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NFL Preview - Cleveland (0-2) at Baltimore (2-0)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The suddenly offensive-minded Baltimore Ravens, who have put up 69 points in September wins over the Chiefs (38-24) and Chargers (31-26), have recently learned about the dark side of their best offensive showing in recent memory.
Fans in and around Baltimore want to know what happened to the defense.
As the Ravens prepare to host the Cleveland Browns, a team that has scored one offensive touchdown in seven games dating back to last season, those fans might be about to get a reminder of the talent on that side of the ball.
Though Baltimore has allowed an uncharacteristic 25 points per game through the first two weeks, that figure is somewhat misleading.
In Week 1 against the Chiefs, Kansas City benefited from a blocked punt for a touchdown and an interception return that set the Chiefs up inside the Baltimore 10-yard line for another score.
Last Sunday, though the Ravens allowed 484 yards of total offense to the Chargers, Baltimore also limited San Diego to four field goals on six scoring drives, intercepted quarterback Philip Rivers twice, and held the Chargers to just 53 yards on the ground.
Despite giving up some big plays in the passing game, the Ravens defense leads the NFL in rushing defense (41 yards per game), and has extended its streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher in 37 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the NFL.
Based on their play of the first two weeks, the Browns do not figure to give the Baltimore defense much of a test.
The Cleveland offense has found the end zone just once during the two-game tenure of Eric Mangini, who is still seeking his first win with the Browns after defeats at the hands of the Vikings (34-20) and Broncos (27-6).
The Browns are last in NFL total offense (234 yards per game) and third-down percentage (23.1) as Week 3 begins, and last week managed just 11 first-downs, 200 yards of total offense, and committed three turnovers in Denver.
The defense hasn't been much of a credit to the winning cause either.
Cleveland has allowed an NFL-worst five rushing touchdowns through the season's first two weeks, two of which came in the fourth quarter of last week's loss in Denver and helped the Broncos pull away in what had been a close contest.
Baltimore holds a 13-7 lead in its all-time series with Cleveland, including a home-and-home sweep last year. The Ravens were 28-10 winners when the teams met at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 3, and took a 37-27 decision in the return matchup, in Cleveland, during Week 9. The Browns swept the 2007 home-and-home, including a 33-30 overtime triumph in Baltimore.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is 2-0 against the Browns as head coach. Mangini was 0-1 against the Ravens during his tenure with the Jets (2006-08), and will be facing Harbaugh for the first time as a head man on Sunday.
Mangini served as an assistant coach with the Ravens during the 1996 season, their first in Baltimore.
WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL
After two weeks of failing to sustain drives, the Browns are going to have to move the football if they want an opportunity to upset the Ravens. Brady Quinn (366 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) has been sacked nine times and has not made many big plays, though his chemistry with No. 1 receiver Braylon Edwards (7 receptions) in last week's loss to the Broncos was a step in the right direction. After catching just one ball for 12 yards in the opener, Edwards posted six catches for 92 yards in Denver last Sunday. Working out of the slot, Josh Cribbs (7 receptions) contributed five grabs, but none went for longer than seven yards. Tight end Robert Royal (5 receptions, 1 TD) followed up an encouraging Week 1 by catching just one ball against the Broncos. The Cleveland running game could have some additional problems this week if ex- Raven Jamal Lewis (95 rushing yards, 4 receptions) is unable to shake off a hamstring injury that kept him out of practice on Wednesday. Backups James Harrison (8 rushing yards, 4 receptions) and James Davis (5 rushing yards, 3 receptions) would stand to garner the carries that would have belonged to Lewis, though Davis has himself been bothered by a shoulder problem.
The concern in the Baltimore area about the state of the Ravens defense has a great deal to do with the team's inability to defend the pass. The cornerback tandem of Fabian Washington (8 tackles) and Domonique Foxworth (7 tackles) has been mediocre at best through two games, and safeties Ed Reed (6 tackles) and Dawan Landry (14 tackles, 1 INT) have not been making many big plays in support. Part of that has to do with the below-average work of a pass rush that has received little spark from top pass rusher Terrell Suggs (8 tackles, 1.5 sacks), who appears to still be working himself into playing shape. Fellow OLB Jarret Johnson (5 tackles, 2 sacks) has been more effective, and 3-4 end Trevor Pryce (2 tackles, 1 sac) has been somewhat disruptive as well. As mentioned, there are few problems with the team's run defense. Space-eaters Haloti Ngata (4 tackles) and Kelly Gregg (8 tackles) have provided a terrific presence at the point of attack, and inside linebacker Ray Lewis (18 tackles) continues to make plays behind them. Lewis effectively ended last week's game with a 4th-and-2 tackle of Chargers running back Darren Sproles in the fourth- quarter.
WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL
The evolution of the Ravens offense has had everything to do with ascending quarterback Joe Flacco (497 passing yards, 5 TD, 2 INT), who has put up a sensational 96.1 passer rating through the season's first two weeks. Flacco followed up a 300-yard passing day against the Chiefs in Week 1 by going to San Diego and posting an efficient 17-of-26, 190-yard, two-touchdown, one interception performance last week. The team's primary corps of pass-catchers - wideouts Derrick Mason (7 receptions) and Mark Clayton (6 receptions, 1 TD) along with tight end Todd Heap (6 receptions, 2 TD) - were all quiet in the win, but backup Kelley Washington (7 receptions, 1 TD) stepped up with four catches for 58 yards and his first touchdown as a Raven. Though overshadowed by Flacco, the Baltimore running game has also been very good during 2009 to date, with Ray Rice (144 rushing yards, 7 receptions) providing a presence in both the rushing and receiving realms and Willis McGahee (123 rushing yards, 6 receptions, 4 TD) scoring a league-high-tying four touchdowns through two weeks. Rice had a team-high five catches for 46 yards in the win at San Diego. The Ravens offensive line has been strong, allowing just two sacks of Flacco and paving the way for 4.5 yards per carry by the backs.
Stopping Flacco and the Ravens will be more difficult for the Ravens if two of their starters - Pro Bowl nose tackle Shaun Rogers (10 tackles, 1 sack) and veteran pass rusher David Bowens (8 tackles) - are unavailable. Rogers (foot) and Bowens (knee) have both been limited in practice this week. The Cleveland pass rush, which looked decent in sacking Brett Favre four times during Week 1, was nonexistent last week against Kyle Orton and the Broncos. Outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (9 tackles) was one of four Browns with a sack against Minnesota. Rob Ryan's group didn't do a particularly good job on the back end last week either, as four Denver receivers combined for 14 catches and 206 yards. Cornerbacks Brandon McDonald (12 tackles) and Eric Wright (7 tackles) will have primary responsibility against the Ravens receivers, with safeties Abram Elam (15 tackles, 1 sack) and Brodney Pool (10 tackles, 1 sack) lending support. If Rogers is unavailable at nose tackle, extra pressure will be on inside linebackrs D'Qwell Jackson (13 tackles) and Eric Barton (16 tackles) - a pair of University of Maryland products - to stop Baltimore's running game.
The top Raven for fantasy purposes has been McGahee, who has scored a couple of touchdowns in each of the team's first two games despite being second on the depth chart to Rice. Though McGahee will continue to get his touches, expecting multiple touchdowns from him on an every-week basis is unwise. Rice remains a good play, and Flacco, Mason, and Heap are all worthy starters as well given the improving strength of the Baltimore passing attack. The Baltimore defense figures to have a strong day against the weak Browns offense, and kicker Steve Hauschka is a decent play for this week as well.
Browns worth considering are Edwards, who had a decent day in Week 2 and could be back on the road to reliability, and kicker Phil Dawson, who has kicked a total of four field goals through the team's first two games.
Many expect the Ravens, who have looked like one of the league's strongest teams through two weeks, to easily dispose of the Browns, who have looked like one of its worst. But it's important to note that Baltimore has been involved in dogfights in each of the first two weeks, allowing both Kansas City and San Diego to hang around in games in which the Ravens always seemed to be on the verge of pulling away. Baltimore probably won't ever be seriously threatened by Cleveland, but look for the Ravens to play down to the Browns' level enough for the margin to be a bit more narrow than might be expected.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 23, Browns 12
09/24 14:28:45 ET
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