Ravens must solve Browns' play-action

OWINGS MILLS - Deception is a major aspect of the Cleveland Browns' offense. Hidden intents, masked plays and sudden shifts of formation characterize an attack capable of generating game-changing impacts. Like a detective analyzing clues, the Baltimore Ravens hope to become masters of deduction and solve the puzzle of Browns quarterback Tim Couch and his play-action fakes.

Before and after the snap in today's critical game between the AFC North rivals at Ravens Stadium, Baltimore defenders will be relying upon the run-pass indicators they learned through film study along with some noisy communication.

For instance, outside linebacker Cornell Brown stares at the fingers of offensive linemen. If a beefy guard, tackle or center's fingers swell with blood because so much of their weight is supported by their hand, it's probably going to be a running play. If their fingertips barely graze the grass, they're setting up for pass protection, or a draw play.

"The fingers can tell you a lot," Brown said. "Any little edge you can gain from watching film, even if it's the depth and separation between the tackles and the tight end, can help you.

"Couch makes it tough because he carries his fakes out to the fullest. You never know most of the time when they'll run or pass. You've got to know your tips and execute."

Ravens coach Brian Billick said the Browns' offense is similar in design and methodology to the Indianapolis Colts, which is centered around the audibles of quarterback Peyton Manning and the hands and moves of All-Pro receiver Marvin Harrison.

The Browns can't match the Colts in personnel. They do try to mirror their game plan.

Billick has a fairly simplistic solution to the Browns' play-action game: "If your job is to stop the run, stop the run. If your job is to stop the pass, stop the pass and the two shall never meet."

Overall, the Browns' passing game ranks just 16th in the league, but the sheer speed and size of the Cleveland wideouts qualifies this offense as dangerous.

Kevin Johnson leads the Browns with 59 receptions, but Quincy Morgan is their top deep threat with 882 yards, a 17.3 average per catch and seven touchdowns. Rookie Andre Davis, who covers 40 yards in 4.3 seconds, has six touchdowns. Dennis Northcutt, who sports five touchdown catches and a 15.6 average per catch, will likely miss this game with an injury.

"Outstanding," Billick said when asked about the Browns' receiving corps. "That's the strength of their team. They go as Tim Couch and those receivers go."

Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter was targeted heavily by Couch and backup Kelly Holcomb during Baltimore's 26-21 win in October as he recorded a career-high 11 tackles.

While Baxter respects the speed and skill of the Browns, he's equally as cognizant of his own tendencies not spelling the Ravens' undoing. Between Baxter and veteran Chris McAlister, the Ravens' pair of corners stand 6-foot-2, 204 pounds and 6-foot-1, 206 pounds.

Both have a zest for run support. They have only combined for two interceptions, and Baxter ranks third on the team in tackles with 80 while McAlister has 56 stops.

"You can't get too overaggressive," Baxter said. "With me and Chris being big and physical tacklers, we try to get in the running plays a little more. I think teams know that.

"That's why they try those flea-flickers and pop passes. We have to be disciplined with our eyes."

Baltimore has only 22 interceptions, led by rookie safety Ed Reed's five pick-offs, and ranks 24th in the league against the pass. However, the Ravens have surrendered only 13 passing touchdowns, an impressive figure.

Because the Browns' rookie running back William Green has emerged as a much greater threat than he was when the Ravens defeated the Browns in Cleveland, more attention will be paid when Couch appears to stick the football in Green's gut.

"They try to suck the inside linebackers up into the line and dump it behind us," said Ravens inside linebacker Edgerton Hartwell, who leads the team with 162 tackles. "At my position, you have to respect the run. After you fill and notice the ball isn't there, you have to haul butt back to the middle of the field and get into their pass routes.

"We'll be yelling out there. We'll have our fans helping us out. I'm sure we'll get the job done."

Bottom line: The Ravens' defense has to account for Couch's passing while not ignoring Green on the ground. It's a balancing act.

"Once you know what the play is, you've got to do your job and execute," Brown said. "It really can be that simple."


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