The Cleveland Browns (4-10) make their final road trip of the 2011 regular season on Saturday when they travel to Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium for an AFC North Division matchup with the Ravens (10-4). Baltimore is tied atop the division with Pittsburgh, but owns the tiebreaker after winning both matchups against the Steelers this season.
The Ravens got their emotional and physical leader back on defense last Sunday in the person of middle linebacker Ray Lewis, but fell 34-14 at the San Diego Chargers. Lewis, who registered 10 tackles against the Chargers after missing four consecutive games, has a history of success against the Browns.
In 22 games against Cleveland, Lewis has totaled 257 tackles, four interceptions, one touchdown and seven sacks, the most against any one team in his career. The Browns will counter Lewis and Baltimore’s defense with running back
“The Ravens defense, they’re a stout D,” Hillis said. “They’ve got a really big front with (Haloti) Ngata and (Terrence) Cody up there. They are real big guys. They’ve got a very veteran linebacker corps in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in the secondary. They have a really, really good defense. You have to be fundamentally sound; you’ve got to be on cue with what you need to do as an offensive unit and if you can do that, then, you can do pretty well against them.”
While Lewis leads Baltimore’s defense, the offense is in the hands of quarterback Joe Flacco.
Flacco has completed 286 of 499 attempts for 3,348 yards and 17 touchdowns against 11 interceptions this year. He carries an 80.0 quarterback rating into Saturday’s game and will throw against a highly-ranked Browns pass defense.
The Browns have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 231 of 405 attempts for 2,805 yards and 14 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Cleveland has registered 29 sacks for 167 lost yards this season.
Despite being 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, Flacco has been sacked 29 times for 189 lost yards this season.
“The bigger quarterbacks are a bigger target, but the good ones, like the Ben Roethlisbergers and Joe Flacco as well, they have big arms,” Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “If you can get to him, great. If not, you’ve got to cover them. You have to cover at least 60-70 yards because he can throw that ball on a rope. Once you get to him, they tend to go down a bit, but that’s the key, you’ve got to get to them.”
Limiting the explosive plays will be a key for the Browns because Flacco has a “strong arm” that “can reach the whole field” according to defensive coordinator Dick Jauron.
“You’ve got to defend everything,” Jauron said. “You’ve got to expect the ball to arrive. He’s got speed outside, so he can launch it and that speed can get to it. You’ve got to be leery of that and try not to give up the big plays.”
When Flacco is not passing the football, running back Ray Rice leads Baltimore’s offense. Rice, a fourth-year professional, has gained 1,086 yards with 10 touchdowns on 244 carries this season. In addition to averaging 4.5 yards-per-carry, Rice leads Baltimore with 71 receptions. He has turned those catches into 648 yards and two touchdowns.
In the first meeting between the Browns and Ravens this season, Rice ran for 204 yards and one touchdown on 29 carries. However, since the December 4th game at Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Browns have contained Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall and Arizona’s Chris Wells and prevented both of them from reaching the 100-yard mark.
The Browns have focused on stopping the run and also limiting the effect of the play-action pass.
“We’ve got to do both and that’s what makes it so hard,” Jauron said. “They’re not a one-dimensional team. They are a very talented team all over, including their offensive line and their tight ends. They’re just very good. They pose problems for you and that’s why they’re where they are in the division. We’ve got to find a way to limit the big play and if they’re going to move it on us, we’ve got to try to contain them as much as we can and keep them out of the end zone. It’s kind of like staying in that gap, it’s easier said than done.”