Ravens looking to sweep Browns

CLEVELAND -- The crushing hit from Baltimore Ravens star middle linebacker Ray Lewis left Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow crumpled on the ground as the football sailed into Chris McAlister's hands for a game-changing interception that directly led to fullback Le'Ron McClain barreling into the end zone.

The utter confusion of Browns quarterback Derek Anderson was on full display as he was intercepted twice in nearly a minute of the third quarter, including free safety Ed Reed strutting upfield for a touchdown.

The Ravens sacked Anderson four times, intercepting him three times Sept. 21 in a 28-10 victory in Baltimore. And the Ravens' running game ran roughshod over the Browns for three touchdowns with a commanding time of possession advantage in winning their second game in a row and dropping the Browns into a seemingly insurmountable 0-3 cavern.

Just over a month later, the situation is vastly different heading into today's pivotal AFC North rematch at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Since dismantling the Browns earlier this season, the Ravens (4-3) have won just two of their subsequent five games. And Cleveland is enjoying a strong resurgence with three victories in its past four games, including impressive wins over the Jacksonville Jaguars and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

"It looks like they are playing inspired football," Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "They're playing with a lot of confidence, a lot of swagger. They're not the same guys that showed up in the beginning of the season."

Especially not Anderson, who completed just 14 of 37 passes for 125 yards and a 22.9 quarterback rating in the first game against Baltimore.

The former Ravens draft pick was on the verge of losing his job to golden boy Brady Quinn, but has solidified his status by throwing five touchdowns with just one interception over the past four games.

Anderson hasn't thrown an interception in his past 105 attempts.

"Personally, I think every ball's going to be perfect," Anderson told Cleveland reporters. "Maybe it's not, maybe the receiver has to make a great catch. But if you drop back there and think, 'Aw, maybe this isn't going to be good,' then you're going to throw like hell."

During the first three games, Anderson went 43 of 93 (46.2 percent) for 405 yards, two touchdowns, five interceptions and a 43.5 rating.

In the past four games, he has completed 61 of 117 passes (52.1 percent) for 830 yards and an 85.8 rating. He has only been sacked three times over that span.

Against the Ravens, Anderson is 2-2 as a starter with five touchdowns and seven interceptions.

The Ravens are looking to stake an even stronger position in the division by sweeping the Browns for the third time in the past six seasons.

Yet, accomplishing that feat could prove to be difficult since the Ravens' top two cornerbacks are likely out today with McAlister dealing with a troublesome right knee that could potentially require surgery and end his season. Samari Rolle is still not fully recovered from neck surgery.

For the third consecutive game, the Ravens are likely to start Fabian Washington and Frank Walker at cornerback.

During the past eight meetings with the Browns, the Ravens have intercepted at least one pass. However, the Ravens have lost three of their past four games in Cleveland.

"The biggest thing that we need to do is understand we know this team, but we don't know them as well as we think we know them," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "So, we've got to go to work and study and play a tough football game. I don't think they're doing anything particularly different or anything in any way better. I think they were a good football team Week 3."

Beating a team twice in one season is always a difficult task, though.

"It's very hard, especially on the road, especially when it's a rivalry game," Suggs said. "They've pretty much got it in for us right now, but we like that. We like a game with some edge, so we'll see what happens on Sunday."

The Ravens have evolved since defeating the Browns behind a stingy defense and a smash-mouth running game.

During last week's 29-10 victory over the Oakland Raiders, Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron unveiled a double-quarterback, single-wing formation that generated 75 yards as backup quarterback Troy Smith connected with rookie starter Joe Flacco for a 43-yard reception.

Was this just an appetizer of more gadgetry to follow and an increased role for Smith, a Cleveland native and former Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State?

"It's a good way to get Troy on the field," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "Troy has proven that he can play, that he is a very good quarterback in this league not just with gimmick plays. If he had to line up under center, he's a very good quarterback.

"You've got to put the guy in because he's so good at what he does. The package is good for him, the package is good for us. I don't know what he's going to do this week with Troy, but I'm pretty sure Troy will get his opportunity."

The Browns entered the season with sky-high expectations while the Ravens weren't expected to emerge as contenders.

Cleveland has gone 2-0 without a controversial star in the lineup. Winslow, who was suspended last week for making disparaging comments about general manager Phil Savage and the entire organization only to have the punishment rescinded the night before the game, is expected to return today after a bizarre feud with Savage after being hospitalized for a staph infection.

Baltimore hasn't experienced much in the way of turmoil outside of benching McAlister a few weeks ago.

The primary change in the Ravens is their newly-discovered offensive creativity.

"They're not the same team as five weeks ago," Browns linebacker Willie McGinest said. "We've had to study them all over again."

This game could reveal a lot about where each team truly stands eight games into the season.

"I just think they're trying to get back to their form of all the expectations," Lewis said. "If anything has changed, I don't know. But the bottom line is we'll find out Sunday if anything has changed once the game gets going."


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