One compelling measure of how far into the abyss the Cleveland Browns franchise has fallen: fans were encouraged by last week’s 7-6 win at home over a reeling San Diego Chargers team. An occasional win on a cold, wet field doesn’t really mean much, of course, unless it leads to something. When a team is down and out at midseason, it must take small steps. The first step is to play spoiler, and knock off a team that is fighting to stay on the Road to the Super Bowl. Another step is to put together back-to-back wins. Today the Browns try to take both of those steps when they play the Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Stadium.
The Ravens have beaten the Browns like a drum for years. In fact, the Browns haven’t beaten Baltimore during the entirety of the Obama presidency — and I’m not making a subtle pitch for Mitt Romney in mentioning that embarrassing statistic. It’s just a sign of how one-sided this series has been. And, true to form, the Ravens beat the Browns earlier this year, 23-16.
Today the Browns will be looking for a better performance from their offense, which has shown some glimmers of hope. Although banged up, Trent Richardson ran very hard against San Diego; his 122 yards in miserable conditions were the difference-maker in the Browns win. Rookie quarterback Brandon Weedon seems to be adjusting to the speed of the NFL game and is improving his decision-making; he’s also shown the big arm that caused the Browns to make him a first-round pick. Neither Richardson nor Weedon played particularly well against the Ravens in the loss earlier this season, and if the Browns hope to win they simply have to make a difference this time around.
The Browns defense, on the other hand, has played better since getting sliced to ribbons by the Giants a month ago. With tough starting defensive tackle Phil Taylor returning from injury, the Browns D is as close to healthy as they’ve been all season. This game will provide a meaningful test of how good the Browns defense is when playing in good conditions against a quality NFL offense.
One final point: if Pat Shurmur wants to keep his job, he’ll play this game to win. If that means trying a fake punt, or going for it on 4th and 1 inside the Ravens’ 50-yard-line, now is the time to do it. This teams needs to develop a winning attitude, and taking a few risks and showing confidence in your offensive line is part of that process. It’s time for Pat Shurmur to let his inner riverboat gambler shine forth.