Mike Preston: The Ravens are a tough team to read

Thank goodness there are just two more weeks of games before the Ravens get a shot at playing a good football team again.

The Ravens are in their “must win out” mode to earn a wild-card spot in the AFC playoffs. They beat the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, an ugly 17-point victory. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending how you look at it, there are two more Cleveland-caliber teams on the schedule in Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

Serious contending teams usually separate from other teams down the stretch in the regular season, but that didn’t happen Sunday. There are still questions about the Ravens’ downfield passing attack and quarterback Joe Flacco’s accuracy. There are still concerns about the Ravens’ pass defense without No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith. And whether it can mount a consistent pass rush from their front four.

If the Ravens had dominated the Browns, then they might be on to something heading into the playoffs. Instead, we won’t know those answers until the Ravens get into the postseason. The opponents left on the schedule are absolutely horrendous and the games won’t get much better than Sunday.

It is “woeful” football.

Cleveland’s First Energy Stadium had all the drama and excitement of a preseason game. It appeared as if there were barely 30,000 spectators in attendance. Worse yet, the Browns have just five or six bona fide NFL players on the roster.

Indianapolis is just as bad. The Colts, like the Browns, are playing with a No. 2 quarterback and have won only one of their past eight games. Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano is expected to be fired at season’s end.

There were reports early Sunday that Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is expected to leave Cincinnati after the season. The Bengals were trounced by Minnesota Sunday, 34-7.

Well, so much for win one for “The Gipper.”

So, be prepared for some bad football over the next two weeks. We’ve seen some during the last couple of years but this is going to get bad. Really, really ugly.

Don’t believe the hype about how the teams are well-coached and have lost a lot of close games. Ravenscoach John Harbaugh was continuing to spew it out after Sunday’s game.

“It was a challenging game for us against a good football team — I think a team that is very capable, a very talented team,” Harbaugh said. “You saw their playmaking ability out there during the game.”

C’mon, man.

Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer has no pocket awareness and threw two interceptions, one that was picked off by cornerback Brandon Carr in the back of the end zone with 11:07 left in the game. Carr was one of four Ravens who had surrounded intended receiver Isaiah Crowell.

Big league quarterbacks don’t make those types of mistakes. They don’t throw 5-yard passes out in the flat into the dirt. They shouldn’t be throwing six interceptions during the season inside the red zone. The Browns were a comedy of errors. Jackson couldn’t even find his red flag to initiate a challenge late in the third quarter.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Maybe he was thinking about going to Cincinnati to replace Lewis. Bengals owner Mike Brown loved Jackson, but he isn’t getting a lot of love in Cleveland these days.

As for the Ravens, they did what needed to be done Sunday. While the Browns cornerbacks were playing 10 yards off their receivers, the Ravens and Flacco were nickel-and-diming them on short outs or square-in patterns.

Cleveland couldn’t stop the Ravens’ tight ends in the first game this year andcouldn’t stop Benjamin Watson Sunday. He caught four passes for 74 yards, including one for a 33-yard touchdown.

Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg tried a few nifty little tricks like running Flacco on a quarterback option and on a draw. He used an unbalanced line with left offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley as an eligible receiver.

The Ravens showed resilience by answering Cleveland’s five-play, 96-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter with an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive of their own on the next possession.

That’s good stuff.

On defense, the Ravens held Cleveland to 136 passing yards and either hit or sacked Kizer eight times. The Ravens forced four turnovers for 14 points. Outside linebacker Matthew Judon finished with six tackles, including one sack. He also hit Kizer on three occasions.

The best player on the field, though, was Sam Koch, who averaged 43 yards on five punts and put the Browns inside their 20 four times, including three inside the 5.

It was a good win, but not overly impressive. Carr struggled at times on the corner. Offensively, the vertical passing game is still in question. Mornhinweg still does questionable things such as running against a team that stops the run on short-yardage situations (see Cleveland) and failing to run against a team that can’t stop it (see Pittsburgh).

The Ravens’ 39-38 loss to Pittsburgh isn’t a true barometer. The Ravens would play them close in a parking lot at Walmart.

It’s Indianapolis on Saturday and it’s Cincinnati the following weekend.

And then the Ravens will play a good football team in the playoffs. Finally.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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