|Browns coach Pat Shurmur (shown last season with QB Colt McCoy) could be in danger of losing his job when new owner Jimmy Haslam takes over. (US Presswire)|
Browns at Ravens -- Week 4
Where: M&T Bank Stadium (grass, outdoors), Baltimore, Md.
When: Thursday, 8:20 p.m., ET (NBC local, NFL Network)
Spread: Ravens by 13
Forecast: 61 degrees, virtually no wind, 60 percent chance of showers
Records: Browns (Overall: 0-3, AFC North 0-1), Ravens (Overall: 2-1, AFC North: 1-0)
Past results: Two most recent regular-season meetings: Dec. 24, 2011: Ravens 20, Browns 14; Dec. 4, 2011: Ravens 24, Browns 10. Series record: Ravens hold 19-7 (including last eight).
What matters: The Browns have a bad week for a short week. They performed poorly in every facet of the game at home against Buffalo on Sunday and now must play a far superior opponent on the road coming off a huge, emotional victory against New England. A secondary playing without premier cornerback Joe Haden (suspension) will be severely tested against a high-powered passing offense playing at peak efficiency. The Ravens’ frequent use of the no-huddle will provide an additional challenge. A Browns offensive line that struggled in both run blocking and pass protection against a tough Bills front four will have their hands full again against a savvy and talented Ravens front seven. The Browns can save what appears to be a lost season and turn it in the right direction with an upset here. With new owner Jimmy Haslam sure to be approved on October 16, the jobs of coach Pat Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert are on the line. The Browns might need to show they are making progress to give them the best chance to stick around. That is, unless Haslam has already made up his mind about their futures.
Who matters: Shurmur seems to be losing patience and appears unafraid to make changes. It appears that WR Greg Little is on a short leash. His Usain Bolt pose after infrequent catches with the Browns losing are over on his orders. The secondary remains in flux. Look for FS Usama Young to remain the starter over Eric Hagg, who went from starting to being inactive against Buffalo. Tashaun Gipson should also receive plenty of reps. Among the few pleasant surprises defensively have been LB Craig Robertson and rookie tackle Billy Winn, a fifth-round pick who received far more playing time than third-rounder John Hughes against the Bills. Winn slapped down successive Ryan Fitzpatrick passes in that game and is emerging as a force inside. Quarterback Brandon Weeden irked Shurmur a bit by proclaiming he was happy with his performance on Sunday, but can make up for it with a strong game. He was inconsistent against Buffalo, but his receivers did him no favors with drops in the open field. Weeden would be helped if the offensive line opens holes for rookie RB Trent Richardson, which it failed to do on Sunday. Neither the ground game nor aerial attack will be productive without the other working efficiently.
Key matchups: QB Brandon Weeden vs. FS Ed Reed. Reed remains one of the premier ball-hawks in the NFL despite his advanced age. Richardson must be aware of his presence at all times without becoming fearful of throwing the ball. Reed has specialized in picking off passes against the Browns over the years and is likely drooling over the prospect of adding the rookie Weeden to his list of victims. SS T.J. Ward vs. TE Dennis Pitta. Pitta has emerged as one of the more dangerous pass-catching tight ends in the game and Ward is fine against the run, but has struggled at times in coverage. The Ravens have enough weapons. The Browns don’t need Pitta to become a problem.
Injuries of note: WR Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring) has not practiced this week, but offensive coordinator Brad Childress said on Tuesday that he expects him to play. He had been the team’s best wide receiver in the first two games. The blocking of TE Alex Smith (concussion) was sorely missed on Sunday against Buffalo, though Jordan Cameron is improving in that area and showed his talent as a pass-catcher with five receptions. The Browns are expecting starting DT Phil Taylor (pectoral) back in a few weeks.
Inside stuff: Shurmur and Childress obviously feel that having a strong pass-catching threat is of paramount importance at the backup running back spot. If there’s any running to do, it will be done by Richardson. That’s why Brandon Jackson, who was impressive in the preseason, has been inactive the last two weeks and Montario Hardesty has yet to touch the ball on offense. The Browns have instead used Chris Ogbonnaya on third downs. Ogbonnaya has contributed nine receptions in the last two games.
Connections: The Ravens, of course, were the Browns before 1996. Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome was the best tight end in Browns history and spent five years in their pro personnel department before the move of the franchise to Baltimore. Ravens senior personnel assistant George Kokinis spent part of his ill-fated 2009 season as the Browns’ general manager.
Stat you should know: Browns DE Jabaal Sheard registered 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in 2011 and has none of either this season. He has applied some pressure on quarterbacks and has registered two pass breakups, but Sheard and DT Ahtyba Rubin have yet to register a sack. Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said Tuesday that Sheard is getting more attention and has been chipped more often in pass rushing situations than he was last year.
Looking ahead: At least the Browns will have more time to prepare next week for a game at the New York Giants. But unless they perform significantly better than they did against the Bills, they will most assuredly be 0-5. They return home the following week to play Cincinnati. Haden is scheduled to return from his suspension for that game.
Prediction: Ravens 31, Browns 13
Stay dialed in on the Browns on Twitter at @CBSBrowns throughout the season with on-site updates from CBSSports.com RapidReports correspondent Marty Gitlin.