Browns-Ravens: Game Scout

A sloppy half of football by both teams, marked mostly by unimpressive offensive play, has left the Browns down by seven at halftime. The Browns have been unable to run the ball effectively, but some second quarter success in the passing game, particularly the combination of Frye to Bryant, has allowed the Browns to go into the half down by only seven.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET

GAMEDATE: 1/1/06

SURFACE: Grass

TV: CBS, Don Criqui, Steve Beuerlein

SERIES: 14th meeting. The Ravens lead the series 9-4 winning three of the last four meetings in Cleveland. In their earlier meeting in October, the Ravens beat the Browns 16-3 behind a strong defensive effort. The Ravens held Cleveland to 186 yards of total offense and 12 first downs. Anthony Weaver hit tight end Todd Heap for a three-yard score in the first quarter, which was the Ravens' only offensive touchdown.

2005 RANKINGS: Ravens: offense 24th (19th rush, 21st pass); defense 5th (10th rush, 8th pass). Browns: offense 25th (23rd rush, 23rd pass); defense 19th (29th rush, 6th pass)

PREDICTION: Ravens 23-17

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Ravens' offense has come out of hibernation about two months too late, but QB Kyle Boller has one more game to prove he's still the franchise's quarterback of the future. He has completed 43 of 61 passes (70.5 percent) for 542 yards and six touchdowns over the past two weeks and coach Brian Billick wants to see if he can continue his positive development. Boller has received a big lift from RB Jamal Lewis, who has received at least 20 carries in three of the past four games and who will play an even bigger role if the conditions are sloppy. The Browns want to put Boller in position to make critical mistakes, but they have a league-low 21 sacks. And Cleveland's own offense is sputtering with QB Charlie Frye's passer rating dropping in each of his four starts. He struggled against Pittsburgh's swarming 3-4 defense last week and the Ravens will do everything possible to throw a pressure from every conceivable angle.

FAST FACTS: Ravens: Have a 10-game road losing streak. ... Have won four of six games at Cleveland under Billick. Browns: Have an eight-game losing streak against the AFC North. ... RB Reuben Droughns needs 16 carries to break Jim Brown's single-season franchise record of 305 set in 1961.

RAVENS PERSONNEL NEWS

  • TE Daniel Wilcox has not practiced this week with a high ankle sprain and will miss his second straight game. Darnell Dinkins will replace him as the No. 2 tight end.
     
  • TE Darnell Dinkins will replace injured Daniel Wilcox (high ankle sprain) as the Ravens' No. 2 tight end.
     
  • LB Mike Smith did not practice for a second straight day with a hamstring injury and will not play Sunday. He only plays on special teams.
     
  • PR B.J. Sams is expected to play Sunday after missing the last game with a lower leg injury. He is second in the NFL in punt return average.
     
  • QB Kyle Boller became the first quarterback in team history to record back-to-back ratings over 110.

BROWNS PERSONNEL NEWS

  • QB Charlie Frye did not look good against Pittsburgh. Teams are compacting the field on Frye in an effort to dare him to beat them deep. Until Frye shows he has the arm strength to throw the long pass, he'll face that challenge every game.
     
  • G Cosey Coleman missed practice Wednesday and Thursday to rest a sore knee, but the Browns expect Coleman to play Sunday. He has been battling the same knee issue the second half of the season and missed only one game.
     
  • LB Chaun Thompson may need postseason surgery to repair a broken bone in his wrist that hasn't been right since he broke it in training camp in 2004. Thompson has played the entire 2005 season with a cast on his wrist.
     
  • T Ryan Tucker didn't want to talk after the embarrassing 41-0 loss to Pittsburgh last week. Tucker said he wanted to compose his thoughts. Given a few days to do so, Tucker was asked Thursday what his thoughts were, and he said: "I just want to forget that game."
     
  • S Sean Jones could see his first playing time with the regular defense Sunday. Jones was a second-round draft choice in 2004, but he missed the season with a knee injury. This year Jones is tied for the team lead in special teams tackles, but he has barely played in the regular defense.


INSIDE THE CAMPS

Ravens:

Ravens coach Brian Billick said Thursday that Jim Fassel would "absolutely" return as the team's offensive coordinator next season unless he receives a head coaching job this off-season.

There had been speculation that Fassel could be among the coaches who could leave following the Ravens' disappointing season.

"We're going to be very supportive of Jim's looking and hopefully being able to procure a head coaching job. If indeed that doesn't happen, Jim will be back next year," Billick said. "Some of the speculation I've seen is just that because Jim and I have already had discussions about some of the things we need to do."

There is a possibility that Fassel could receive interest in an NFL head coaching vacancy. The Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders, both of whom are expected to make coaching changes, could show interest in the former New York Giants coach.

Fassel was hired as coordinator this season, replacing Matt Cavanaugh after spending a year as a consultant.

The Ravens rank 25th in offense after struggling for most of the season, but they have put up 78 points the past two games.

If Fassel is able to land a head coaching job, Billick indicated that quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel would take over as coordinator.

"If Jim should garner a head coaching job, that continuity could possibly be sustained because Rick Neuheisel has been here for a year," Billick said. "We've made it clear that Rick will be the coordinator for that very reason."

Billick's backing of Fassel comes a day after Billick was retained for the 2006 season.

The Ravens end their season Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

"Jim was brought in to make the changes that needed to be made schematically, emotionally, strategically and fundamentally for us to go forward in conjunction with some very good coaches," Billick said. "They collectively and Jim individually deserve all the credit for the improvements that we've seen. We've got a lot of work ahead of us."

Browns:

It's been five games since Reuben Droughns has topped the 100-yard mark.

In the weeks since he ran for 166 yards against Miami, he has gained 73, 88, 74, 53 and 36 yards.

In those five games, Droughns has averaged 3.3 yards per carry - compared to 4.5 for the season's first 10 games.

The issues? Droughns has been playing through a strained knee that has affected him some. Too, opponents realize he is the Browns' main threat, and they are bringing more defenders to the line to stop Droughns.

Finally, rookie Charlie Frye is starting at quarterback, and teams are selling out to stop Droughns and daring Frye to beat them.

Pittsburgh ran the scheme perfectly, and Baltimore no doubt will do the same in the season finale.

Will that be a challenge for Frye?

"I hope not," coach Romeo Crennel said. "But it could be."


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