NFL Preview - Cleveland (0-1) at Baltimore (0-1)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Baltimore Ravens probably can't get Brandon Weeden and the Cleveland Browns to M&T Bank Stadium fast enough.
The Ravens aim to rebound from a lopsided Week 1 loss on Sunday and avoid their first 0-2 start under John Harbaugh as they take on the Browns, who have not won in this series in six years.
Baltimore began defense of its Super Bowl championship on the road on Sept. 5 against Denver with several changes to the roster. The Ravens apparently need more time to build some chemistry, especially on defense, as they were routed 49-27 behind seven touchdown passes by Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
Five of Manning's touchdown tosses came in the second half as Denver turned a three-point halftime deficit into a comfortable 25-point cushion by scoring 28 straight points to start the second half.
The Ravens had a different look heading into the game, with future Hall-of- Fame linebacker Ray Lewis retired and safety Ed Reed and wide receiver Anquan Boldin on different teams among other changes. Baltimore's new-look defense was tagged for 479 yards by Denver's offense and allowed a franchise record for points in a game.
"Just one of those nights," said Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw for 362 yards with a pair of touchdowns while also getting picked off twice. "It was a pretty good game for a while and it got away from us."
The Ravens did catch an early break as the other three teams in the AFC North lost in Week 1 and next try to avoid starting 0-2 for the first time since 2005 under Brian Billick.
"The great thing about it is -- and we all know this -- it's week to week in this league, and it's going to be that way. What we need to do is take care of our business. If we take care of our business, we're going to be in the hunt and make it interesting, and if we don't, we're not," said Harbaugh.
The Ravens have had no problems taking care of business against the Browns. They have won 10 in a row in this series since a 33-30 overtime setback at home on Nov. 18, 2007.
Rob Chudzinski will get a chance to snap Cleveland's losing streak in this series and pick up his first NFL head coaching win. His debut was far from a success as Brandon Weeden was picked off three times in a 23-10 home loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Weeden was also sacked six times and the offense failed to take advantage despite the defense limiting Miami to 275 yards, leading to what Chudzinski called a tough start to the season.
"It is one game, and that's our focus and that's what I talked to the guys about afterwards. We will learn from this and we will move on. There is a lot of football left to be played this season and we will approach it one game at a time like we have. We have got a big game coming up in the division against Baltimore next week," said the rookie coach.
Cleveland fell to 1-14 in its last 15 openers and will try avoid opening the season with two straight losses for the fifth time in the last six seasons. The Brown began the 2012 campaign 0-5 and lost seven of eight on the road.
Sunday's game will mark the first back in Baltimore for linebacker Paul Kruger, one of Cleveland's big free agent signings this past offseason. Kruger totaled 15 1/2 sacks in four years with the Ravens, leading them with nine a season ago. He was nabbed by Baltimore in the second round of the 2009 draft.
"I was (in Baltimore) for four years and have so many friends and people over there that I still talk to, but I've made this place a new home and I'm really loving it here. I'm really excited about what we have going on," said Kruger.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Baltimore will certainly look for a better effort on defense, which includes a host of first-year Ravens in linebackers Daryl Smith and Elvis Dumervil, defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears as well as safety Michael Huff.
Certainly the communication needs to improve as Manning threw for 462 yards while five of his seven TD throws were longer than 20 yards. That included a 78-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas with 4:30 to play.
"It takes time. Anything in football takes time, especially when you're trying to get 11 people to be on the same page at once," said cornerback Corey Graham. "When you lose guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, obviously it's big, but I feel like we definitely have the guys to get it done. We've just got to get on the same page, find a way to go out there and win games."
Dumervil could have his breakout game for the Ravens as he owns nine career sacks in four previous meetings with the Browns, including a career-high four in one game.
A better balance on offense would also help. Flacco was forced to throw the ball 62 times and was sacked four times. Star running back Ray Rice ran the ball just 12 times for 36 yards and a score while also leading the club with eight receptions for 35 yards.
"We know we have to run the ball. We have to run the ball well. ... I don't anticipate many games where we'll throw the ball over 60 times, but we had 87 plays. Percentage-wise, we'll probably run the ball more most of the time than we did in this game," noted Harbaugh.
Baltimore's depth at receiver and in the return game took a big hit when Jacoby Jones suffered a knee injury in the second quarter that is expected to sideline him for as long as six weeks. Harbaugh would only say that Jones is week-to-week and Baltimore did re-sign wide receiver Tandon Doss on Monday.
Doss was released by the Ravens on Aug. 31 and played in 14 games last year with the club. He can also return punts.
"When you can bring someone back like Tandon, who knows the offense and is ready to plug right in and play for us, (it helps)," noted Harbaugh. "There's no teaching we have to do; he knows what to do. It's a big plus for us, and we're very fortunate that he was available for us."
Tackle Michael Oher suffered an ankle injury versus the Broncos, but it is not believed to be serious and he could play this weekend. The club is also close to getting defensive tackle Arthur Jones back from an unknown illness that has sidelined him since the preseason.
That would boost a Ravens defense that will try to mimic what the Dolphins did this past weekend against the Browns. Miami was all over Weeden, with Cameron Wake having his way with Cleveland right tackle Mitchell Schwartz in logging 2 1/2 sacks. The pressure also led to Weeden getting picked off three times, twice by former teammate Dimitri Patterson.
"There are some scheme things that we can do, and we will do. It's a matter of execution, whether it's chips and things we had planned and we just didn't execute it well enough. We'll get those things straightened out," Chudzinski said of his offensive line.
Also forced to throw a lot while playing from behind, Weeden completed 26- of-53 pass attempts for 289 yards. He showed excellent chemistry with tight end Jordan Cameron, who set career highs with nine receptions and 108 yards in addition to his second career TD catch.
Cameron became the first Browns tight end to have a 100-yard receiving game since Benjamin Watson on Dec. 5, 2010 and joined Watson, Ozzie Newsome and Kellen Winslow as the only tight ends in club history to have nine or more catches in a game.
No Browns receiver has had back-to-back 100-yard receiving games since Braylon Edwards during the 2006 campaign.
Wideouts Davone Bess and Greg Little combined for nine catches for a unit that was minus Josh Gordon, who served the first of his two-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy.
"We missed (Gordon) a lot out there," said running back Trent Richardson, who was limited to 13 carries. "There were a lot of opportunities for guys out there to step up and make plays. Josh Gordon is a big part of our offense; at the same time, you can't come out here and lose."
Despite the loss, the Browns defense came away with some positives it will try to carry over to this game. Though defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (calf) and 2013 first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo (bruised lung) did not play, Cleveland allowed the second-fewest rushing yards in club history by limiting Miami to 20 yards on the ground on 23 carries.
Mingo was cleared for practice on Wednesday though it is unknown how much, if at all, he will play.
Cleveland's free agent haul also came through with a combined four sacks, one each by Kruger and linebacker Quentin Groves, while defensive lineman Desmond Bryant matched a career high with two sacks.
"We just had a great defense against the run game. If we would have picked up more assignments in the passing game, we could have pulled out a win. We have to get back in the film room, see what we did and come back out ready to play next week," said Bryant, who has a sack in five straight games dating back to last season with the Oakland Raiders.
The scheduling gods favor the Ravens this weekend as they get a chance at a much-needed rebound effort against a Browns club they have dominated as of late.
Baltimore is outscoring Cleveland 251-122 over the win streak and Flacco is 10-0 in his career versus the Browns with 12 touchdown passes to five interceptions.
The Ravens defense struggled against Manning, but Weeden is no Manning. Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, who has 13 career sacks versus the Browns, will spend all day in the Cleveland backfield and leave Chudzinski still searching for his first win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 34, Browns 13
09/12 11:35:40 ET