CLEVELAND, Ohio: Physical play, a suffocating defense and just enough offense to win. That was the motto of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens as they won the Super Bowl. What the Ravens didn't expect just three-weeks ago was that the Browns could use that same template against them.
Since that defining game in Cleveland when the Browns defeated the Ravens 24-14, the Ravens have won three games in a row. The Browns on the other hand have lost consecutive overtime battles.
The AFC Central Division has proved at the halfway mark of the season to be very competitive.
Falling on hard times have been Tennessee and Jacksonville as the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2) now are the rulers of the roost, with the Ravens (6-3) just a miss-step behind.
Can the Browns pull off the unexpected again Sunday and defeat the Ravens? If they have any thoughts of entertaining a playoff possibility, they must defeat the Ravens.
For this Browns team, being 4-4 at the halfway mark isn't good enough, they believe that they should be 6-2. They believe that they gave away two games.
Once you lose them, you can't get them back. It is easy to say that this team shouldn't be where they are. It's easier to say that they have show great improvement and will get even better next season.
Back in training camp, Browns head coach Butch Davis said, "We want to be competitive, grow as a team, and win some games."
This Cleveland Browns team has done exactly that. Winning despite a very non-descript offense has been a monumental challenge.
Davis reeks of confidence, which has dusted off on his team. He speaks of taking the necessary baby-steps as a team towards that growing-up process. He quietly talks of where the team must improve by position and his long-desire to keep quarterback Tim Couch healthy.
Remember, regardless of the past two seasons in Cleveland, this Browns team has put itself into contention, raised the bar of expectations, quality of play, and have earned the respect of the opposition.
There will be no more sneaking up on an opponent.
In the National Football League there are no guarantees.
This makes the game Sunday against the Ravens as important a game as the Browns have played since returning in 1999. The Browns have been growing, they are defining an identity all their own and now face the challenge of contender or pretender.
The task won't be easily achieved, the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens are awaiting the arrival of the Browns, with something of their own to prove.
Was that run the Ravens put together down the stretch last season into the Super Bowl a fluke? They don't believe so and it so happens that the Ravens sit with the identical record again in the 2001 season.
The Ravens did it last season while being a fairly healthy team. This season they have lost running back Jamal Lewis for the season with a knee injury, lost quarterback Elvis Grbac for parts of four games due to injury, as well as suffering nagging injuries along the offensive and defensive lines.
The game today pits the up and coming Browns against an older Ravens team that is making another charge towards glory.
The outcome of this game could be determined by turnovers, a battle that the Browns won in Cleveland. If you want to watch a physical football, right out of the 60's and 70's era, then this is the game that you'll want to tune into Sunday.
The Browns will attempt to run the ball at the flank of the Baltimore defense, wanting to seal off the safeties and linebackers will the tight-end, wide receivers and offensive linemen.
Baltimore is expected to attempt to bounce the run outside against the Browns, over-aggression and over-pursuit have been topics this past week in practice.
Baltimore will throw the ball downfield Sunday. They believe that they got away from their game-plan in the game in Cleveland.Baltimore intends on forcing match-ups in their favor against S Percy Ellsworth, DE Tyrone Rogers and LB Jamir Miller.
Members of the Ravens coaching staff believe that MLB Brant Boyer improves the Browns overall defense.
Running back Ben Gay could be in the backfield at some point Sunday, depending on the condition of James Jackson. It could come very early in the game if Jackson has any further problems with his ankle. At this time Jackson is expected to start.
The Browns expect the Ravens to blitz from the opening whistle and have installed a game-plan to attack the blitz. Quick-hitters at the line, dumps to the TE and RB's are part of the plan.
A couple tendencies in the Baltimore blitz package could provide the Browns 5-to-8 plays in which they believe there are opportunities to go over the top of the Ravens defense.
The Browns will look to be aggressive at the point of contact, wanting to take the run away from the Ravens.