carl Nassib has played well in his place and had a sack against Pittsburgh.
"Their defense has played well throughout the preseason and then again in the first game they played well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "They held Pittsburgh's rushing attack way down, which is quite an accomplishment."
Cleveland would also like to ground the Ravens' running game and force quarterback Joe Flacco to throw the ball downfield. Flacco missed all of training camp with an ailing back and was uneven in the opener against the Bengals, completing nine of 17 passes for 121 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Flacco said he has no limitations because of the injury and is prepared to open up the offense if needed.
"If we're going to win a bunch of football games, we're going to need to do it a handful of different ways through the course of the season," Flacco said. "But if we can win the way we did Sunday, there's no need to do anything else. It doesn't really matter to me. I just want to win."
Rookie quarterbacks have traditionally struggled at M&T Banks Stadium, going 0-5.
Kizer understands the daunting challenge in front of him, especially facing Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had six tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in the opener.
"They are going to be star-studded on defense," Kizer said. "That is what we do here. You get as many guys as you can to come in, play hard-nosed football and get to the quarterback. That is (Suggs') job. It is our job to make sure we do what we can schematically, and then mono a mono, make sure that he doesn't end up as close as he wants to the quarterback at the time."
Cleveland could lean on running back Isaiah Crowell to take some of the pressure off Kizer. While the Browns are just 1-5 against Baltimore with Crowell in the lineup, he has managed 273 yards on 62 attempts (4.4 yards per carry) with two touchdowns.
The Browns certainly do not want to be 0-2 heading into Week 3 against the Packers at Lambeau Field. Since 1990, only three teams that started the season 0-3 have made playoffs.
Right now, though, Browns coach Hue Jackson's sole focus is the Ravens. Cleveland is 4-14 against the former Browns franchise in Baltimore.
"It is one of the best defenses we will play all year. Their front seven is as good as anybody," Jackson said. "They have a really good football team, but as I say it every week, we are going to play teams that are kind of built that way. That is the National Football League. We are looking forward to going down and accompanying the challenge that is going to be laid before us."
Updated September 13, 2017