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NFL Preview - Baltimore (3-4) at Cleveland (3-5)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - With back-to-back losses, the Baltimore Ravens are in danger of falling out of the race in the AFC North.
They draw the perfect opponent to try and break out of their slump against.
Following a week off, the Ravens travel to Cleveland seeking a 12th straight victory over the Browns, who themselves are in the midst of a losing streak.
At 3-4, the Ravens sit second in the division but have seen the first-place Cincinnati Bengals create some separation with a 6-2 record. Baltimore went into its bye having lost three of four, but also just a few points away from being in a better spot.
The Ravens have allowed just 19 points in each of their last two setbacks and have only been outscored by eight points combined in the past three losses.
Looking to head into the bye on a positive note, the Joe Flacco threw a one- yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Clark with 1:58 to play on Oct. 20 in Pittsburgh, tying up the game.
However, the Steelers returned the ensuing kickoff 44 yards and moved into field-goal range. Shaun Suisham then connected on a 42-yard attempt as time expired to hand the Ravens a 19-16 loss.
"We have a lot of games to go. We have to continue to look forward and be confident," Flacco said. "It's going to be a dogfight."
The Ravens fell to 1-3 on the road this season and this marks the latest the club has been under .500 under head coach John Harbaugh since he took over prior to the 2008 campaign.
However, under Harbaugh, the Ravens are 5-0 after the bye.
Baltimore shook up its roster during the break. It traded offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie to the Miami Dolphins, signed running back Bernard Scott and waived veteran defensive end Marcus Spears and safety Michael Huff.
McKinnie became expendable when the Ravens traded for offensive tackle Eugene Monroe at the start of the month, while Spears and Huff both struggled to contribute after signing as free agents this past offseason.
Harbaugh said that the club wasn't trying to send a message with the moves.
"What we'll always try to do is have the strongest roster we possibly can to be as good a team as we possibly can be on Sunday. We feel like these moves move us in that direction," Harbaugh said.
A win over Cleveland would also do that and the Ravens have not lost to the Browns since a 33-30 overtime decision at home on Nov. 18, 2007.
Flacco has been under center for all 11 wins since, including a 14-6 win at home on Sept. 15. Baltimore was shut out in the first half before scoring 14 straight to win.
In going 11-0 versus the Browns, Flacco has thrown for 2,248 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has the most wins by a starting quarterback against one opponent without a loss since the 1970 merger, surpassing John Elway's 10-0 mark versus New England.
Cleveland will look to snap a five-game home slide to Baltimore and a three- game skid overall. The Browns won three in a row following their loss to the Ravens in September, but have dropped decisions to Detroit, Green Bay and Kansas City while shuffling the quarterback spot.
Brian Hoyer made his third start in a row in a win over the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 3, but suffered a season-ending knee injury. Week 1 starter Brandon Weeden then started the first two games of the losing streak before Jason Campbell got the assignment last Sunday against the unbeaten Chiefs.
The veteran put together a solid performance, but couldn't get the Browns out of a first-half hole in a 23-17 loss.
The Chiefs led 20-10 at the half and had racked up 281 yards through the first 30 minutes. However, the Browns limited them to 50 yards in the second half and just one field goal to make it a game.
"I thought our guys did a great job fighting and getting back into the game," Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski said. "We will get over this quickly and be ready for Baltimore next week."
Campbell, in his first start since last Nov. 19 with Chicago, completed 22- of-36 pass attempts for 293 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"I proved I can still play the game," said a laughing Campbell, who was making just his second start since Week 6 of the 2011 season.
Josh Gordon caught five passes for 132 yards with a score and the defense racked up six sacks
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Both clubs will have a different look from their Week 2 meeting, with Cleveland having gone the bigger makeover.
Weeden started the game for the Browns, but did not finish thanks to a thumb injury that opened the door for Hoyer to take over as the starter.
After a pair of okay starts following Hoyer's injury, Chudzinski opted to go with Campbell last weekend and the vet earned another start this weekend.
"I thought Jason played very well. After looking at the tape, he was able to manage the game, was able to escape and get out of trouble, create some plays. He did a good job from a decision-making standpoint, protected the football, and he gave us a lift in that game. We were really pleased with how he played," Chudzinski said.
Cleveland also has a different look in the backfield from Week 2, having since traded Trent Richardson to Indianapolis and signing former Raven Willis McGahee, who played for Baltimore from 2007-11 and ranks third in its franchise history with 2,802 rushing yards and 31 rushing touchdowns.
Chudzinski also has to be relieved his club remained quiet at the trade deadline, opting to keep Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron, who leads the club with 49 catches, 596 yards and six touchdowns. Gordon has 585 yards receiving and ranks second in the NFL with an average of 97 yards per game.
"We're a lot different. I think we're a lot better team now," Chudzinski said of his team since the Week 2 meeting with the Ravens. "I think we have a lot better idea from a scheme standpoint and guys understand their roles where we're at. We have some guys playing that weren't playing the first game; they have some guys playing that weren't playing the first game."
"They are better. They've continued to improve," he said of the Browns.
Added Flacco, "Look at the last game. We didn't score a point until the second half, and we had to play a really tough game to pull one out. It's always a really good game. We haven't won 11 straight on accident, and we haven't planned on winning 11 straight. We've taken them one game at a time, and it just so happened that it's worked out this way."
The Ravens core remains the same from Week 2, but new contributors will try to alter the club's recent misfortunes.
Scott will try to improve a Ravens run attack that is 28th in the NFL at 74 yards per game. Ray Rice has had a down year and only ran for 45 yards versus the Steelers, while backup Bernard Pierce has a nagging hamstring issue.
Huff hurt Baltimore on numerous occasions with missed assignments, including one on Pittsburgh's big kick return and lost his starting job at free safety after Week 1 to rookie Matt Elam, while Spears had just 10 tackles.
"The message is, 'Win,' plain and simple. If you don't get your job done, they're going to find somebody else that can get it done," said Ravens defensive end Chris Canty. "And in the case of Michael and Marcus, they felt like it was in the best interest of the team to move forward."
If it is one place these clubs can draw similarities it is good play on defense. After finishing last season 23rd in total defense, Cleveland ranks 7th this year, while Baltimore is 11th in scoring defense.
The Browns, who added former Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger this offseason, tied a season high with six sacks against the Chiefs and are tied for third in the NFL with 26. Rookie first-round pick Barkevious Mingo leads the club with four, while defensive end Desmond Bryant, another offseason addition, has 3 1/2.
The Ravens, who recently got linebacker Jameel McClain back from the Physically Unable To Perform list, had five sacks versus the Browns in Week 2, part of a string of 15 straight games dating back to last season with at least two sacks.
Baltimore has also allowed just 16.5 points per game and six touchdowns in six games since getting blown out in Denver 49-27 in Week 1.
This is certainly a dangerous game for the Ravens, who have failed to really get on a roll at any point this season and face a rebuilding Browns club with little to lose.
However, if Baltimore is to get on track, a meeting with the Browns is certainly the place to start.
"I have really high hopes for this team, and I've told the players that. I really believe this team is going to catch fire," said Harbaugh.
That starts with Flacco, who played well enough to lead his team to a win in Week 2 despite missing the birth of his second child due to the game. The former Super Bowl MVP has eight interceptions already this season, however, just four shy of his single-season career high set three times prior in 2008-09 and 2011.
Without a run game, Baltimore's offensive line will need to keep the pressure off Flacco and faces a big challenge this weekend against the sixth-ranked pass defense.
"These guys know what it means, what's at stake," McGahee said of his Browns team. "They played them earlier in the year, and we lost. It was kind of a tough loss. It was a good game, but at the end of the day, we lost, they won, and we put it behind us. But I think the guys are more prepared this week."
But prepared enough to snap an 11-game series losing streak? Probably not, with the Ravens having had extra time to rest up and prepare.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 19, Browns 13
10/31 14:37:52 ET
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