Cleveland Browns: Beating Baltimore’s 3-4 multi-front defense

The Cleveland Browns host the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday for their home opener. Here are the keys for the offense to have success this week.

The Cleveland Browns will host the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday in Cleveland’s home opener. The Browns have had little success against the AFC North since returning in 1999. If they want to change that narrative this Sunday, the Browns need to fix key aspects of the offense and plan to defeat a team with a very good front seven.

The Ravens run a multiple front 3-4 base defense. Browns fans are familiar with this base defense as defensive coordinator Ray Horton employs the same scheme. However, the Ravens scheme is more aggressively based. In nickel packages, the Ravens use a 3-3-5 look (three linemen, three linebackers) instead of the 4-2-5 lineup the Browns use.

Here are three things the Browns offense needs to fix if they want to have success against the Ravens this week.

Quarterback play must improve

The good news is Josh McCown will start for the Browns this week. Last year, McCown set the franchise’s regular-season record for most passing yards in a game when he faced the Ravens in Baltimore.

Related: Are the Browns better with RG3 sidelined?

McCown will bring a better short and intermediate passing game to the offense than Robert Griffin III, who had no intermediate passing attack last week. Of course, the Browns will need to protect McCown to allow for those intermediate passes to develop. To his credit, McCown has better pocket presence than Griffin and should hang in the pocket long enough to complete some intermediate passes.

Sep 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Rodney McLeod (23) breaks up a pass play intended for Cleveland Browns wide receiver Corey Coleman (19) during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Receivers need to play better

Part of the problem with the passing game last week was the receiver play. Early in the game, receivers dropped crucial passes. As a whole, the receivers failed to beat what was considered a weak secondary against the Philadelphia Eagles.

If the Browns are to win this week, the receivers must make progress. They need to catch the ball first, then advance it. There needs to be improvement in route running precision. The receivers need to gain better separation against man coverage and find windows in the defensive zone. If the receivers can improve, so will the passing attack.

Browns need to be better on third downs

The Browns were terrible on third down against the Eagles. Going two-for-10 on third downs will not lead to success.

The key to success on third down is success on first and second down. The offense was successful in the second quarter and half of the third against the Eagles and, during that time the Browns scored 10 points. During the rest of the game, the Browns found themselves in third and long. Consequently, there were no sustained drives or points scored.

The Brown need to succeed on first and second down in order to succeed as an offense.

Now, let’s look at 3 keys to beating Baltimore’s defense

The Ravens defense is based on pressure. Against the Buffalo Bills, the Ravens defense was able to gain significant pressure through confusing looks and relentless pursuit. They play fast against the run, and rush the passer by collapsing the pocket up front with speed rushers on the edge. This week will be a significant challenge for the Browns.

Sep 11, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) his hit by Baltimore Ravens nose tackle Brandon Williams (98) at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens won 13-7. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Game plan for Brandon Williams

The Ravens defensive line is very good and leading the charge is Brandon Williams. Nose tackles get even less press and appreciation than offensive linemen, but Brandon Williams is a real problem for offensive line this week.

The Browns will need to provide help for Cameron Erving with double teams and cut blocks. The key to the Browns running game is blocking the front seven. This week is a tough task.

Although Danny Shelton had a great game last week, this week he should be taking notes when Williams is on the field. Williams is the example of what Shelton needs to become.

Weak side power runs

The health of outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil will be key. If he is not healthy, the Browns can exploit a weakness in the Ravens front seven as they are soft at the weak side outside linebacker position. What little success the Bills had last week came by running power run schemes that attacked the weak side outside linebacker.

The Browns power run game was moderately successful last week. The Eagles made a point of stacking the box and daring Griffin to beat them with his arm. McCown has proven to the Ravens he can beat them with his arm and Baltimore would be wise to respect McCown’s ability to throw the ball. Respecting his throwing ability will open up the power run game for the Browns.

The Browns should avoid the zone run game as the Ravens completely shut it down against the Bills.

Stay out of 3rd and long

This may seem obvious but the Ravens defense is lethal on third and long. They line up six across the offensive line in a 3-3-5 base. The six lined up on the line are three rush linebackers combined with their three best lineman pass rushers. At the snap, any or all of those six will rush.

Conversely, any or all of those six will drop into coverage. The zone blitz look on third down is something the Browns need to avoid to be successful.

The Browns could be moderately successful on third and long if McCown can quickly read the rush and find the open window in the defense.

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