Browns-Ravens Preview

The Browns enter into game two of what figures to be their most difficult stretch of the season. In the sights of the Browns are the AFC North division rival Baltimore Ravens.

The Baltimore Ravens defense.

That sentence, even without much context, has plenty of connotations. Since 2000, it has become common knowledge that the Ravens play great defense.

Some of the key members of that defense may be getting older – Ray Lewis (36 years old), Ed Reed (33) for example – but the franchise continues to produce top-notch defenses.

This season is no different.

The Ravens are third in the NFL in points allowed (16.5), total defensive yards per game (292.3) and rushing defensive yards per game (91.5) and fifth in passing defensive yards per game (200.8). On Thanksgiving night, Baltimore sacked the San Francisco 49ers nine times.

"In this division you're going to face a tough defense every week," Browns quarterback Colt McCoy said. "Cincinnati's a really good defense, Baltimore's really good, and Pittsburgh's really good so this is just one more test for us."

The Browns have failed the Ravens test the last six meetings and eight of the last 10. During that span, the Browns have scored more than 17 points only three times and averaged 15.8 points per game.

The Browns had 17 points at halftime of last Sunday's game in Cincinnati. For the first 30 minutes, Cleveland's offense moved the ball downfield with a nice balance. Peyton Hillis was effective running the ball while McCoy found receivers for big plays, or completions for more than 20 yards.

In the first two months of the season, the Browns offense had only 10 of those completions, while in November that number was nine. Is it a coincidence the Browns are scoring more points?

Unfortunately, the Browns reverted back to the old Browns and the offense was stagnant in second half last Sunday. After the Browns and Bengals traded field goals to open the second half, here is what happened on the Browns' next three possessions:

Three plays ending in an interception.

Three plays ending with a punt.

Three plays ending with a punt.

The Bengals defense is good, but the Browns' offense was making unforced errors. Those same unforced errors against the Ravens defense will cause the game to get out-of-hand fast.

Now, as good as the Ravens team has been this season, they have produced some head-scratchers. Baltimore blows out Pittsburgh in the season opener 35-7 then loses the following week to Tennessee 26-13. Baltimore downs Houston 29-14 and then loses the following week to Jacksonville 12-7.

Finally, the Ravens won the second meeting against the Steelers 23-20 then the following week lost to Seattle 22-17.

With so much time off and the 4-7 Browns next up, will the Ravens overlook the Browns like they did the Jaguars and Seahawks?

The Browns playoff hopes may be minuscule, but they are in position to play spoiler to the Ravens and Steelers.

And so begins the Browns' final five-game stretch of the 2011 season.

Somewhere, a schedule maker wearing a Steelers jersey is laughing.

After Sunday's 4 p.m. starting time, the Browns travel to Pittsburgh on Thursday, Dec. 8 followed by games at Arizona on Sunday, Dec. 18 and Baltimore on Saturday, Dec. 24.

The season ends with a home game on New Year's Day against Pittsburgh.


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