The Cleveland Browns are one of 10 teams who have started the season at 0-2.
But the Ravens (1-0), who play the Browns on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, aren't overlooking their downtrodden AFC North rival.
"They faced one team that's picked to come out of the NFC with a great defense (the Dallas Cowboys), and they faced another team that (was) the defending AFC North champion (the Pittsburgh Steelers)," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "I think they ran up against some good teams and came up with the short end of the stick. Just because they're 0-2, they're not to be taken lightly."
This is an important early-season game that could shape the power players in the division.
If the Ravens win, they would keep pace with the Steelers and take another step at becoming the surprise team in the AFC North. They would also drop the Browns to 0-3 and deliver another hit to one of the preseason favorites to win the division.
"It's a storied rivalry," tight end Todd Heap said. "Obviously, they've got an attitude about them with how the first couple of weeks have gone. We've got to be prepared for that."
If the Ravens want any more motivation, all they have to point toward is their last meeting with Cleveland.
It was 10 months ago when the Ravens lost a 33-30 overtime game to the Browns, a loss that continues to haunt the Ravens because of the dramatic conclusion.
With the Ravens clinging to a three-point lead with three seconds left in regulation, Browns kicker Phil Dawson launched a 51-yard field-goal attempt that hit the left upright, fell over the crossbar, clanged off the support post, and bounced back over the crossbar onto the field.
An official initially ruled the attempt no good. But as several Ravens players made their way to the locker room, the officiating crew – after a conference on the field and a query into whether the kick was reviewable – reversed the call, sending the game into overtime.
The outcome put an exclamation point on a deflating 5-11 season, which didn't escape the notice of a few Ravens players as they prepared for Sunday's meeting with the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium.
"Yeah, I talked about it in the offseason. You can do that when you don't have any playoffs," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "I was like, 'What about in basketball when a shot goes in and then it rolls out? It's no good, right?' That's just what I thought happened."
The controversial play had repercussions as NFL owners agreed in April to make field-goal and extra-point attempts reviewable by instant replay. The rule has been called the "Dawson Rule" by some league officials. Those closer to Baltimore call it the "Ravens Rule."
"You don't even call that bad luck or something (as random) as a coin toss," center Jason Brown said. "It's just as if the football gods are against you. We just hope and pray that they're with us this year and that things will go in our favor."
SERIES HISTORY: 19th meeting. Ravens lead series, 11-7. The Ravens were swept by the Cleveland Browns for the first time since 2001. In their last meeting, the Browns edged the Ravens, 33-30, in overtime at M&T Bank Stadium. The game was sent into overtime on a referee's reversal of a Browns' missed field-goal attempt at the end of regulation. Phil Dawson's 33-yard field goal won the game in overtime.
NOTES & QUOTES
*Running back Willis McGahee (arthroscopic left knee surgery) fully participated in practice Wednesday, but coach John Harbaugh wouldn't rule out a tailback-by-committee approach, which could involve rookie Ray Rice and Le'Ron McClain.
"We're going to use all of our good players and put them in positions where they do what they do well," Harbaugh said. "So we're going to put our running backs out there and let them play.
*Harbaugh said his team is ready to tackle one of the NFL's toughest roads ahead. Because of the rescheduling due to Hurricane Ike, the Ravens had their bye taken away in Week 10 and will have to play five road games in a span of 35 days.
"To be honest, we're looking forward to it," Harbaugh said. "It's going to be an opportunity and it's going to be a challenge. That'll be something we take on with relish and attack it with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind."
With no bye in the middle of the schedule, Harbaugh acknowledged that the team would scale back some practices and decrease work for some players in order to give them additional rest.
But Harbaugh doesn't want his players to focus on the big picture.
"We know we are going to play 4:15 Sunday against the Browns in Baltimore," Harbaugh said, "unless anybody has got any news of a hurricane rolling in to the Northeast."
"I don't know," Harbaugh said. "He's in the mix."
*When Harbaugh won his first game as an NFL coach, he received a call from Atlanta's Mike Smith, a fellow rookie coach. So, Harbaugh decided to do the same and called Washington's Jim Zorn after the Redskins won Sunday. "That was an honor to be able to call him and do that," Harbaugh said.
*Dating back to 2003, the Ravens own a 12-4 record against the AFC North. That's the third-best mark in the NFL.
*The Ravens are looking to start 2-0 for the third time in franchise history – both of which were playoff seasons (2000 and 2006).
*The Ravens are 19-6 in their last 25 home games.
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 – Consecutive games in which the Ravens have made an interception against the Browns.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The proof is going to be in the pudding. People can predict us at six wins, and last year they had us going 13 or 14 wins. So, hopefully, we can flip it. This is a prideful group of guys. I'm not going to lie to you and say it doesn't bother us. Sure, it does. We (write) them down and know who makes what predictions. We will hold you accountable." – Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, on his response to season predictions.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Ravens secondary will be strengthened by the return of cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Derrick Martin, both of whom were suspended one game by the NFL for violation of the personal conduct policy.
Washington is expected to take over for Corey Ivy as the team's nickel back. Martin could play in some dime packages as well as play on special teams.
* RB Willis McGahee has averaged 103.7 yards in three meetings against the Browns, scoring three touchdowns. His average yards per carry is five.
* TE Todd Heap has 45 receptions for 476 yards in 11 games against the Browns. He has scored three touchdowns, which is tied for the most he has ever scored against a team.
* WR Derrick Mason has 55 catches for 855 yards and three touchdowns in 12 meetings with the Browns. He only has two 100-yard games in those 12 meetings.
* CB Chris McAlister has made five interceptions in 17 career games against Cleveland, the most he's totaled against one team.
* S Ed Reed has six interceptions and two touchdowns in 10 games against the Browns. His 106-yard interception return against them in 2004 set the league record for longest interception return.
GAME PLAN: The Ravens know the Browns have been vulnerable against the pass, but they will attack them on the ground. The key is to take the pressure off rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. They want to control the clock and set up short third-down conversions. The Ravens respect nose tackle Shaun Rogers and will likely attack the edges.
Defensively, the Ravens won't take too many chances because they believe they can control Jamal Lewis with just their front seven. In the past, the Browns have been able to get the ball deep against the Ravens. That's why the Ravens could play more Cover 2 and try to keep Braylon Edwards in front of them.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Ravens CB Chris McAlister vs. Browns WR Braylon Edwards. Despite a knee injury, McAlister is playing like an elite corner again. He limited Cincinnati's Chad Johnson to one catch for 22 yards. He should keep Braylon Edwards in check even though Edwards had success against him last season. In the first meeting, Edwards beat McAlister for a 78-yard touchdown. In the second game, Edwards had 85 yards on eight catches. But Edwards has struggled this season, making as many catches (five) as drops.
Ravens TE Todd Heap vs. Browns linebackers/safeties. Heap is coming off his worst game as a Raven, fumbling his first catch and dropping a touchdown pass in the end zone. This is not good news for Heap, who has struggled the past few years against the Browns. Don't expect him to break out of a slump against Cleveland because he has not scored a touchdown in four games. In the past four meetings, Heap has averaged 38 yards receiving.
*RB Willis McGahee is expected to play his first game of the season but he might not play a major role in Sunday's game. The Ravens won't even say that McGahee will reclaim his starting job. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said Ray Rice and Le'Ron McClain "are the two backs that we're going with, and Willis' role will increase."
*RB Ray Rice should still receive a good amount of carries because the Ravens will go to a running back-by-committee approach. Rice should split time with Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said Rice and McClain "are the two backs that we're going with, and Willis' role will increase."
*RB Le'Ron McClain will still be in the mix as a runner even though Willis McGahee is returning for his first game. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said Ray Rice and McClain "are the two backs that we're going with, and Willis' role will increase."
*WR Demetrius Williams had his first full practice of the week Thursday and should be the team's No. 3 receiver on Sunday. Williams tweaked his hamstring last week.
*CB Corey Ivy was added to the injury report Thursday and did not practice with an ankle injury. He would be replaced by Fabian Washington as the team's nickel back.
There have been two constants with the Browns since training camp began – losing games and losing players to injury.
They are 0-2 in the regular season heading into their game against the Ravens Sunday in M&T Bank Stadium. Including the preseason, they are 0-6.
The latest addition to an injury list that began to fill on the first day of OTAs is right defensive end Robaire Smith. Smith suffered a ruptured left Achilles tendon against the Steelers and is out for the season. He was put on injured reserve Tuesday.
"Robaire was very disappointed because he really likes to play the game and wanted to try to help us," coach Romeo Crennel said. "It's just one of those things where there's not much you can do about it."
The Browns filled Smith's spot by signing defensive end Santonio Thomas, who spent most of the last three seasons on the Patriots' practice squad.
Smith is the second starter lost to the Browns in as many weeks. Starting strong safety Sean Jones underwent arthroscopic surgery last Thursday after aggravating a knee injury Sept. 7 in the opener against Dallas. He won't be back until Oct. 13 in a Monday night game vs. the Giants at the earliest.
On Sept. 3, the first major practice for the Dallas game, left outside linebacker Antwan Peek tore his right patellar tendon. He is on injured reserve and won't play again until 2009, if at all.
The Peek injury is double jeopardy for the Browns. Peek was supposed to be the pass rusher from the left side, so that leaves a void. And because he can't play, 36-year-old Willie McGinest has to be on the field for more snaps than is ideal. That makes him less effective by the fourth quarter and could take a toll in the second half of the season. He missed practice Wednesday with a hamstring injury.
Shaun Smith took over for Robaire Smith at right end against Pittsburgh and will start there against the Ravens. He has a broken finger on his left hand.
Shaun Rogers will remain the starter at nose tackle and Corey Williams will start at left end.
Robaire Smith made three tackles against the Steelers. Williams left the game temporarily with a shoulder injury but returned. He made eight tackles. Shaun Rogers made five tackles and sacked Ben Roethlisberger.
"It's bad we lose one of our veterans in the chemistry we had with the defensive line," Shaun Smith said. "Hopefully Leonard Louis or (rookie Ahtyba) Rubin will step up."
The injury woes for the Browns began on May 14 during OTAs when cornerback Daven Holly blew out his knee when he got tangled with Braylon Edwards going up for a pass. The next day offensive lineman Ryan Tucker suffered a fractured hip. Holly is on injured reserve. Tucker is practicing but he was on the inactive list for the first two games.
Another player the Browns were counting on, wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, is on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list because he is still recovering from his fourth knee operation since the end of 2007.
Donte Stallworth, signed in free agency to replace Jurevicius as a starter, missed the first two games with a strained quadriceps.
SERIES HISTORY: 19th meeting. The Ravens lead the series, 11-7. The Browns swept the Ravens last year, the first time they did so since 2001. The Ravens have swept the Browns four times.
NOTES & QUOTES
*The game in Baltimore last season was the impetus for a rule change. A field-goal attempt by Phil Dawson on the final play of regulation hit the goalpost support and bounced back over the crossbar. At first officials ruled the kick no good, but after consulting changed their call. The kick tied the score 30-30. The Browns won 33-30 in overtime. Now a kick such as the one that ended regulation can be reviewed.
* The 2004 season started with promise when the Browns beat the Ravens, 20-3. They held Jamal Lewis in check, in part because Baltimore left tackle Jonathan Ogden missed the game with an injury. Lewis gained just 59 yards on 20 carries. For Browns coach Butch Davis, it was one of just three games he would win in 2004 before resigning with five games left.
* Lewis set a single-game rushing record (since broken by Adrian Peterson) of 295 yards against the Browns on Sept. 14, 2003, in a 33-13 Ravens victory. Lewis carried 30 times and had touchdown runs of 82 and 63 yards. He rushed for 205 yards against the Browns in the second meeting that season, a game the Ravens won 35-0.
* Chris Palmer's demise as head coach began in Baltimore with a 44-7 loss to the Ravens in 2000. The Ravens used 51 running plays, gaining 247 yards, but the Browns still believed Baltimore coach Brian Billick was running up the score because he waved a white towel over his head, encouraging the fans to cheer louder when the Ravens were driving in the fourth quarter. The Browns scored first on a four-yard run by Travis Prentice.
* In the season after the Ravens won the Super Bowl, the Browns swept the Ravens, winning 24-14 in Cleveland and 27-17 in Baltimore. Tim Couch threw three interceptions in a span of nine passes in the game in Baltimore. The Browns intercepted four passes thrown by Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac. Devin Bush returned one of them 43 yards for a touchdown. Ravens fans kept yelling for Randall Cunningham, but Brian Billick stuck with Grbac.
* In 2002 in Cleveland, the Ravens knocked Tim Couch out of the game with a concussion and beat the Browns, 26-21. Fans booed Couch while he lay on the ground after recovering a bad shotgun snap on the Cleveland 2. Afterward in the locker room, Couch tearfully complained about the fans booing him in that condition. Despite poor play, the Browns had a chance to win after Phil Dawson recovered his own onside kick, but a pass for Kevin Johnson thrown by Kelly Holcomb was intercepted.
* Couch got the last laugh in 2002 when the series reverted to Baltimore for a game on Dec. 22. The fans in Baltimore held up "crybaby" signs referring to how the Browns fans treated him in Cleveland. The Browns shocked the Ravens, 14-13, on a one-yard touchdown pass from Couch to Mark Campbell with 29 seconds remaining. As he left the field, Couch blew kisses to the crowd.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 – Winning seasons the Browns have had in their 62-year history after an 0-2 start, their current record. They have been 0-2 nine times.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We need to focus on how can we win one game. If we can figure out how to win one, then we can talk about the next one." – Head coach Romeo Crennel, on the two-game losing streak.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Leon Williams is starting to take away playing time from starting middle linebacker Andra Davis. The Browns were better against the run vs. Pittsburgh than they were against the Cowboys in the opener. Williams was in on five tackles in the Pittsburgh game.
The Browns want to make sure the run defense is at its best in Baltimore because they expect the Ravens to pound the ball, particularly with Willis McGahee back in the lineup. The Ravens ran the ball 46 times in their opening 17-10 victory over Cincinnati. Their game against Houston last week was postponed.
*The heavy workload might already be getting to 36-year-old LB Willie McGinest. He missed practice with a hamstring injury.
*S Sean Jones was at his locker Wednesday, six days after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. He said his goal is to be back on Oct. 13 for the game against the Giants.
*WR Donte Stallworth missed practice again because of a strained quadriceps. The injury kept him out of the first two games.
*S Mike Adams missed practice Wednesday for personal reasons. The Browns are hopeful he will return Thursday.
GAME PLAN: If the Browns are going to get the pass offense in gear, now is the time. They have scored 16 points, tied with the Rams for the fewest in the NFL. Another low-scoring game will allow the Ravens to run the ball so rookie quarterback Joe Flacco doesn't have to win the game for them. The Browns want Baltimore to play catch-up and be forced to throw.
Braylon Edwards has to snap out of his slump for the Browns' pass offense to get going. He has dropped five passes in two games. Defenses gang up on him with Donte Stallworth bothered by a quadriceps strain.
To help Edwards out of his slump, the Browns have been throwing him a football with colors and numbers on it to help his concentration.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns LG Eric Steinbach, who is nursing a shoulder strain, vs. Ravens DRE Haloti Ngata, who weighs 345 pounds. The matchup with Ngata is always closely watched because the Browns passed on Ngata in the 2006 draft to take linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. Ngata is huge and difficult to move out of the way. Blocking him is a key to springing Jamal Lewis.
Browns CB Eric Wright, who has one interception, vs. Ravens rookie QB Joe Flacco. The Browns could use some takeaways to shorten the field for their struggling offense. Wright or right cornerback Brandon McDonald could make an interception because both expect to be tested.
*LG Eric Steinbach sat out practice Thursday with a strained shoulder. Whether he plays against Baltimore could be a game-time decision.
*LB Willie McGinest was rested again Thursday with a hamstring injury. Shantee Orr would start if McGinest cannot play.
*LB Kris Griffin missed practice again with a calf injury. He is an important player on punt and kick coverage.
*KR, PR and WR Josh Cribbs returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday with shoulder and hamstring injuries.
*RB Jamal Lewis was back at practice after missing Wednesday with an ankle injury. He seemed to be limping slightly.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put the issue of his sore right shoulder to rest this week by fully participating in practice again Thursday and declaring himself fit and ready to go against Philadelphia on Sunday.
"I feel better," Roethlisberger said Wednesday. "Obviously it's sore. Who in here isn't sore who plays this game? It's definitely better and we're making progress."
The issue came to a head Sunday when NBC-TV reported that Roethlisberger had a separated right shoulder. The network said the quarterback gave them the information. Coach Mike Tomlin denied it, saying it was merely "sore" but then admitting it was an AC sprain.
No matter. Thanks in large part to Roethlisberger's performance, the Steelers take a 2-0 record into Philadelphia. At 136.3, he has the highest passer rating in the NFL and he has not thrown an interception in his past five regular-season games.
Now all they have to do is protect him. Roethlisberger has been sacked five times and thrown 33 passes. That's a higher percentage of sacks then when he was dropped 47 times and threw 404 passes in 2007.
It's not just the sacks, either. Houston defensive tackle Amobi Okoye hit him low and caused a slightly hyperextended knee in the opener. It did not come on a sack and no flag was tossed even though hitting quarterbacks low supposedly is a no-no.
Last Sunday, 350-pound Cleveland nose tackle Shaun Rogers slammed into Roethlisberger after he threw a pass. His teammates felt the hit came late, although again there was no penalty. They said Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley's hit on Derek Anderson wasn't as late and he was penalized for it.
"I think Woodley got called on something like that I thought was kind of suspect," Roethlisberger said. "But it's a judgment call, they call it and they don't."
His worst hit, though, was a blindside sack by Houston defensive end Mario Williams, who yanked the ball out of his hands as Roethlisberger's right shoulder hit the turf on a clean play. It was that hit that caused his injury.
"They kept showing that on TV," guard Kendall Simmons said. "It looked awful to me. It looked pretty awful the way he fell. I think anybody would have gotten hurt from that."
Steelers offensive linemen have vowed to do everything in their power to protect Roethlisberger, even going after anyone who hits him late.
"We'll do what we have to do," Simmons said. "If we have to go after the whistle, if they're doing it, then that's part of it because we need him in there."
Roethlisberger has not gone a full season without missing at least one game. He missed four in 2005, just one in each of the past two seasons.
Veteran backup Charlie Batch was placed on injured reserve before the start of the season after his clavicle was broken in a preseason game on a botched play that caused him to run off tackle. Byron Leftwich was signed as Roethlisberger's new backup.
SERIES HISTORY: 76th meeting. Eagles lead the series 46-26-3, including a 25-8-2 record in Philadelphia, where the Steelers have not won since 1965. They've lost their past seven games in Philly. The Steelers, however, knocked the Eagles from the unbeaten ranks when they last met in Nov. 2004 in Heinz Field, a 27-3 Pittsburgh victory.
NOTES & QUOTES
*The Steelers are 13-2 against NFC teams in their past 15 games against the other conference, including their Super Bowl 40 victory. *Safety Troy Polamalu was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week. He had a diving interception at the three to end a scoring threat, four tackles, one for a loss, and two passes defensed in the team's 10-6 victory over Cleveland. Willie Parker was AFC Offensive Player of the Week after the opener.
*The Steelers' ownership issues could come to a head by the end of the week when the four Rooney brothers who own a combined 64 percent of the ballclub are expected to vote on whether to sell their shares to brother Dan Rooney or to outside bidder Stanley Druckenmiller.
*The Steelers have allowed only 23 points in two games, 17 of them in the fourth quarter and all but three in the second half.
*The Steelers have not won in Philadelphia since 1965, losing seven straight on the other side of the state. That means neither Hall of Famer Chuck Noll nor Bill Cowher coached a winning game in Philadelphia.
*The Steelers are tied with the most takeaways in the NFL with four interceptions and one fumble recovery.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't cry about calls because you can't change them; ask Norv Turner." – Coach Mike Tomlin, on an apparent late hit by Cleveland's Shaun Rogers on Ben Roethlisberger Sunday that was not penalized.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
*DE Aaron Smith has returned strong from his December biceps injury. He has two sacks and a team-high eight quarterback pressures.
*RB Rashard Mendenhall had no carries in Cleveland but could get some in Philadelphia. Coach Mike Tomlin said he planned to use his rookie against the Browns but stuck with Willie Parker because "Willie had that look in his eye."
*PR Mewelde Moore has not been effective with two returns for minus-two yards and two fair catches in two games.
GAME PLAN: Steelers have run the ball in their first two games extremely well and will try to do it again in Philadelphia. QB Ben Roethlisberger is beat up and the Eagles love to blitz. On defense, the Steelers will have a more contained blitz than normal because of QB Donovan McNabb and RB Brian Westbrook. They're likely to play plenty of nickel defense instead of their 3-4 and dime package.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons vs. Eagles RB Brian Westbrook. Timmons plays in the nickel, and his main focal point will be Westbrook in that defense.
*QB Ben Roethlisberger went through another practice on Thursday and his sore right shoulder seems fine. He played against Cleveland with the injury.
*CB Deshea Townsend (bruised heel) did not practice again on Thursday. He still could play, however. He missed last Sunday's game and coach Mike Tomlin thought he would be ready this week.
*LB Lawrence Timmons still has not cracked the starting lineup in his second season since the Steelers drafted him first in 2007. But he could start Sunday, and at the least will play a lot because he plays in the nickel and that defense will be used often against the Eagles.
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