Every week, I hope to bring you a quick Q&A with someone who covers the Ravens’ opponent that week. On Thursday, the Ravens host the Cleveland Browns, so I chatted with Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal.
MV: What have you seen from rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden over the past two months, from the start of training camp until today? And specifically, what strides has he made in his first three games?
NU: I think his age, 28, and down-to-earth personality help him in the locker room, and he developed a leadership role almost immediately. He has a strong arm and can make all the throws, but he often uses poor mechanics and makes ill-advised decisions under pressure. This season has been a roller-coaster ride for him. He had four interceptions and a passer rating of 5.1 in Week 1, bounced back by passing for 322 yards and two touchdowns in Week 2 and then threw interceptions during the Browns’ final two possessions in Week 3. Although he’s not a typical rookie because of his age, he has been inconsistent like a typical rookie.
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MV: The Browns haven't given Weeden much established talent to work with at the skill positions. We know about Greg Little and Trent Richardson, but what else does Weeden have to work with? And is there reason to believe the lack of surrounding talent might stunt his development during his rookie season?
NU: Mohamed Massaquoi has been the Browns’ most reliable wide receiver this season, but he injured his left hamstring Sunday and won't play Thursday night. Rookie receiver Travis Benjamin scored a touchdown Sunday and has elite speed. But overall, the receiving corps has continued to disappoint. It definitely hurts Weeden. The Browns had at least four dropped passes in Week 3 and most of them were on third down.
MV: How much has the loss of Joe Haden affected the defense? With him out Thursday, I assume Joe Flacco and the Ravens will have opportunities to exploit the Browns downfield.
NU: Absolutely. Haden’s suspension has been a devastating blow. The defense has allowed three touchdown passes in each of the past two games. The Browns have used different personnel in the secondary in each of their first three games in an effort to stop the bleeding. With lineup changes week after week, it has been difficult for the players to communicate with one another effectively. This problem could easily be compounded by the Ravens’ no-huddle offense.
MV: D'Qwell Jackson, who went to school at Maryland, has been one bright spot for the Browns. He has filled up the stat sheet, including three sacks and an interception. Do you have a sense of why he decided to stay with the Browns in free agency? Was it mostly about the money -- as is often the case -- or was there more to it?
NU: The money, of course, always matters, but Jackson points to another reason for signing his contract extension. He missed 26 consecutive games in 2009 and 2010 with two torn pectoral muscles. Last season, he made a remarkable comeback and became a Pro Bowl alternate. He said he wanted to stay with the Browns partly because they stuck with him through those trying years when he was hurt. After he signed the extension, he broke down in tears during a news conference while reflecting on everything he endured.
MV: The Browns always seem to give the Ravens problems since it's a divisional game and all, but the Ravens haven't lost to the Browns since John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco arrived in 2008. What needs to happen Thursday night for the Browns to finally snap that streak?
NU: Weeden’s longest completion this season is 27 yards, and the Browns have been emphasizing the importance of taking shots and connecting on them against the Ravens’ secondary. If Weeden can take care of the ball and exploit the Ravens’ pass defense, the Browns might be able to threaten. On the other hand, I doubt the Browns will be able to stop Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith or Dennis Pitta. I expect Harbaugh’s streak to remain intact.