Browns-Ravens: It's Gameday!

The Browns will descend to the depths of Ratland today, and try to emerge with their egos intact after dealing with Ray-Ray and his posse. Watch your backs, fellas, and keep an eye open for those after-the-whistle cheap shots. It's Ratgame 2006, Take Two...

Cleveland Browns (4-9) at Baltimore Ravens (10-3)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET

GAMEDATE: 12/17/06

SURFACE: Sportexe Momentum

TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots

FORUMS: Official Game Thread of Doom

CHAT ROOM: Click here to witness the technological wonder of real-time communication
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SERIES: 16th meeting. The Ravens lead the series, 10-5. The Browns have not won in Baltimore since they beat the Ravens 14-13 on Dec. 22, 2002.

2006 RANKINGS: Browns: offense 29th (30th rush, 21st pass); defense 30th (30th rush, 15th pass). Ravens: offense 22nd (27th rush, 15th pass); defense 1st (2nd rush, 6th pass)

PREDICTION: Baltimore 23-14

KEYS TO THE GAME: Opponents have been able to stuff the ball down the throat of Cleveland's defense all season, with the Browns allowing 144.9 rushing yards per game. Cleveland faced 52 runs in its last game, and can expect a lot of the same against Baltimore until the Browns prove they can stop the ground game. Ravens QB Steve McNair will focus on being efficient and not doing the Browns any favors with Cleveland likely to have QB Derek Anderson making just his second career start in place of injured Charlie Frye. The Ravens should be able to stop the Browns' running game with just their front seven, sticking Anderson in difficult passing situations. One of Anderson's strengths is a quick release that will help against Baltimore's strong pass rush, but he'll have to recognize the correct reads quickly and avoid turnovers the Browns can't afford if they hope to keep the game within reach.

FAST FACTS: Browns: Anderson was a sixth-round pick by Baltimore in 2005. ... DE Kamerion Wimbley has set a franchise rookie record with 7.5 sacks. Ravens: Clinch playoff berth with a victory and the AFC North title if Cincinnati also loses. ... McNair has thrown eight touchdown passes and two interceptions since coach Brian Billick took over the play-calling seven games ago.



--LB D'Qwell Jackson's season ended when he had surgery to repair turf toe in his right foot. Jackson's rookie season was productive mainly because he gained needed experience.

--LB Leon Williams will start next to Andra Davis at inside linebacker in Baltimore. Williams has not played a lot this season, but he brings size that D'Qwell Jackson does not have, which may help against Ravens RB Jamal Lewis.

--RB Reuben Droughns has had a miserable season, and he figures to have more trouble Sunday in Baltimore. The Ravens run defense is relentless.

--WR Dennis Northcutt lost some credibility with a poor game against Pittsburgh. Northcutt took a shot to his shoulder early and kept playing -- and dropping passes. Mentally, he seems to be already in free agency.

--WR Joe Jurevicius has become the team's go-to receiver with Derek Anderson at quarterback. Jurevicius has 13 receptions the past two games.

--TE Kellen Winslow has seen his production drop off the past two games, with five catches for just 45 yards. Winslow has not scored a touchdown in the past six games.


--WR Derrick Mason (thigh) returned to practice but is still listed as questionable. He could be upgraded Friday. The team remains optimistic that he'll start Sunday.

--RB Jamal Lewis was added to the injury report as probable with an illness. He didn't practice Thursday because he was under the weather, but the Ravens expect him to be fine Sunday.

--LB Dan Cody didn't practice for a second consecutive day and is not expected to play Sunday. He could be downgraded from questionable to doubtful on Friday.

--QB Steve McNair hasn't been intercepted or sacked in his past three games. He has thrown three touchdowns over that span.

--DE Trevor Pryce has been one of the most valuable players on defense in the second half of the season. He has 5.5 sacks in his past four games.



Quarterback Derek Anderson will get his second start Sunday in Baltimore. Anderson has performed well in six quarters of play, but his challenge grows this weekend.

Anderson faces the league's top-ranked defense, a unit that threw Charlie Frye around like a rag doll the first time the teams played.

Anderson, though, has shown a surprising ability to get rid of the ball and avoid the sack. In six quarters he has been sacked just once -- and Pittsburgh barely touched him.

"Some of that has to do with his history, too," coach Romeo Crennel said. "He's been a pocket passer his whole career. He understands about operating in the pocket and getting rid of the ball."

Other factors were at play against Pittsburgh as well. The Steelers were without Troy Polamalu, so they were reluctant to blitz as much. And Pittsburgh got ahead, which enable its defense to sit back in coverage.


When the Ravens need a big return, they will be looking to one of the smallest players in the NFL.

Cory Ross, who stands 5-foot-6, has taken over as the Ravens' return specialist after B.J. Sams went down with a season-ending ankle injury.

Eight inches shorter than the average Raven, and well over a foot shorter than offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, Ross shares with San Diego running back Darren Sproles the distinction of being the shortest players in the NFL.

Still, teammates already have a great deal of confidence in diminutive Ross.

"I think he could be just as good as Dante Hall," said the Ravens' Gary Stills, who blocked for the two-time Pro Bowl returner in Kansas City. "I'm not going to guarantee anything, but if we block better on those returns, he's going to make some things happen that's going to surprise people."

Size wasn't always an issue for Ross. When he started playing football, he was so tall that he played on the offensive line.

"The growth spurt relaxed a little bit," said Ross, who weighs 201 pounds. "I pay it no mind. I knew this is who I was going to be. And to do the things I want to, I just have to have the willpower to say I can do it."

Ross finished as one of the most versatile running backs in Nebraska history and was named the Cornhuskers' offensive most valuable player as a junior and senior. He is the only player in school history to rank in the all-time top 10 list in rushing and receptions.

Despite his success at a major Division I college, he was not selected in this year's seven-round NFL Draft, which included 14 running backs being taken.

Leading up to the draft, former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt said he liked Ross' quickness and compact build, but it always comes back to size.

"It's really tough playing when you're short and the quarterback has to find you," Brandt said. "It's like throwing over a Coke can to a salt shaker."

Ross quickly caught coach Brian Billick's eye in minicamps and played well enough in the preseason to become one of two undrafted rookies (cornerback Ronnie Prude being the other) to make the Ravens' 53-man roster.

Yet it wasn't until Week 14, when return specialist B.J. Sams went down with a season-ending ankle injury, that Ross needed to suit up for a game.

Returning kicks is relatively new territory for Ross. He never had to do it on a full-time basis in college, estimating he ran back 10 punts at Nebraska.

His inexperience, in addition to the swirling Kansas City winds, made it a difficult NFL debut. He averaged 25.5 yards on two kickoff returns and didn't have a positive runback on two punts.

On his first punt return, Ross was hit immediately after he caught the ball, getting driven back for a 2-yard loss.

"At the beginning of the year, coach Billick said there would be a moment that one of rookies will realize that this is the NFL," Ross said. "I definitely feel that was my moment."

The Ravens are hoping that Ross' next memorable moments will be the result of touchdowns and not takedowns.

Ever since they had Jermaine Lewis, the Ravens have banked on their return game to create a spark heading into the postseason, something Ross believes he can provide.

"I love this opportunity," Ross said. "I always knew I could play at this level. To be able to show it, it's really a blessing."

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