Browns have every reason to expect Ravens to be at their best

Posted by Vic Carucci on December 21, 2011 – 7:32 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

The nightmare is still fresh. After all, it was less than three weeks ago that the Ravens pounded the Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

The 24-10 loss seemed to make a loud statement about the apparent gap between the Browns and one of the best teams in their division, as well as the league. The Ravens dominated in every way imaginable, and the Browns simply were unable to compete.

But that same Ravens team didn’t look nearly as dominant last Sunday night when they were on the receiving end of a 34-14 beat-down from the Chargers.

Which team will the Browns see on Saturday? Here’s a hint: the Ravens are 7-0 at home this season. Here’s another hint: they are a dramatically different team at home than they are on the road. They play with more aggressiveness and precision. That is, of course, unless that road game is at Cleveland.

The most lasting memory from the Browns’ earlier encounter with the Ravens was Ray Rice trampling Cleveland’s defense for a career-best 204 rushing yards, 67 coming on a third-quarter run.

Rice only had 57 total yards against the Chargers, but that resulted from the fact the Ravens fell into such a deep hole and were forced to abandon the run. Rice still ran with his usual explosiveness and authority. He also is one of the game’s more dangerous pass-catching backs, as he demonstrated with his nine receptions for 55 yards at San Diego.

The Ravens haven’t exactly gotten the best play from their quarterback, Joe Flacco. He threw a pair of interceptions and mostly seemed out of sorts against the Chargers. He did throw for two touchdowns, but he did not have good timing with his receivers. Flacco’s performance was consistent with the shakiness he has shown through much of the second half of the season. He threw for only 158 yards against the Browns.

Flacco also hasn’t always been getting tremendous help from his receivers. Too often against the Chargers, he was forced to wait for his pass-catchers to get open.

The Browns’ strong pass defense could present some problems to the Ravens, but only if their run defense avoids being embarrassed as they were in Week 13.

In addition, the Ravens have had their struggles keeping Flacco upright. The Chargers sacked Flacco five times. Offensive tackle Michael Oher struggled mightily against former Ravens outside linebacker Antwan Barnes, who had four sacks. Somewhere, Jabaal Sheard is drooling at the opportunity to get another crack at Flacco, whom he sacked in the previous game.

The Ravens were without their emotional leader, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, at Cleveland. But he returned from his foot injury last Sunday, and had 10 tackles. He still seemed to be trying to work his way back into his old form, and like the rest of a Baltimore defense that didn’t perform well against the run and failed to put much pressure on Philip Rivers, he was often a step slow and generally out of sync.

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