Browns must follow Chargers’ lead in dealing with Ravens’ defense

Posted by Vic Carucci on December 23, 2011 – 7:30 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

The Ravens are still defined by their defense. They’ve ridden it to a Super Bowl championship. They’re riding it into serious contention again.

The Ravens have the NFL’s third-ranked defense. They’ve generated 45 sacks, three of which came in their week 13 victory at Cleveland.

A week ago, however, the sacking came to a screeching halt. The Chargers shut out the Ravens’ pass-rushers, and that gave Philip Rivers the comfort he needed to help San Diego beat Baltimore, 34-14.

Rivers was able to operate without the slightest bit of harassment on the way to throwing for 270 yards and a touchdown, without an interception, and posting a passer rating of 127.1.

That could be an encouraging sign for the Browns when they face the Ravens on Saturday. Seneca Wallace, who will start his second straight game at quarterback as Colt McCoy continues to recover from a concussion, gave the Browns’ offense a clear lift at Arizona last Sunday. Much of his success as a passer came from his ability to keep plays alive with his feet. If he is able to get solid protection on Saturday, he could come up with multiple big pass plays as he did against the Cardinals.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs wasn’t his typical difference-making self. Former Raven offensive tackle Jared Gaither was able to keep Suggs from getting near Rivers, and limited him to only two tackles.

With Rivers able to remain upright the entire game, the Ravens’ shaky secondary was set up for failure in trying to cover ultra-dangerous receiver Malcom Floyd and Vincent Jackson. Jimmy Smith looked every bit like a rookie at one of the Ravens’ cornerback spots. Cary Williams struggled at the other. And Ed Reed, one of the greatest safeties in the game, was unable to provide a whole lot of help over the top.

The inability to generate pressure wasn’t the only flaw of Baltimore’s defense last Sunday. Despite ranking No. 2 in the NFL against the run, the Ravens hardly distinguished themselves in that category. The Chargers ran for 145 yards, with Ryan Mathews accounting for 90 and a pair of touchdowns.

The Ravens welcomed middle linebacker Ray Lewis back to the lineup after he had been sidelined with a foot injury. He made his presence felt with 10 tackles, although he often seemed unable to keep up with the explosive Mathews.

The Browns’ rushing attack came to life against Arizona, with Peyton Hillis rushing for 99 yards and a touchdown. Hillis was in top form, running with the straight-ahead, physical style that is his trademark.

Hillis only ran for 35 yards when the browns faced the Ravens in Week 13, but he did have 144 yards when the teams met in September of 2010. The Browns also might be able to take advantage of Lewis’ aging legs with outside running by Chris Ogbonnaya.

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