Eisenberg: Ravens Aren't Going To Just Steamroll Winless Browns


This might earn me a Nervous Nellie Club membership, and I'm sorry if it dims your post-Pittsburgh glow, but I'm not buying the idea that the Ravens are just going to stroll through the back end of their "two games in five days" doubleheader Thursday night.

Yes, I know a home game against the winless Cleveland Browns is about the closest thing to a guaranteed "W" the NFL offers. Las Vegas certainly envisions a laugher, favoring the Ravens by 10 points.

But I'm not sure the Ravens are just going to roll over struggling Cleveland now that they've ended their losing streak with a satisfying win over the Steelers.

For starters, the Ravens don't roll over anyone. They haven't won a game by more than one score in 23 months. (Sometimes I almost think a mysterious gravitational force levels their games even when the conditions don't warrant it. They had a 21-point lead Sunday, but the game eventually came down to an onside kick.)

The Ravens certainly haven't rolled over the Browns lately. Both of their 2015 games went to overtime. And when they played earlier this season, well, do you remember what happened? The "lowly" Browns led by 20 points before the end of the first quarter.

That doesn't sound like a mismatch-in-the-making to me.

To the Ravens' credit, they scored 25 straight points to come back and win that Week 2 matchup in Cleveland. But I'm not convinced their offense is capable of a 25-point rally right now.

That's really why I think Thursday night's game could be a grind rather than a laugher. The Ravens defense and special teams played at playoff-caliber levels Sunday, but the offense's performance wasn't encouraging. Several familiar issues persisted, dousing the notion that the bye would heal all.

The offense drew six of the Ravens' 10 penalties, which was enough to lose the game except Pittsburgh (13 flags) was even sloppier. There was little running game despite the return of tackle Ronnie Stanley and guard Marshal Yanda, which was supposed to help. Baltimore's backs gained just 36 yards on 25 rushes against a low-ranked Pittsburgh run defense.

Finally, there was the continued inconsistency of quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw for more than 200 yards in the first half but just 40 in the second half, missing targets and losing rhythm.

Halfway through the 2016 season, Flacco is on pace to finish with 10 touchdown passes, which would constitute his career low, and 14 interceptions, which would rank as his second-highest single-season total.

Bottom line, Baltimore's offense has started 100 drives this season and reached the end zone just 11 times. The unit is tied with Houston's for fewest touchdowns scored.

The Browns offense, by the way, has scored 18 touchdowns, so it's quite a bit more prolific in that sense.

The good news is Thursday night's game offers the Ravens offense a chance to make plays and build confidence. The Browns defense is ranked No. 31 against the run, No. 28 against the pass, No. 32 overall and has given up at least 30 points in six of the team's last seven games.

You can't draw up a better opportunity for the offense to get healthy.

My two cents, the Browns also are helping the Ravens' prospects by looking to the future and starting rookie quarterback Cody Kessler Thursday night instead of going with 37-year-old Josh McCown, who has given the Ravens all sorts of trouble lately. The Ravens did batter McCown in September's game, but he persevered and had his unit in position to score the winning touchdown in the final seconds before a phantom taunting call wrecked the drive.

I'm sure Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh will bring all of this up as he tries to get his team ready. Coming off a big win, a home game against a winless opponent can get tricky from a motivational standpoint. Why do you think Terrell Suggs, a locker room elder, was already preaching the "this doesn't mean bleep unless we beat Cleveland" gospel immediately after Sunday's win?

With the right intensity and more from their offense, the Ravens could don those all-purple uniforms and run up a real winning margin for a change. I guess I'll believe it when I see it.

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