NFL Preview - Cleveland (0-3) at Baltimore (2-1)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Fresh off a thrilling last second win over fellow AFC
powerhouse New England, the Baltimore Ravens will cap off a short week on
Thursday by searching for their ninth straight win over rival Cleveland.
Playing with a heavy heart on Sunday, Torrey Smith helped Baltimore exact a
bit of revenge in a rematch of the AFC Championship Game from a season ago.
Smith lost his brother in a tragic motorcycle accident earlier in the day but
suited up and recorded six receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
Meanwhile, undrafted rookie kicker Justin Tucker squeaked in a game-winning
27-yard field goal in a thrilling 31-30 win over the Patriots.
"We dedicate that victory to (Torrey's late brother) Tevin (Jones) and to the
whole family," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after the game. "I just think
our team fights. Our team just fights, period. Sometimes you win, and
sometimes you don't. Tonight, we won. I couldn't be more proud of a football
team, and couldn't love a bunch of guys any more than we do right now."
Joe Flacco threw for 382 yards on 28-of-39 passing with three touchdowns and
an interception against New England, while Ray Rice carried the ball 20 times
for 101 yards and a score for Baltimore (2-1), which dropped the AFC
Championship Game in New England when then-kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-
yard chip shot that would've forced overtime.
The game was not without controversy, however, after Tucker's game-winning
kick went straight over the right upright. Replays showed the kick was in
fact good but New England had a hard time accepting things and Pats head
coach Bill Belichick grabbed an official and argued adamantly for a review.
Field goals unlike other scoring plays are not reviewable although it's
unlikely the play would have been overturned.
The struggling Browns are the AFC's lone winless team after losing their
third straight contest last Sunday in the Forest City when Buffalo's Ryan
Fitzpatrick threw for three touchdowns as the Bills defeated Cleveland, 24-14,
to earn their first road victory since Week 1 of last season.
After strong performances a week earlier against the Cincinnati Bengals,
rookies Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson regressed against Buffalo. Weeden
threw for a touchdown late in the third, but his two interceptions in the
fourth quarter hampered the Browns, who fell to 0-3 for the fifth time in the
last seven seasons.
The Bills also effectively contained Richardson, who ran for a score, but only
managed 27 yards on 12 carries. He also caught six passes for 24 yards.
"One, you have to give them a little bit of credit," said Weeden regarding the
Bills' defense. "They made tackles at the line of scrimmage and were doing a
good job against the run game."
Dating back to last season, Cleveland has now lost nine consecutive contests
and 12 of 13 overall.
This game will mark the first time the Browns and Ravens will meet in Thursday
night action. The Ravens own a commanding 19-7 lead in their all-time series
with Cleveland, whose first edition of the franchise moved to Baltimore to
become the Ravens prior to the 1996 season before re-entering the NFL as an
expansion team in 1999.
Baltimore has recorded a home-and-home sweep of the Browns for four
consecutive season and has won eight of nine over Cleveland at M&T Bank
The Browns fell 20-14 in their last visit to Charm City on Christmas Eve last
year and haven't won there since a 33-30 overtime verdict in 2007, which also
happens to be Cleveland's most recent triumph over the Ravens.
"We've done this before; we've played Thursday after a Sunday, but we haven't
played Thursday after a Sunday night," Harbaugh said of the quick turnaround.
"Two things are important: preparation and recovery. One can't really take a
backseat to the other."
Overall, the Ravens have won 12 consecutive games at home, the longest current
home win streak in the NFL.
"It's going to be a huge challenge for us," Harbaugh said. "A division game, a
big rivalry game, it's always a very emotional game against the Browns. We've
played a lot of tough games against these guys. We expect it to be another one
of those kind of games."
WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL
Cleveland is obviously pinning a lot on the shoulders on their two rookie
first round picks, Weeden and Richardson, and both are struggling to find
their NFL legs.
Weeden, like most rookie quarterbacks, has struggled with consistency and
decision making. The Oklahoma State product was awful in Week 1 and well above
average in Week 2 when he threw for a Browns rookie record of 322 yards at
Cincinnati before taking a big step back against Buffalo.
He has excelled with his intermediate throws but has been inaccurate when
trying to go down the field. Weeden seems to be late on most throws and will
likely improve as he gets more used to the speed of the NFL game.
"I know he has talent," Harbaugh said when discussing Weeden. "What we are
looking at right now are the things he does well and the way they're building
their offense around him. He's big, he's smart, he has a great arm. He gets
the ball out very quickly."
Part of Weeden's struggles should be blamed on his receivers, who haven't
stepped up as playmakers. Many in Cleveland had high hopes for Greg Little,
who can be electrifying after the catch but has struggled with dropped balls.
"We've been working with him consistently," Browns head coach Pat Shurmur said
when talking about Little. "When he goes out in the game, he's got to catch
the football. We have all the drills we do, we have a long list of things that
we practice and we need to get better results. That's the reality of it."
Fellow starter Mohamed Massaquoi has been ruled out with a hamstring injury
meaning rookie Travis Benjamin, who ran a solid post-corner route for a
touchdown against the Bills, could get more looks.
"He's got good hands and he's fast." Shurmur said of Benjamin. "We've found
ways in every game to try to get him the ball, whether it be reverses or
attempts to throw it to him."
The line, led by All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas and former Pro bowl center
Alex Mack, must do more to help Richardson, who has averaged just 3.5 yards a
carry thus far. Richardson hasn't been explosive but has been a bell cow for
Cleveland, leading the team in receptions with 11 and also rushing for 175
yards with two TDs on the season.
"We have to get Trent (Richardson) to the second level and get him past the
line of scrimmage and not make him battle as much at the line of scrimmage,"
Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. "Obviously move it past the
defensive line and on to the linebackers and second level because that's to me
where he can end up doing most of his damage."
The Ravens defense is coming off an uncharacteristic poor performance against
New England and seems a little off without the consistent pass rush that the
injured Terrell Suggs (Achilles) usually provides.
Future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed still bring plenty to the table,
however, and both Weeden and Richardson will certainly have a tough time
navigating Baltimore's defense. Weeden, particularly, must be aware of Reed,
one of the NFL's true ballhawks.
"You don't scheme around (Reed) because he's got a mind of his own,"
Childress said. "He and to me a guy like (Troy) Polamalu show up in places and
they're very extremely instinctual and obviously have been tremendously
WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL
With Lewis and Reed still around it's tough to call Baltimore Joe Flacco's
team but Harbaugh has finally given his strong-armed quarterback the freedom
to make plays down the field on a consistent basis and it has worked like a
The Ravens have produced 19 passes of 20-or-more yards this season, the most
among all NFL teams. Flacco has spread the ball around to seven different
targets for those explosive plays: WR Anquan Boldin (2), TE Ed Dickson (1), WR
Jacoby Jones (5), TE Dennis Pitta (3), Rice (2), Smith (5) and WR Deonte
Thompson (1). Smith, in fact, is deadlocked with Carolina's Steve Smith atop
the league with five receptions of at least 25 yards.
Rice remains one of the game's most well-rounded backs, averaging nearly 6.0
yards per carry and hauling in 14 passes so far, good for second on the team.
His caddy, rookie Bernard Pierce has also shown flashes. Pitta, meanwhile, has
become Flacco's security blanket, snaring 18 receptions while being targeted
The Browns rank among the league leaders in several defensive categories.
Cleveland is tied for fifth in the NFL with nine sacks, tied for fifth with
five interceptions and is sixth in total takeaways with seven.
The Browns' front seven is led by middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, the only
player in the NFL with at least two sacks and two interceptions this season. A
true playmaker, Jackson also leads the Browns in sacks (3) and is just a half
sack shy of his career-high.
After missing the final eight games last season with a foot injury, defensive
back T.J. Ward has returned to lead the team with 24 tackles, while adding one
sack and a forced fumble this year.
This will be the third of four weeks for the Browns without cornerback Joe
Haden, however. Cleveland has pressed on without its suspended star, using
veterans Sheldon Brown and Dimitri Patterson but it's clear the team can't do
as much gambling with Haden on the sidelines.
"You never want to be without your starting corner, obviously," Cleveland
defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. "Clearly it has some effect, but
again, we like our guys."
Under John Harbaugh, the Ravens have won 20 of their last 21 regular season
home games and are 29-5 in games played in Baltimore, ranking as the NFL's
best home team over that period.
In the Ravens' current eight-game run against Cleveland (all under Harbaugh),
Baltimore has outscored the Browns by a gaudy 203-91 margin, and the Ravens
have averaged 351.3 yards of offense while holding Cleveland to 232.8 ypg.
Translation? This will not be pretty.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Baltimore 27, Cleveland 10
09/27 10:22:42 ET
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