Ravens Browns: 5 Keys To The Game

1. Establish Jamal Lewis as often as possible. Entering today's critical AFCN encounter against the Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens are aware of the prime opportunity to exploit their chief strength on offense. That would be Jamal Lewis, the NFL rushing leader with 1,747 yards along with 11 touchdowns. Lewis not only rushed for a single-game NFL record of 295 yards when these teams met in September, but he has averaged 168 yards and seven yards per carry against Cleveland for his career.

All five of his games against the Browns have been for over 100 yards rushing. Cleveland has allowed an average of 146.6 yards rushing over the last three weeks. The Browns' front seven isn't anywhere close to the gold standard, especially without Courtney Brown. Linebacker Andra Davis, Jamal Lewis' old telephone pal, is the Browns' best hope. He's a hard-hitting, savvy player with 150 tackles. Lewis owns the Browns, though. 

2. Avoid scoreboard watching. Baltimore is obviously cognizant of the stakes. A Ravens loss coupled with a Bengals upset of the St. Louis Rams would clinch the division title for Cincinnati. While a Baltimore win and a Bengals loss for the 40th time on the road to a team with a winning record against a Rams team that has won 13 games in a row at Edward Jones Dome would grant the Ravens sole possession of first place in the division. "Win and you still have a chance to get to the playoffs," Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister said. "Lose, forget about it and go home. There's no margin for a loss." Exactly, so Baltimore has to ignore the distractions of not being in control of its own destiny any longer, the raucous Browns fans hoping to spoil Art Modell's final games as majority owner and the tributes for deceased Browns quarterback legend Otto Graham. While the Ravens are 2-5 on the road and 0-2 with former third-string quarterback Anthony Wright away from M&T Bank Stadium, the Browns might be just the tonic they need. Cleveland is 2-5 at home.

3. Prevent turnover and penalties. In four consecutive road losses that have dated since an Oct. 12 win over the woeful Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore has committed a total of 16 turnovers and 41 penalties for 336 yards. The turnovers have led to an average of 13.3 points surrendered as a direct result of the miscues during the road skid. "They are tired and frustrated of it happening," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It has to be eliminated if we are going to get done what we want to get done. And it's league-wide. Winning on the road is even tougher this year. Typically, the reason for it is turnovers and penalties."

4. Look downfield to Marcus Robinson, Todd Heap and Travis Taylor. Yes, Wright is 0-2 as a starter on the road with one touchdown and three interceptions. However, this Browns secondary will be without Anthony Henry and possibly Daylon McCutcheon. Michael Lehan and Roosevelt Williams are a tandem that Baltimore can exploit vertically, or with a steady diet of short passes.

5. Pressure Tim Couch. Couch is a capable enough quarterback to hurt the Ravens' fifth-ranked pass defense by spreading the football field and hurling spirals to reliable targets in Quincy Morgan, Andre Davis and Dennis Northcutt. Even with half of their starters in the Pro Bowl with cornerback Chris McAlister and safety Ed Reed, the Ravens have to generate a pass rush because it lacks the depth in its nickel packages and an elite free safety with range.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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