Can Ravens Repeat Steeler Success?

The Steelers took the Browns vaunted offense and held it to 163 yards. Can the Ravens do the same?

Browns coach Romeo Crennel is confident his team's meltdown in the second half against the Steelers was more a product of Pittsburgh's tenacious defense than a flawed offense.

Crennel believes there is no need to make wholesale changes.

Next up is a game Sunday at Baltimore. The Ravens lost 21-7 to the Bengals last week on seven field goals by Shayne Graham. While they kept the Bengals out of the end zone, they did allow 326 yards.

The Browns went into the Pittsburgh game averaging 365.4 yards a game, the fourth-best offense in the league. They gained just 163 against the Steelers, owners of the best defense in the NFL.

The first drive went for 71 yards and a touchdown, and the last netted 32 yards before stalling on the Pittsburgh 35. Cleveland had six possessions in the second half before the final drive, and in those six possessions ran just 17 plays that gained a total of 16 yards.

"Maybe (the Steelers) weren't quite as ready to play on that first drive as they were in the second half, after they went into the locker room and had whatever discussion they had," Crennel said. "But they came out and they were a different unit. They executed, they performed, and we didn't perform well enough."

The Ravens present similar problems for the Browns when the Browns try to run. Baltimore has the second-best run defense in the league.

Jamal Lewis carried the ball 16 times for 35 yards -- a 2.2-yard average -- against the Steelers. He picked up 11 yards on his first run of the day, which means he averaged 1.6 yards on his 15 other attempts. He also had runs of 7 and 5 yards, which means his remaining 13 carries netted just 12 yards.

Jason Wright did not carry the ball against the Steelers, though he caught one pass for 7 yards. Jerome Harrison was unavailable because he was on the inactive list. Harrison could be deactivated again Sunday.

Crennel said Lewis' struggles, which included a critical fumble in Browns territory in the third quarter, will not make him rely less on the eight-year veteran against Baltimore and in upcoming games, but the Browns will try to mix it up in the rematch with the Ravens.

"Baltimore has a front seven that is strong, physical and aggressive," Crennel said. "They've got play-making linebackers that are emotional and probably the heartbeat of the defense. They've got some safeties that are smart, have good range, are hitters and have a knack for the ball. The choice you have to make is how many times to give it to (Lewis) versus trying to use some other weapons that you have that have been proven they can operate."

The Browns tumbled from fourth in the league in offense to 11th. They are averaging 342.9 yards a game.

Had they beaten the Steelers, the Browns could think about winning the AFC North. Now their playoff chances rest more realistically with a wild-card position. They are 5-4, and the Steelers are 7-2. If Pittsburgh goes 4-3, the Browns would have to finish 7-0 to win the division. The Jaguars and Titans are a game better than the Browns in the wild-card race. The Bills are 5-4.

GAME PLAN: The Browns are watching the injury situation of the Ravens cornerbacks. RCB Samari Rolle is out with an undisclosed illness. He last played in the second game.

LCB Chris McAlister was limited in practice Wednesday. He missed the last three starts, all Baltimore losses, with a knee injury. The Browns would like to test the Ravens deep if McAlister is forced to sit again.

"You're talking about two Pro Bowl corners," WR Braylon Edwards said. "Chris McAlister is strong. He's physical and he can run. Even when he's hurt, he still has ability that guys normally don't have. Samari Rolle, who was also a Pro Bowl corner and a savvy veteran -- not having those two guys out there is going to hurt. Any team who doesn't have their starting corners, let alone two Pro Bowl corners, it's going to hurt."

Last week the Steelers dropped linebackers into coverage to force the Browns to throw underneath. The Browns expect the Ravens to try the same tactic.

LINEMAN SIGNED: As reported yesteday on The Orange and Brown Report, the Browns filled the roster spot vacated when G Seth McKinney was put on injured reserve by signing interior OL Greg Eslinger. Eslinger is listed at 290 pounds, though he appears to be smaller.

Eslinger is primarily a center. Signing him allows Lennie Friedman to concentrate exclusively on guard. McKinney is headed toward surgery to repair his separated shoulder.

Eslinger was drafted by the Broncos in the sixth round in 2006. He spent his rookie season on injured with a shoulder injury. He was on the Broncos' practice squad when the Browns signed him.

"He was a good player at the University of Minnesota, and he's been with Denver for two years," Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel said. "We think he's a smart, quick, tenacious kind of guy who will provide good depth and ability for our team."

Eslinger fits the mold of the athletic linemen the Browns are using to build their line. He won the Outland Trophy and the Rimington Trophy in college.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns SS Sean Jones vs. Ravens TE Quinn Sypniewski -- Todd Heap has given the Browns fits in the past, but a thigh injury has slowed him. Jones will be on Sypniewski, who has 23 catches and one touchdown, if Heap does not play. Jones was beaten deep earlier in the season, but he has covered better in the past three games. He will be out to make certain Sypniewski does not get behind him.

Browns RT Kevin Shaffer vs. Ravens RDT Haloti Ngata -- The Browns' running game has been inconsistent, but the problem has been masked by the team's success passing the ball. Cleveland would like to give the ball to Jamal Lewis running right, but to succeed, Shaffer is going to have to win his battle with Ngata. The Browns need a better push up front than they got in the Pittsburgh game.

INJURY IMPACT: The Browns are hopeful rest will allow LBs Willie McGinest (hamstring) and Antwan Peek (knee) to play against the Ravens. LB D'Qwell Jackson (ankle) is the key injured player. They need him to slow the Ravens from running up the middle. Ben Roethlisberger might not have run 30 yards for a touchdown had Jackson been there to tackle him.

The OBR Top Stories