The Ravens got their first win of the season last Sunday, but needed overtime and two missed field goals by the Steelers to escape with the victory. The Ravens' injury issues continue to grow as both Steve Smith and Michael Campanaro sustained injuries against Pittsburgh, ending Campanaro's season and likely shelving Smith for at least this contest. Justin Forsett rose to the occasion last week, putting up 150 rushing yards, but he can't be asked to carry the entire offense. Journeyman Kamar Aiken is now the top threat in the passing game and he has just 11 catches.
The Browns have had plenty of injury issues themselves, with both Joe Haden and safety Tashaun Gipson questionable with injuries. That could affect the Browns' ninth-ranked pass defense. Josh McCown looked impressive last week against the Chargers, throwing for 356 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Speedy receiver Travis Benjamin has been an early breakout offensive player for a Browns team in dire need of playmakers. He's averaging 20.5 yards per reception.
Cleveland has taken some positive strides this season, but they haven't quite made it over the hump just yet. Baltimore showed some signs of life in Pittsburgh but have suffered near-catastrophic injuries this season, leaving them with spare parts for Joe Flacco to work with. It should be a physical battle of will with the season already on the line for both teams.
Cleveland at Baltimore
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
Line: Ravens -6.5
Three Areas to Watch
1. Turn off the Forsett
The obvious key matchup in this one will be Justin Forsett against the Browns' 31st ranked run defense. The Ravens are down to their last options at receiver and tight end, leaving Forsett as their biggest offensive threat. Even with Cleveland's injuries in their secondary, they should be able to match up in the passing game, but dedicating themselves to stopping Forsett will force Flacco to win the game through the air in a backup-vs.-backup affair. If Haden and Gipson are able to go it could be enough to tip the scales toward the Browns if they aren't getting gashed on the ground.
2. No really, is Joe Flacco elite?
Seems like every Ravens preview I write I make this joke but each time things just seem to be getting harder and harder on Flacco as he loses every viable receiving threat he has. Flacco was efficient in key moments against the Steelers and avoided the key mistakes that could've cost the Ravens the game. Now, with the Browns likely to dedicate seven and eight-man boxes on defense to stop Forsett, we'll see what kind of magic Flacco can put together with the likes of Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown and Maxx Williams.
3. Can Josh McCown and the Browns' offense breakout?
The Browns have looked surprisingly good in the passing game, ranking ninth overall in yards, but just 20th in points scored. That comes down to them being dead last (32nd) in red zone touchdowns, illustrating that they're just having trouble finishing drives and relying too much on deep strikes to Benjamin. The Ravens' defense is 11th in passing yards allowed and they do have the talent to get after the quarterback. The Browns should give the Ravens some issues, but finishing with touchdowns is vital to put the pressure on a Ravens team that is far better equipped to play with the lead in this one.
AFC North divisional games are always low-scoring wars and this one figures to be no different. Both teams will likely struggle to move the ball at times and getting an early lead will be critical for one team to dictate how the game is played. If the Browns can score an early touchdown it will put the game on Joe Flacco and his unproven squad of pass catchers. But if the Ravens are able to run the ball early and get that early lead, the Browns' advantages will be minimized. The Ravens started slow last year as well, expect their defense to start rounding into form in this one, but their offense won't be able to put up enough points to prevent this one from being a close affair.