When the Cleveland Browns returned to the NFL for the 1999 season, the rivalry with the Ravens seemed like it could blossom into one of the best in the NFL. The cities are similar in size and their respective citizens both have a blue collar reputation. Add to that the storyline of the old Browns moving to Baltimore to become the Ravens and you have a sufficient powder keg primed and ready for an explosive divisional feud.
What actually has transpired over the ensuing 15 seasons is something much different. With few exceptions, the Browns have stunk. This has led to an 8-22 mark against the Ravens overall and a 1-11 record since John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco came to Baltimore in 2008.
This is not how a rivalry is made. Instead of creating animosity between the fan bases, most Ravens fans expect to see the Browns swept year in and year out. My personal chant for this divisional matchup is (the admittedly crude) “If it’s Brown, flush it down.”
While I’m sure I’ll continue using that (not terribly mature) turn of phrase during better times for Cleveland, Browns fans would likely agree with me that the team’s performance since their NFL rebirth has largely fit the image of something that needs to be flushed down a toilet.
That brings us to the next installment of this one-sided rivalry with the game Sunday in Cleveland. Is this the same old Browns team that the Ravens can feast on for two victories this year? If the first two games are any indication, probably not.
The Browns, currently sitting at 1-1, have played two exciting games against perennial contenders Pittsburgh and New Orleans. Week 1 was a tale of two halves, as Cleveland overcame a slow start to just come up short in their bid to upset the Steelers at Heinz Field. In Week 2, the Browns celebrated their home-opener by going toe to toe with the Saints’ high powered offense and coming out victorious.
With the Ravens also sitting at 1-1 after uneven performances from Week 1 to Week 2, this is an intriguing matchup to say the least. Here are some quick thoughts on the potential difference makers for the Browns on Sunday:
Brian Hoyer – The Browns’ starting QB has quieted some of the Johnny Manziel hype with solid play so far in 2014. Hoyer has completed 60% of his passes for 426 yards and 2 touchdowns without turning the ball over. He appears to have command of the huddle and the respect of his teammates.
Terrance West – As I lamented last week, West is emerging as a star for the Browns. The rookie from Towson University has run for 168 yards and one score so far and in the process became the first rookie running back with at least 90 yards from scrimmage in his team’s first two games since Chris Johnson and Matt Forte in 2008. West could prove to be a major problem for the Ravens, as he will surely be fired up to be playing in front of his hometown for the first time as a pro.
Paul Kruger – After failing to live up to his big money contract in 2013, this former Raven has shown the Cleveland fans a little more of what he brings to the table through two games in 2014. Gaining the ability to move around the field in Cleveland’s new defense, Kruger has taken advantage with 2 sacks to go along with 8 tackles. While the Ravens know him well, Kruger will surely be a big test for both Eugene Monroe and Ricky Wagner.
Cleveland Secondary – Cleveland has some great talent in the secondary with Joe Haden, rookie Justin Gilbert, and Donte Whitner. While their performance doesn’t always equal the talent they can display, this secondary is not one to overlook. If Kruger and the rest of the Browns’ front seven can establish consistent pressure on Joe Flacco, this secondary could be very dangerous.
With the win against the Steelers, I need to hand out my “defensive save.” While not a close game, part of my definition of a defensive closer in football is keeping your opponent down and not letting them get back up. So with that in mind, I’m going to split the save for this game between Elvis Dumervil (2 sacks during crucial drives) and CJ Mosley (huge fumble recovery in early 4th quarter).