When the Ravens play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night, they will have a chance to take control of the AFC North.
The Ravens will also get a chance to stake their claim as the top defense in the NFL.
The Ravens are physical up front, hammering running backs at the line of scrimmage. Baltimore hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 21 games, the NFL's longest streak.
The Ravens also hit receivers over the middle and jump routes, all of which has led to four interceptions this season.
As a result, the Ravens are allowing 161.5 yards and 10 points a game.
Baltimore's biggest test comes on the national stage, where it will face Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Willie Parker. Last season, the Ravens surrendered 38 points at Heinz Field.
"We're trying to re-establish ourselves as a solid defense," linebacker Bart Scott said. "A lot of people are saying that we're old and that we can't be a dominating defense or be feared. We're just going to line up every week and see where we measure at the end of the year."
In 2006, the Ravens led the NFL in fewest yards and points allowed.
Last season, injuries to cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle along with defensive tackle Trevor Pryce caused the Ravens to falter on defense.
Now, with those players back in the lineup, the Ravens have begun to flex their muscle on defense once again.
"It's not a secret that we have a gifted group," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We love playing with each other. When one of us goes down, we're hurt. But when we have a full corps, we can be rough."."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It has made me a little timid at times. You've got to be smart. It's just a matter of waiting to make that play and going back to your techniques." – FS Ed Reed, on playing with a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder.
TRENDING: 64.7 – Percentage of the time that the Ravens have run the ball in their first two games (90 rushes out of 139 plays). That has allowed the Ravens to control the clock for 36 minutes in the season opener and 37 minutes last Sunday.
LINEUP WATCH: Jim Leonhard could make his first start for the Ravens because of an injury to strong safety Dawan Landry (spinal cord concussion). Landry took a left knee from Browns running back Jamal Lewis to the crown of his helmet and needed to be carted off the field in the final minute of the first half. Landry "neurologically recovered," a team spokesman said.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 – Number of AFC North road wins by the Ravens last season. Last season, the Ravens were routed 38-7 on a Monday night game at Heinz Field.
*RB Willis McGahee made his first start of the season and finished with 64 yards on 15 carries. He will continue to split time with Le'Ron McClain and probably won't get more than 20 carries in a single game.
*RB Le'Ron McClain will continue to split carries with Willis McGahee. McClain is going to get most of the work in the second half. He finished Sunday with a team-high 66 yards on 17 carries, which included two touchdowns.
*FS Dawan Landry was carted off the field late in the first half with a spinal cord concussion. A team spokesman said Landry has "neurologically recovered." His status for Monday night is unknown. He would be replaced by Jim Leonhard.
*FS Jim Leonhard could make his first start of the season because Dawan Landry sustained a spinal cord concussion. In the second half, he had one sack and one tackle for a loss.
*CB Samari Rolle left late in the game with a shoulder injury. Rolle said he would play in the Monday night game at Pittsburgh.
The argument could easily be made the Browns have not been the same team since they last visited Cincinnati for the 15th game of the 2007 season. A victory over the Bengals would have clinched a playoff spot. Instead, Derek Anderson threw four interceptions on a cold, snowy, windy day on the banks of the Ohio River and the Browns lost, 19-14.
Weather should not be a factor when the Browns return to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday -- at least snow won't be a factor -- but the Browns are still looking for traction. After losing in Cincinnati last year, the Browns closed out 2007 by beating San Francisco, 20-7, in a meaningless game in which Chris Weinke was the 49ers' quarterback. Since then, the Browns have lost seven straight – four in the 2008 preseason and then the first three of the regular season. The Ravens kept them winless in the regular season by pounding the Browns, 28-10, coincidentally the same score as the loss to Dallas in the opener.
If anything positive could be found in that loss in Cincinnati last year, it is offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski learned he should call more run plays when the situation calls for it.
"I'm not big into the depth charts and all of those kinds of things," Chudzinski said. "What I've talked to these guys about is showing and demonstrating on a daily basis that they have a special ability to do something.
"Our first goal is to do whatever it takes to win for the team however that ends up coming out – whether that's scoring a lot of points or running the football."
Had he called more running plays in Cincinnati last year, the Browns might have beaten the Bengals and clinched a playoff spot. Instead, on a cold, blustery day with a wind chill of 18 degrees and winds gusting to 30 mph, Chudzinski called for Derek Anderson to throw 48 times.
Jamal Lewis carried 21 times. Lewis averaged 4.4 yards a carry, so it wasn't like he was being stymied. Had the play-calling been different, perhaps fans wouldn't be asking whether Anderson could win a big game.
But what's done is done. Another day of Lewis averaging close to 4.5 yards a game against the Bengals would be a shot in the arm to a run offense that has had its problems this year. Lewis carried just 19 times against the Steelers, averaging two yards a carry. He was a marked man against the Ravens, his former team. And because the Browns fell behind 28-10 with 4:49 left in the third quarter against the Ravens, he carried the ball only 12 times in Baltimore.
A hamstring injury knocked Lewis out of the final two preseason games and he suffered a minor ankle injury against the Steelers. He played in the first three regular-season games, but he is not 100 percent. He will play against the Bengals and then use the bye next week as a chance to recover."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't know whether we're trying to live off the success we had last year, but it's not working. We're going to have to do a lot better, or this thing is really going to get away from us." – Browns head coach Romeo Crennel on the 0-3 start.
LINEUP WATCH: The Browns used only two combinations on the starting offensive line all last season. They already used three combinations in the first three games this year. Seth McKinney started at left guard against the Ravens because Eric Steinbach missed the game with a shoulder injury. Steinbach might sit out the game against Cincinnati as well since the Browns have their bye the following week.
*QB Derek Anderson completed 14 of 37 passes for 125 yards. He threw one touchdown pass and five interceptions, was sacked five times and had a passer rating of 22.9.
*WR Donte Stallworth missed his third straight game because of a strained quadriceps.
*KR Josh Cribbs returned three kicks for 52 yards. He returned seven for 245 yards last November against the Ravens.
*Third-year RB Jerome Harrison scored his first NFL touchdown on a 19-yard pass play from Anderson.
Pittsburgh is trying to find a way to circle the wagons before the next expected raid on their quarterback occurs next Monday night in Heinz Field.
The only time Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked more than the eight times the Philadelphia Eagles got him last Sunday came in 2006, when Baltimore sacked him nine times. The Eagles had nine sacks overall.
The unbeaten Ravens (2-0) pay him a scheduled visit Monday night in Heinz Field. At stake is more than first place in the AFC North for the Steelers (2-1). At issue suddenly is the long-term health of their quarterback.
Nobody was sacked more than Roethlisberger the past two years, when he was brought down 93 times. The Steelers thought they took steps to improve that, but after three games, he's been sacked 12 times and come away with a hyperextended knee, a slightly separated right shoulder and now, courtesy of the Eagles, a right hand injury.
Roethlisberger has no broken bones in the hand and the injury did not appear serious, but he's getting beat to a pulp early in this season.
"In the National Football League, when you put a display like that out there, you're going to see it again, and again, and again," coach Mike Tomlin said after the Eagles' onslaught led to their 15-6 victory in Philadelphia. "Until you make that problem disappear, it's a problem we have, it's obvious."
The problem for the Steelers now is not so much what the Eagles did, but what every other defense will try to do, starting with Baltimore Monday.
"It has to be correctable," offensive tackle Willie Colon said. "Any team that watches this tape right now is going to understand we're suffering with the blitz coming at us and if we don't get it done, they're going to blitz the hell out of us."
Roethlisberger was sacked 47 times last season, second most in Steelers history. He was sacked 46 times in 2006, third most. They lost seven-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca to the Jets in free agency and replaced their center. It's gotten worse.
He's on pace now to be sacked 64 times. Last year, his rate of sacks to pass attempts was 11.6 percent. This year, it's 20.3 percent.
"We have to rectify it because we'll see that definitely next week for sure," Hines Ward said.
The veteran receiver said his offense was confused, and it's not just the linemen. He said receivers and their quarterback blew hot routes, protections were misunderstood and they never came up with a way to stop the blitz.
"We have to see that defensive front again and have everyone on the same page and make sure we pick up those fronts," Ward said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There was blood in the water at that point." – Coach Mike Tomlin, on Philadelphia's relentless pass rush that never let up.
LINEUP WATCH: Bryant McFadden has been the best cornerback on the field the past two games filling in for injured CB Deshea Townsend. He had two interceptions and also had a fumble recovery and a tipped pass that Troy Polamalu intercepted. When Townsend is healthy, McFadden could remain a starter – taking Ike Taylor's job.
*NT Casey Hampton could miss the next game. He has a groin injury that was re-injured against the Eagles.
*SS Troy Polamalu, who did not have an interception last season, has three this year.
*PK Jeff Reed is 6-for-6 on FGs, including a 53-yarder. He missed only two last season, one from 65 yards and one from 44 in the mud and rain.
*Rookie RB Rashard Mendenhall does not have a carry in the past two games after running 10 times for 28 yards in the opener.
*WR Santonio Holmes, who has not scored a touchdown, was used as a punt returner for the first time in the second half against Philadelphia.
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