Browns-Ravens: Game Scout

Scout.com takes a look at the Browns difficult task in Baltimore on Sunday

Cleveland Browns (0-2) at Baltimore Ravens (2-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET

GAMEDATE: 9/27/09

TV: CBS (Gus Johnson, Steve Tasker)

SERIES: 21st regular-season meeting. Ravens lead the series 13-7. The Ravens swept the Browns last season, but the year before the Browns swept the series en route to a 10-6 finish. Home or away doesn't make much difference for the Browns: They are 3-7 in Baltimore and 4-6 at home.

PREDICTION: Ravens 35-13

KEYS TO THE GAME: QB Joe Flacco has been at the forefront of a much improved Ravens passing game, but with the Browns allowing 5.6 yards per carry look for Baltimore to establish its power ground game out of the gate. The Browns gave QB Brady Quinn the keys to the offense because he was considered a more accurate passer and better game manager. But at some point he has to start pushing the ball downfield and the Ravens were beaten for eight passes of 20-plus yards against San Diego. But with Quinn being sacked nine times already, the Ravens will bring the heat and attempt to mask their secondary deficiencies with a strong pass rush.

FAST FACTS: Browns RB Jamal Lewis has averaged 65.3 rushing yards in four games against his previous team. ... Baltimore rushed the ball 85 times in two meetings last season.


INSIDE THE CAMPS
Browns:

Jamal Lewis was in the locker room Thursday but for the second day in a row was absent from practice. A hamstring injury suffered in Denver forced the 30-year-old running back to sit out both days.

Whether Lewis plays against the Ravens on Sunday in Baltimore could be a game-time decision for Coach Eric Mangini. Mangini did not rule out using Lewis on Sunday even if he is not ready to practice Friday. Mangini said he does not know precisely when Lewis was injured. (EDITORS NOTE: Lewis was ruled out for the Ravens game after this report was filed)

You try to set a protocol to make sure that the most important thing is that they're healthy," Mangini said. "You want to make sure they're ready to play physically, but you also want them to be ready to play mentally, as well. Without being able to see it, or have some sense that they will be able to do that, it makes the decision more difficult."

Lewis carried 25 times in the first two games for 95 yards. If he cannot play Sunday in Baltimore it would be up to Jerome Harrison and James Davis to carry the load against the top-ranked run defense in the league.

Harrison missed the game against Minnesota with a knee injury. He carried three times for eight yards and caught four passes for 24 yards against the Broncos. Davis ran four times against the Broncos for five yards and missed the Denver game with a shoulder injury.

Davis is still on the injury report, but he had full participation in practice Thursday. Harrison is no longer on the injury report.

Lewis is far past his prime, but he is still the best back the Browns have. Here's another way of looking at it: Adrian Peterson of the Vikings rushed for 155 yards in the second half against the Browns in the opener. The Browns have rushed for 143 yards as a team in two games.

The Ravens are stingy in run defense; they have allowed an average of 2.2 yards a carry.

Ravens:

If the Cleveland Browns have a shot to upset the Ravens on Sunday, it starts with their returner, Joshua Cribbs.

The Ravens know how Cribbs can change games. In eight career games against the Ravens, he is averaging 27.4 yards per kickoff return. Cribbs also ran back a kickoff return 92 yards for a touchdown last season against the Ravens, one of his seven career touchdowns off returns.

"Cribbs has been a bad sight for the Ravens for more than just a few years," coach John Harbaugh said. "He's probably the best return guy in the league in a lot of ways. He's a beast. He's really hard to tackle.  We've got a lot of respect for him, and we've just got to tackle him."

If there is anyone who should have some insight on stopping Cribbs, it should be the Ravens. Their special teams coach, Jerry Rosburg, was the special teams coach with the Cleveland Browns when Cribbs made the team as an undrafted rookie.

"I think what sets him apart is he's a football player," Rosburg said. "You watch him play, and he gets free in so many different ways. He can run past guys, he can put his foot in the ground and make people miss, and then he can run over people. He gets to the open field, he can stiff-arm. He's got a lot of skills, and that's why he is what he is. I think everybody else has figured that out, so now they're playing him on offense."
  
But the Ravens' concern is his impact as a returner. Since 2005, Cribbs has returned five kickoffs for touchdowns, the most of anyone in the league over that span. He ranks second to the Ravens' Chris Carr with 6,487 total return yards over the past five seasons.
  
So, how can the Ravens minimize Cribbs' opportunities in the return game?
  
"There's not much you can do on kickoff coverage," Rosburg said. "You're going to kick the ball, and he's probably going to catch it. So, you have to do a great job of containing him. He's going to attack the whole field, and we've made a big point in our coverage all week long of trying to make sure he doesn't have any open windows."
  
The Ravens had trouble containing San Diego returner Darren Sproles last Sunday, which isn't a great sign heading into Sunday's game. Baltimore ranks first in punt coverage (3.0-yard average) but 24th on kickoffs (24.4-yard average).
  
"We have a ways to go, real frankly," Rosburg said of the Ravens' coverage teams. "We gave up a big return last week, unfortunately. It was simply a mistake on our part. You give that kind of a player an opportunity, and a good return turns into one that's across the 50-yard line, and that's what happened. It's going to be an ongoing process. We're going to work hard on it every week, because every week in this league you're going to face good players."


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