When Dean Pees and the Ravens defense watched tape of their Week 2 win over the Cleveland Browns, they saw Brandon Weeden at quarterback and Trent Richardson carrying the load at running back. Wide receiver Josh Gordon was nowhere to be found as he was serving his two-game league suspension.
There have been cha-cha-changes in Cleveland over the past several weeks, though. Weeden has been benched twice in favor of journeymen, first for Brian Hoyer and now for Jason Campbell. Richardson was traded to the Indianapolis Colts and the Browns have replaced him with former Ravens running back Willis McGahee. And Gordon is back from suspension and taking out his frustration on secondaries.
We have seen division rivals switch quarterbacks or lose a running back between semi-annual showdowns with the Ravens. But it is uncommon that a team experiences this much change at the skill positions.
Still, besides the obvious changes in personnel, Pees said the Ravens are preparing to face the same scheme the Browns used when the Ravens beat them, 14-6, in Week 2.
“You’ve got to just get ready for the system. It’s Norv Turner’s system. When it’s all said and done, it’s still his system,” the Ravens defensive coordinator said. “I don’t think it will be much different than what he did with Weeden. … Willis is a lot like Richardson in a way. This isn’t a bounce-out, try-to-get-to-the-edge runner. This is a downhill thumper, which is what Richardson was. So I don’t see a great deal of difference. It’s different names, but I just don’t see a whole lot of difference in this offense.”
In their first meeting, the Ravens allowed a season-low 259 yards and kept the Browns out of the end zone. They bottled up Richardson and sacked Weeden five times.
But coach John Harbaugh said that despite the changes in personnel, which include the return of Shawn Lauvao at right guard, the Browns offense is better in Week 9.
“They’ve continued to improve,” he said. “We’ve played Campbell a number of times, and he’s an athletic guy with a strong arm that has been around and knows how to make plays. We respect him tremendously. Their offensive line has improved. The skill players have improved. ... So offensively, they have taken some strides.”
With Turner, the former San Diego Chargers coach, coordinating their offense, the Browns still like to run the ball between the tackles and like to throw out of a lot of three-receiver sets with tight end Jordan Cameron doing his best Antonio Gates impersonation. Campbell seems more willing than Weeden to throw the ball deep, though.
Pees said the major difference is “the fact that No. 12 is back.” No. 12 is Gordon, who ranks fourth in the NFL with 97 receiving yards per game. In their loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last week, the Browns got him the ball in a variety of different ways -- from a quick screen pass to crossing patterns and a deep ball off of a flea-flicker play.
“Here’s a guy who can take the top off of a defense in a hurry, where we didn’t play against him the first time,” Pees said of the second-year wide-out. “And you can’t focus all the attention on him because, to me, they have one of the best tight ends in the league -- if not the best. [Cameron] is a go-to dynamic tight end in my estimation.”
But no matter who is on the field at the skill positions for the Browns, rush linebacker Terrell Suggs says the Ravens are bracing for another hard-hitting, low-scoring game.
“They’re a really good football team. I expect the same kind of game,” Suggs said. “When we go [up] there, there is always a little turmoil, but that is to be expected.”