It’s rare to see so much change in an opponent just six weeks after meeting.
The Ravens faced off against the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 2, with the Ravens winning 14-6.
But much has changed since that early game, especially for the Browns offense. Cleveland (3-5) has switched quarterbacks (twice), traded their starting running back and added an explosive wide receiver.
As the Ravens go through preparations this week, Head Coach John Harbaugh downplayed the differences.
“Really the only thing that has changed is the quarterback,” he said Monday. “The quarterback has moved around. They’ve been looking for that answer, obviously.”
Last year’s first-round pick Brandon Weeden opened the season as the Browns starting quarterback, but he was benched last week in favor of veteran Jason Campbell. Brian Hoyer also started three games for the Browns – the team’s three victories – before having his season ended by a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Campbell got his first start of the season last week, and had a solid debut, throwing for 293 yards on 22-of-36 passing, with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Campbell’s favorite target in Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs was second-year wideout Josh Gordon. He missed the first two games because of a suspension, but has provided a spark to the offense since his return. In his six games this year, Gordon has 582 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
Gordon’s emergence has allowed the Browns to attack opposing defenses with more options through the air.
“They’re a little more spread out now than they had been earlier,” Harbaugh said. “They’re three-wide. They’re opening it up a little bit – run and pass.”
Gordon, Greg Little and Davone Bess are the team’s top three receivers, and they went with three receivers for 60 percent of Sunday’s snaps.
Part of the move to a spread attack is due to the change that the Browns have undergone in the backfield. The team traded running back Trent Richardson, last year’s No. 3 overall pick, to the Colts after the game against the Ravens. Richardson was the Browns’ main offensive weapon at the time, but the Browns wanted to go a different direction than the power running style that Richardson provided.
Cleveland signed veteran running back and former Raven Willis McGahee, and he has been productive for them. In his six games this year, McGahee has rushed for 231 yards and a touchdown. They also use fullback Chris Ogbonnaya out of the backfield in the passing game.
While the Browns have undergone some significant changes offensively, their defense is the same as Week 2. The unit has a strong pass rush with outside linebackers Barkevious Mingo, Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard, and also strong interior linemen with Phil Taylor, Desmond Bryant and Ahtyba Rubin.
“They’re the same defense and better,” Harbaugh said. “They’re a legitimate, NFL-quality defense. They’ve been playing really well, and they get after you up front.”
Like the Ravens, the Browns are entering Sunday’s game looking to end a losing streak. The Browns have lost three straight games since the injury to Hoyer, and the Ravens hope to extend that streak this week.
“They’re a hard playing bunch,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a good football team."