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Game Preview: Browns-Ravens

Posted Sep 14, 2013

The Cleveland Browns face the reigning Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens in their first road game of the regular season Sunday.

Whether it is the reigning Super Bowl champions or a team struggling to find its way, when 11 men line up across the line of scrimmage from you, you have to be ready to give your best effort in pursuit of victory.

That was the message Cleveland Browns kicker Billy Cundiff delivered following the team’s final practice before Sunday’s game against his former team, the defending Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens.

“It doesn’t matter what team you play on; it’s the NFL,” Cundiff said. “You have to get out there and you’ve got to win, if this team wants to take it to another level. The city is craving a winner. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing the Patriots, playing the Ravens, playing the Bengals or the Steelers. It doesn’t matter what the opponent is. You’ve got to go out there, you’ve got to put out your best, and you’ve got to play together as a team.”

The Browns have been able to hit, sack and intercept Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in his previous five NFL seasons, but even with the pressure and the forced turnovers, Flacco has won all 10 of his starts in the series.

He has completed 166 of 268 attempts for 2,037 yards and 12 touchdowns against the Browns and is tied for the NFL record for the most victories by a starting quarterback against a single opponent without a loss.

“Every year he’s been in the league, he’s been in the playoffs,” Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. “From a rookie on to the Super Bowl, he’s seen a lot. He’s a big, strong, physical player. He’s been in this division his whole career, so he’s seen a lot. He’s taken hits. Are we going to fluster him? No. Can we rattle him? I hope so, with hits. He’s seen complex defenses. He’s seen straight Cover-Two defenses.

“He’s got a strong arm and he keeps plays alive. You’ve got to bring him down. He can run. He runs both ways. He offers a challenge like the big quarterbacks in this league do. You have to hit him and you’ve got to knock him off his rhythm.”

With all of the recent success of read-option quarterbacks that have as much of a threat to run as pass out of the backfield, Flacco, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound signal-caller, has proven drop-back quarterbacks are still impact players in the NFL.

In the Ravens’ season-opening loss at the Denver Broncos last Thursday, Flacco completed 34 of 62 attempts for 362 yards with two touchdowns against two interceptions.

“He’s shown that he can do multiple things,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “He really has the ability to scramble and make plays. He’s got a strong arm. He’s responded and played well in the big games and was great in their run down the stretch last season. He has a lot of different skills. He does a really good job with their ‘check-with-me’ and things they do at the line of scrimmage. He’s a high-value guy on their team.”

To combat the effectiveness of opposing quarterbacks, the Browns added depth and pass-rushing ability to their front seven in the offseason. Their first free-agent signing, outside linebacker Paul Kruger, played against Flacco every day in practice for the last four years.

Kruger showed his ability to get into the backfield and disrupt plays when he finished with seven total tackles and one sack in the Browns’ season-opener against the Miami Dolphins last Sunday.

“He’s been solid,” fellow linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said of Kruger. “He’s a strong guy. He can do both. He can play the run, and also, get after the passer.

“To be a great defense, you’ve got to be able to do everything. You’ve got to be able to stop the run. We have a saying, ‘You have to earn the right to rush the passer,’ and that starts with stopping the run. We all understand that. We emphasize that, and Paul’s done a great job of that so far.”