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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 20 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will attempt to go 2-1 against the AFC North to begin the 2014 season, but the Cleveland Browns stand in their way while feeling good about themselves following last week’s surprising win over the New Orleans Saints.

While Baltimore has benefited from extra rest after a Thursday night win over rival Pittsburgh in Week 2, Cleveland has used a strong running game led by Towson product Terrance West while committing no turnovers through the first two weeks of the season. The Browns’ summer quarterback controversy between veteran Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny Manziel has also subsided with the former off to an efficient start in his return from a season-ending knee injury last season.

Sunday marks the 31st all-time meeting between these AFC North rivals with the Ravens enjoying a 22-8 advantage and a 10-5 edge at FirstEnergy Stadium. Baltimore is 11-1 against the Browns since 2008 with last year’s 24-18 loss in Cleveland the first defeat over that stretch.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to win their sixth game in seven tries in Cleveland in the John Harbaugh era …

1. Torrey Smith finally gets his 2014 season going, making six catches for 95 yards and a long touchdown reception. Aside from a long touchdown to Steve Smith on a broken play in the season opener, quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t taken many deep shots, but that could change on Sunday with the Browns looking to clean up their run defense and fully aware of Gary Kubiak’s use of Steve Smith and the tight ends in the short-to-intermediate passing game. Torrey Smith has been held to just four catches for 60 yards in his first two games, but that will change on Sunday as he catches a 40-plus-yard touchdown to beat Cleveland cornerback Buster Skrine in the first half.

2. The Browns running game picks up 130 yards on the ground to win the time of possession battle. The Ravens defense was very physical against Pittsburgh, but it’s difficult to determine how much of that was about playing their biggest rival in a prime-time game and handling an inferior offensive line. Cleveland has averaged an impressive 5.1 yards per carry and won’t match that impressive clip, but West and fellow rookie Isaiah Crowell will grind out tough yards to keep the Baltimore defense on the field too long. A key matchup will be Pro Bowl center Alex Mack going up against second-year nose tackle Brandon Williams, and the Browns will have the edge there to find some running room inside.

3. Terrell Suggs collects his first sack of the year in a difficult battle against Browns tackle Joe Thomas. The six-time Pro Bowl linebacker has more career sacks (15) against Cleveland than any opponent, but only seven have come since 2007 when the Browns drafted the seven-time Pro Bowl selection Thomas. Even though the Ravens insist Suggs has played very well and Pro Football Focus has graded Suggs as the team’s best defensive player through two weeks, the 12-year pass rusher has collected only one sack in his last 10 games dating back to last season and hasn’t been making high-impact plays since the first half of 2013. Suggs and fellow rusher Elvis Dumervil need to put heat on Hoyer, and Suggs will break through for his first sack since Week 16 of last year.

4. Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins beats a rusty Lardarius Webb for a touchdown catch from the slot. With Webb listed as probable on the final injury report, it appears the Ravens will have their full secondary at their disposal for the first time since the beginning of training camp. However, it remains to be seen how much rust the sixth-year corner will need to shake off even after practicing fully for the last three weeks. Meanwhile, the Browns are without suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon, but the shifty Hawkins has been very effective out of the slot where he has lined up more than half of the time, leading the team with 14 catches for 157 yards. He’ll catch his first touchdown on a quick out route as Webb misses the tackle on the play.

5. A fourth-quarter touchdown run by West is the difference as the Ravens’ road struggles from last season carry over to Sunday in a 20-17 loss to Cleveland. It’s easy to be encouraged by what Baltimore did playing at home last Thursday night, but the Ravens have almost always played well at home even in some of their worst seasons. A 2-6 road record in 2013 is difficult to forget, particularly because it was the Ravens defense that struggled in allowing 26.4 points per game on the road compared to 17.6 points surrendered per home contest. A typical, ugly game between the Browns and Ravens will play out once again, but the Cleveland defense bounces back from its poor start to the season while the Baltimore defense is worn down by the running game in the final quarter.

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Trip to Cleveland looks to be needed medicine for road-weary Ravens

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Trip to Cleveland looks to be needed medicine for road-weary Ravens

Posted on 31 October 2012 by Luke Jones

The questions and doubts continue to linger, especially over a bye week following the Ravens’ worst loss of the John Harbaugh era.

A 1-2 road record and a measly 28 points scored in their last 10 quarters away from M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens must be tired of the interrogation. A Baltimore defense that once owned the title of one of the NFL’s elite as if it were their birthright has experienced the lingering taste of 43 points surrendered in its most recent game, dropping the unit all the way to 28th in yards allowed and 17th in scoring defense.

It’s only human nature to be sick of the queries, theories, and criticism — even if coaches and players won’t admit it — but they also know there’s only one way to change the tune of media and fans alike who doubt the Ravens’ ability to succeed away from their home stadium.

“What’s to be sick about? It’s a factor,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve got to play better on the road. We know that. We’re going to hear about it until we do better. It doesn’t really matter if we’re sick of it or not, we just have to do better.”

While there’s no such thing as a layup road game in the NFL, a trip to Cleveland Browns Stadium is as close as it gets to an elixir to cure the Ravens’ road woes as they currently own a four-game winning streak in Cleveland and have a 10-4 record there since 1999. Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco have never lost in Cleveland, and the Ravens will try to win their 10th straight overall against the Browns after prevailing in a tighter-than-expected 23-16 tilt in Week 4 in Baltimore.

However, the Ravens also know the 2-6 Browns are hungry to end those ugly streaks against Baltimore and point out that three of the last five contests have been decided by seven points or less. The Ravens look to return to their roots in a traditional AFC North matchup filled with physicality and brute.

“Cleveland, they always fight us,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “They always play us tough no matter what portion of the season we play them, no matter where we play them or no matter each of the team’s records [and] situations. It’s always a fight between Baltimore and Cleveland. I think both sides like that.”

The difference now might be Cleveland’s perspective as the Browns come off their second win of the season in an ugly 7-6 final over the San Diego Chargers. Struggling at 2-6 with a rookie quarterback in Brandon Weeden and still lacking play-makers on both sides of the ball, Cleveland also sees a Baltimore defense susceptible to the run — and ranked 30th in the league — and rookie running back Trent Richardson coming off a career-best 122 rushing yards against San Diego.

And the Browns also see a Ravens offense unable to produce on the road and lacking confidence after being demolished in Houston two weeks ago.

A young Cleveland team might still be overmatched on paper, but ignorance might be bliss against the Ravens, who look more vulnerable than they have in a long time. Nine straight losses to the Ravens don’t mean much to Browns players who haven’t been around for much of that stretch and for second-year head coach Pat Shurmur.

“Those types of things really aren’t brought up in the locker room,” Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said, “especially just because the current staff that we’re with right now has only been here [one] year. You talk about most of the guys on this team, this is their first year in the NFL, so it doesn’t really pertain to a lot of the guys on this team.”

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