The Cleveland Browns have a string of three straight games against each of their foes in the AFC North Division over the next four weeks, and it all gets underway when they host the reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium Sunday.
For the Browns, it is a chance to break a three-game losing streak overall, and an 11-game slide against the Ravens.
“It’s Baltimore Week, a division game, and we’re excited about having the reigning Super Bowl champions coming to our house,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “They’re a great team with a great coaching staff. I know our coaches, our players, our fans are going to be excited about the opportunity and ready for the challenge this week.
“We have our work cut out for us. We’re excited about this week. Guys are excited about this challenge and building off of some of the things that we were able to do well last week.”
The challenges start with containing the three-headed monster the Ravens have on offense in quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice and wide receiver Torrey Smith.
Flacco, the reigning Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, has completed 160 of 269 attempts (59.5 percent) for 1,917 yards and eight touchdowns, but has thrown eight interceptions. Despite the turnovers, Flacco has spread the ball out to 12 different players this season.
Rice leads the way with 242 yards and three touchdowns on 86 carries in split duty with Bernard Pierce, and Smith has a team-best 629 yards and one touchdown on 31 receptions.
“Torrey Smith is having a great year. You look at the number of big plays that he’s been able to have and produce this season, they’re impressive. Dallas Clark and Marlon Brown have also been contributors and done a nice job in giving Flacco some other weapons.”
Rice offers a unique challenge to the Browns.
In addition to being an impact player when rushing the ball out of the backfield, Rice is a dual threat running back. Rice is second to Smith with 24 receptions, which he has turned into 114 yards this season.
“He’s a dynamic player,” Chudzinski said. “He can hurt you in the run game. He’s a great runner, can find holes, get through, (has) got great vision, quickness. In the pass game, you have to contend with him out of the backfield or lining up in an empty formation.”
The Ravens have another “dynamic player” on the other side of the football in the form of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
Suggs has registered a team-best eight sacks through the first seven games of Baltimore’s season, and is on pace to surpass his previous career high of 14 sacks from 2011, when he was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
“He looks pretty effective to me,” Chudzinski said of Suggs. “He’s been able to really be a disrupter and generate pass rush, as their whole front has, with their pressure packages, some of the things they do on third down in creating problems for teams. They were Super Bowl champs for a reason, and a lot of those guys are still doing well producing. The defense has played better and better as the season’s gone on.
“As you look at their defense, they’re really playing excellent defense. In points per game their last six games, I think they’re leading the league. If you look at the last six games, third down, red zone and sacks are all up high or tops in the league. It starts up front with Suggs, (Elvis) Dumervil and (Courtney) Upshaw and those guys on the edge rushing. Their front seven is excellent. It’s a solid secondary.”
DELIVERING WITH ATTITUDE
Browns safety T.J. Ward ranks second on the team with 65 total tackles and his 54 solo stops lead the defense.
In addition to the tackle and sack totals he has put up through the first half of the year, Ward is tied with fellow safety
“He brings a real attitude to our defense,” Chudzinski said of Ward. “He’s tough. He plays tough. He likes the physical part of the game and plays physically. That’s what you need to do on defense.
“He’s learned the system and really stepped into a leadership role on the back end, understands what to do, gets guys lined up and doing all of the things you’d want a safety to do.”
TAKING A CHANCE
In their first eight games, the Browns have attempted 17 fourth-down conversions and made it on eight of their tries, including last week when Chudzinski and the Browns passed on a field goal attempt and converted a fourth-and-one in the second half at Kansas City. On the next play, quarterback
Chudzinski said attempting 17 fourth-down conversions through eight games is proof that he and the coaching staff want to be aggressive.
“We’re down 10 at that point and were in good position to get points,” Chudzinski said. “I felt good about what we had as a fourth-and-one call. Getting a touchdown as opposed to a field goal coming out in the third quarter, I felt good about it. I had faith in our guys executing that play and being able to get a touchdown out of it.
“We’re going to be aggressive. We talk about attacking, we talk about aggressive, and the guys relish that and I think they play to that. That’s part of our identity.”