With the NFL reaching an agreement with the officials to return to refereeing the league, it has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle that there is an actual game tonight. And at first glance, you’d think any match up consisting of the Ravens, who look like rue Super Bowl contenders in the early going, facing off against the hapless Cleveland Browns would be a pushover. But there are plenty of things to look out for in tonight’s AFC North showdown. And I’m going to take a look at a handful of those now.
The Let Down Game
Last year, something Baltimore seemed to always struggle with was following up a huge win with an embarrassing loss. It happened numerous times in 2011; big win over the Steelers, lose the next week to Tennessee. Beat the Texans, lay an egg next week in Jacksonville. Beat the Steelers again, this time on the road and follow it up with a loss to the Seahawks. You get the point. On paper, this looks like an easy win for Baltimore. They’ve beaten the Browns in eight straight meetings and they’ll be facing a rookie running back. But the fact that they’ve won 13 consecutive games at home seems to loom large for a Browns team rolling with a rookie quarterback-running back tandem.
This could apply to both teams, as they both played just four days ago, but Baltimore played the late game. This is always brought up on a Thursday night game, but with neither team coming off of a bye week, I’d consider it a wash. But this is how nagging injuries can turn into full blown injury problems. Watch out for a lot of tight hamstrings and sore muscles leading to key players on both sides missing some snaps.
Ravens Defense vs Brandon Weeden
Again, on paper, this seems like a serious mismatch. In just three games, Weeden’s NFL career hasn’t quite gotten off to the start he was hoping for. He’s thrown six interceptions, has a completion percentage of just 56% and is sitting at a sterling quarterback rating of 60.7. Against a Ravens defense that has a reputation for forcing young, inexperienced quarterbacks into mistakes, this one don’t seem fair. However, if he can get rid of the ball quickly, Tom Brady showed Sunday Night that this secondary has weak points. But I think Weeden has a long way to go before he’s mentioned in that kind of company.
Joe Flacco’s Early Success
For a guy who has taken a beating as much as Flacco has the past two years for playing poorly, you have to give him credit when he does well. It’s only fair. And, man, has he ever been playing well. He struggled some against the Philadelphia defense, but for mediocre defenses, much like the one Cleveland has shown early, he has been electric. In the two games against Cincinnati and New England, he has thrown for five touchdowns, 681 yards and a quarterback rating coming in at a cool 123.1. That’s the kind of numbers you put up on Madden. He’ll be looking to attack the Browns secondary early and often tonight.
The Return of the Refs
As I mentioned in the opening, the return of the officiating crew is grabbing all the big storylines today. Honestly, I’m rather shocked they’ll be working less than 24 hours after reaching an agreement to return, but this is probably a good thing. However, will there be rust and unpreparedness on display? After the debacle on Monday Night, I know the players will be happy to see them out there. But let’s be real; this honeymoon is going to end quickly and we all know it. The first questionable call and we’ll all be back to blaming everything on the officials. It’s the nature of the beast. However, it’ll be nice to see some refs that don’t get bullied into throwing flags or changing a call.
The bottom line is that on paper, this isn’t exactly the match up most people want to see. In fact, I can’t quite figure out why the NFL continues to put the same four teams on in prime time every week. But even more confusing is how the Browns seem to get a couple of these games every year. Does Ohio pull in big time ratings or something? I don’t get it.
Anyways, it’s the only game in town, so I know what I’ll be watching. And also, what I’ll be watching out for.