Baltimore Ravens' scouting report

NICKEL PACKAGE 1. Will Joe Flacco progress or regress in his second start? As the Baltimore Ravens (1-0) take on the winless Cleveland Browns (0-2) today at M&T Bank Stadium, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco figures to be dared to throw often by a defense expected to load up against the NFL's top-ranked running game.

This could turn out to be a good thing for the Ravens as the Browns' secondary looked suspect against Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger. Plus, Flacco has had extra time to prepare since the Ravens' last game was postponed due to Hurricane Ike. The Ravens need to create a comfortable lead for Flacco so he can manage the game as he learns on the job.

Flacco will also be involved in a personal duel with former Ravens quarterback Derek Anderson, the streaky former sixth-round draft pick who went to the Pro Bowl last year when he threw 29 touchdown passes. It will be interesting to compare the two big, strong-armed quarterbacks. Anderson has struggled lately, though, throwing just six touchdowns with eight interceptions in his past six starts for a 57.8 passer rating. He has two interceptions and just one touchdown this year and there's already a growing clamor for backup Brady Quinn.

2. Can the Ravens' running back committee duplicate Marion Barber and Willie Parker's success?

Runners are thriving against the Browns despite the beefy presence of 6-foot-4, 350-pound nose guard Shaun "Big Baby" Rogers. Even with the return of Willis McGahee from a knee injury, the Ravens don't have a featured runner as they are favoring a group approach led by rookie Ray Rice and fullback Le'Ron McClain.

McGahee is expected to have a complementary role today. Regardless of who's carrying the football, it's undeniable that the Browns are struggling to set a wall upfront and chase in pursuit. Nonetheless, Rogers represents a tough assignment for center Jason Brown and guards Marshal Yanda and Ben Grubbs.

3. Can the Ravens keep Jamal Lewis quiet?

The former Ravens star has been shut down so far this season, and the NFL's top-ranked defense has designs on keeping him silent. Lewis is the Ravens' all-time leading rusher and excelled last year, but hasn't gotten much blocking this year. Last season, the Browns went 8-1 when he had at least 20 carries. Lewis has just 100 yards on 32 carries and no touchdowns after rushing for 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns during his first season in Cleveland. The Ravens haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 20 games to lead the NFL in that streak.

4. Will Chris McAlister win his matchup against wide receiver Braylon Edwards?

A former Pro Bowl cornerback, McAlister has struggled in the past against Edwards' speed and moves, giving up a 75-yard touchdown last season on a double move. The Browns like to use a pump-and-go pattern with Edwards, too.

The Ravens are expected to use a linebacker to jam Edwards at the line of scrimmage and give help over the top, a gambit that helped protect McAlister against Chad Johnson as he was held to one catch. Although McAlister has an aching right knee, he has an interception and a fumble recovery to his credit. Edwards is dangerous, but he's also in a pronounced slump with his drops (five) equaling his catches.

5. Will the Ravens win the kicking game battle?

Keep an eye on both teams' return specialists. Browns Pro Bowl return man Josh Cribbs is especially tough to defend, but has been quiet so far this year as he has battled ankle and shoulder injuries. Cribbs was a big reason why the Browns pulled off a 33-30 overtime win over Baltimore last season to sweep the series. The Ravens counter with the speed of Yamon Figurs, whose elusiveness in the open field could make a difference.

Figurs' speed as a gunner should be beneficial in corralling Cribbs, who had 245 yards in kickoff returns the last time Baltimore played Cleveland. Cribbs relies on power and quickness while Figurs' sprinting ability sets him apart.


Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis

1. On Browns running back Jamal Lewis: "Outside of maybe one or two bad games, Jamal has always been Jamal. Jamal is going to hit the hole hard. Jamal is going to play a physical football game. He's still the same Jamal. He's going to really try to get down. Our job as a defense is to make sure he doesn't get rolling, and things like that, and pretty much try to contain the offense."

2. On the winless Browns: "More than what I see, I think they see themselves as a very talented team. They have a lot of pieces over there if you look at those guys. They're a capable team and they won 10 games last year. They started out with two of the hardest teams in the NFL. The bottom line is we can't worry about what they have going on. We've got to worry about what we've got going on."

3. On if he feels his age: "Life only gets better when you've been in the game as long as I've been in the game. The game has just slowed down so much for me, man. I still love having fun and I love playing the way we play football. When you worry about everything else, that takes away from it."


Cleveland Browns running back Jamal Lewis

1. On the Ravens' defense: "They're a great defense, actually. They come with a lot of multiple fronts and have some hard-working guys upfront and a great linebacking corps. So, that's what makes it tough to run the football. It just makes for a physical running game from the offensive standpoint because you know that they're going to be physical."

2. On whether he looks forward to meeting up with any individual players: "I'm not looking forward to meeting any of them. I hope I don't meet anybody in the middle. I hope it's wide open. But I'm sure No. 52 will be roaming around like he always is."

3. On being 0-2: "It's been kind of disappointing, but we know what the problem is. We can't beat ourselves. We can't make those small mistakes. It's on us. It's on us and what we want to get accomplished and what we plan to do. I think that's how we're trying to practice this week, to come out and minimize our mistakes and just play much better football than we've been playing these last two weeks."



Ravens C Jason Brown vs. Browns NG Shaun Rogers Brown is set to grapple with a super heavyweight nicknamed "Big Baby," one of the most athletic big men in the league. Brown counters with outstanding weight room strength, leverage and technique. He'll need those qualities and some double-team assistance from guards Marshal Yanda and Ben Grubbs today to contain Rogers' pocket-collapsing presence at the line of scrimmage.


Ravens CB Chris McAlister vs. Browns WR Braylon Edwards

McAlister managed to intercept a pass and recover a fumble against Cincinnati Bengals wideout Chad Johnson, but he needed a ton of help due to his aching right knee. Now, he's paired opposite a speed burner who's fooled him in the past with the double-move and on pump-and-go routes. Expect a similar game plan with linebackers jamming Edwards, who has as many drops as he has receptions, and help over the top from free safety Ed Reed.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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