The Ravens beat the Cleveland Browns, 20-14, on Christmas Eve, a win that puts them one win away from the first AFC North title of the John Harbaugh era. But the 11-4 Ravens suffered several key injuries and could be without starting cornerback Cary Williams and right guard Marshal Yanda against the 9-6 Cincinnati Bengals next Sunday.
Here are my quick-hit thoughts after the Ravens held off the Browns, who are now 4-11, on Saturday night:
1. The Ravens relied heavily on their running backs against the Browns -- a wise move given how they fared the previous time these teams met -- but the fact that their wide receivers had two total receptions has to be a major concern going forward. Rookie Torrey Smith had both catches, and veteran Lee Evans was shut out. He also failed to break up an interception by Sheldon Brown in the corner of the end zone, something Harbaugh brought up after the game. Maybe the loss of Anquan Boldin is more significant than some thought.
2. What’s going on with that vaunted Baltimore run defense? A week after the San Diego Chargers rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-14 win, Browns running back Peyton Hillis rumbled for 112 yards on 24 carries. With Cedric Benson and the run-loving Bengals up next, the Ravens had better tighten this up quickly.
3. Second-year tight end Ed Dickson had a rough game with drops, but he is becoming a serious weapon in the red zone for quarterback Joe Flacco. He has touchdowns in the red zone in back-to-back games.
4. That 84-yard punt return for a touchdown was the longest of Joshua Cribbs' career, and while he was quick to credit Cribbs, Harbaugh spread the blame around on the Ravens’ end, from punter Sam Koch to the tackling downfield. They have allowed three return touchdowns this season (two were on punt returns).
5. Ray Rice’s touchdown catch on a wheel route was a thing of beauty. It also doomed my fantasy team. Ugh.
6. Shayne Graham got the job done while filling in for Billy Cundiff, though each of his kickoffs were returned. Graham nailed a 48-yard field goal, though. The Ravens should be in OK shape until Cundiff is healthy again.
7. The Browns cost themselves big time with bone-headed plays late in each half. At the end of the first half, they didn’t realize they were out of timeouts and let the clock tick down without kicking a field goal. And as the Ravens clung to a late lead, Flacco was able to lure rookie defensive tackle Phil Taylor offside on fourth down even though everyone else in the stadium seemed to know that the Ravens weren’t snapping the ball.
8. The injuries to Williams and Yanda are major concerns heading into the Cincinnati game. The Ravens will be shorthanded when it comes to shutting down Cincinnati’s stud wide receiver, A.J. Green. And Yanda is so underrated still, even though he signed a big contract in the offseason. The Ravens will need him next week.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun