Baltimore Ravens' scouting report

NICKEL PACKAGE 1. Will rookie quarterback Joe Flacco be able to avoid turnovers? As the Baltimore Ravens (4-3) take on the Cleveland Browns (3-4) today on the road, it's imperative that Flacco continue to exercise caution and precision in the passing game.

Flacco appears to be figuring out how to take care of the football in the aftermath of a season-high three interceptions in a 31-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts a few games ago. In consecutive wins, Flacco hasn't been intercepted, a correlation that's hardly a coincidence. He hasn't been intercepted in his past 47 throws. He threw a touchdown, ran for a touchdown and caught a long pass from backup quarterback Troy Smith during last week's 29-10 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

The first-round draft pick has maintained his composure all season. He tends to perform better generally out of the shotgun formation as well as executing the no-huddle set. With wide receiver Demetrius Williams out for the season with a bone spur problem underneath his left Achilles' tendon that will require surgery, Flacco no longer has a legitimate deep threat to throw to. Someone must step forward from a group that includes newcomer Terrance Copper, rookies Ernie Wheelwright and Marcus Smith and return specialist Yamon Figurs. Flacco threw two interceptions in his first game against the Browns with no touchdowns.

2. Can the Ravens continue to control the clock?

The Ravens have put a stranglehold on the scoreboard clock, leading the NFL in time of possession with an average of 34 minutes, seven seconds, which is more than 45 seconds longer than the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants at 33 minutes, 21 seconds. During their 28-10 win over Cleveland earlier this season, the Ravens held the ball for a season-high 37 minutes, 48 seconds. The Ravens are 3-0 this season when they hold the ball for more than 35 minutes. The Ravens maintain possession so long because of a run-first offense that ranks fifth in rushing in the league. Behind running backs Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and Le'Ron McClain, a three-headed attack has gotten the job done.

3. Will the Ravens he able to exploit Browns quarterback Derek Anderson?

Although the Ravens have returned an interception for a touchdown in the past two games in this series, Anderson hasn't thrown an interception in 105 passes. He has thrown four touchdown passes with no interceptions in the past three games. Cleveland has won three of its past four contests since beginning the season 0-3. Traditionally, the Ravens secondary has done well against Cleveland, including three interceptions of the streaky Anderson. The Ravens have recorded an interception in eight consecutive games against the Browns. Ed Reed and Chris McAlister intercepted Anderson in the third quarter the last time to alter the course of the game. However, injuries have affected depth severely o late. Reed has seven interceptions in 11 games against the Browns.

4. Will the Ravens contain Jamal Lewis?

The former Ravens star has rushed for at least 79 yards in four consecutive games since being limited to 56 yards in the first meeting. Lewis is still capable of hurting a defense with his power and speed.

5. Will the Ravens keep the double-quarterback offense going?

The Ravens are considered likely to keep using Smith as a passing and option alternative, but the offense must continue to evolve with new wrinkles to stay fresh and unpredictable. Perhaps big defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who played tight end on the goal line last week and cleared a path for running back Willis McGahee, will take a turn at fullback soon.

INSIDE SLANT

KEY MATCHUP

Ravens C Jason Browns vs. Browns NG Shaun Rogers Brown is grappling with a true heavyweight today, all 6-foot-4 and 350 pounds of him even though Rogers may be actually tipping the scales at nearly 400 pounds. Because of Rogers' girth, strength and unusual movement for a player of his dimensions, Brown will need to anchor at the line of scrimmage and cut this gargantuan lineman off to prevent him from collapsing the pocket. Brown had a lot of help in being effective against Rogers in the first meeting, but will probably miss Marshal Yanda today with the gritty right guard out for the season with three torn knee ligaments. The Ravens may need to have fullbacks Le'Ron McClain and Lorenzo Neal to step into the breach if Chris Chester falters as Yanda's replacement.

KEY MATCHUP

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Browns QB Derek Anderson Anderson is a streaky passer who was way off his game against the Ravens last time with Reed capitalizing on an interception return for a touchdown. Anderson completed just 14 of 37 passes for 125 yards, tossing three interceptions with just one touchdown pass. Reed is extremely adept at reading quarterback's eyes and seems to have Anderson's tendencies locked down. However, Anderson hasn't thrown an interception since a Sept. 28 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. He hasn't thrown an interception in a career-best 105 attempts. Has he really become more careful or will he revert to form and unravel against Reed and rest of the Ravens' defensive backs?

THREE DOWNS WITH ...

Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis

1. On maintaining his standard of play: "Every year I tell people, time and time again, football never changes. It never changes. It's whatever you put into it. So for me, man, I love just competition. Bottom line. The fun part is just to get back out there and always just raise these young guys and to always keep them playing at a high level.

"That's always been my job since I've been around here 13 years. The game just continues to get better and better as you get older."

2. On his growth as a player: "I think you grow in so many areas. I just think that every year you gain different levels of wisdom in just the game of football. You won't understand it until you start getting up to that point when you've played with the good ones, like a Rod Woodson or Shannon Sharpe, and you see the things that they started seeing.

"Now with me being in that position, I'm like the tutor to a lot of these young guys trying to teach them the game and trying to get them to understand it. I just think I grew tremendously, man, in so many ways."

3. On studying film: "It's something I've always done. That's kind of what makes my game simple. I like to study people more than they probably even study themselves, so when I do step on the field the game is easy. You just react to the football.

"It's just taking a test. I tell the young guys this all the time. You take a test every week. You prepare for it, the easier the test is going to be. You just go make the play. I wouldn't say it's hard. I just think if you study, everything will fall into place."

THREE DOWNS WITH ...

Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas

1. On the Ravens' defense: "The Ravens have always been one of the best defenses in the NFL. Obviously, right now they are probably the best run defense in the NFL, and all around on defense they're in the top two or three. So, it's a tremendous challenge every time we play them, and being in the AFC North we get the pleasure of playing them more than once a year."

2. On his history with Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata: "He's a great player. He's one of the best defensive tackles in the league. He brings a great combination of speed, strength and power, and he's a guy you have to game-plan around.

"The two teams, the Browns and Ravens, have a great rivalry, and a lot of times it gets real heated on the field and it gets a little chippy out there some times. But it's all in fun. No grudges are still going on."

3. On Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs: "He's a great pass-rusher. He's playing probably the best, actually, in these two years of playing against him. And he's another guy you've got to game-plan because he's such a great pass-rusher, but he's also such a force in the run game. You've got to be prepared for a fist fight because he's an extremely physical player."


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