Ravens Vs. Browns

September 24, 2006|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN REPORTER

Today, 4:05 p.m.--Cleveland Browns Stadium--Chs. 13, 9 -- Line: Ravens by 6 1/2

Ravens run offense vs. Browns run defense

The Browns have struggled against the run this season, giving up more than 150 yards on the ground against the New Orleans Saints and Cincinnati Bengals. But much of the Bengals' yards were gained when Cleveland was not playing 365-pound nose tackle Ted Washington, who will make it tough for the Ravens to run inside. Ravens running back Jamal Lewis has not gotten on track yet, failing to crack 80 yards in his first two games. He has averaged 71.5 yards in four games against the Browns since gaining more than 200 in each of two meetings in 2003. Browns defensive end Orpheus Roye (shoulder) could be replaced by backup nose tackle Ethan Kelley.

Edge: Even

Ravens pass offense vs. Browns pass defense

Because quarterback Steve McNair has not been able to stretch the field, defenses are stacking the box and jumping on the Ravens' short and intermediate routes. McNair's yards-per-attempt average (5.4) is worse than Kyle Boller's rookie season average (5.6). The Ravens have to capitalize on the matchup between receiver Mark Clayton and cornerback Ralph Brown, who is replacing injured starter Gary Baxter. Brown was repeatedly picked on as a nickel back last week against Cincinnati. Left tackle Jonathan Ogden is questionable with a hyperextended right knee, but the Browns have not put consistent pressure on quarterbacks the first two games.

Edge: Even

Browns run offense vs. Ravens run defense

The key here is whether Reuben Droughns, a formidable power back, will play. He is listed as questionable with sore shoulder, leaving the Browns with two inexperienced options if he can't go. Rookie Jerome Harrison and second-year back Jason Wright have combined for 17 career carries. The Ravens have completely shut down the run, allowing 1.7 yards a carry. The next-best defense is the Seattle Seahawks, who are giving up 2.8 yards a carry. Nose tackle Kelly Gregg faces Hank Fraley, the Browns' fourth center since the start of training camp.

Edge: Ravens

Browns pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense

While the spotlight has fallen on disgruntled tight end Kellen Winslow, the biggest downfield threat is receiver Braylon Edwards. The former first-round pick has beaten cornerbacks deep in each of the first two games and is averaging 22.2 yards a catch. Cornerback Chris McAlister draws this assignment after holding his own against Oakland's Randy Moss last week. Browns quarterback Charlie Frye is more of a threat with his legs than his arm. The Ravens lead the NFL with six interceptions, half of their total for all of last season. Linebacker Bart Scott tops the Ravens with three sacks after recording four in his first four seasons in the league.

Edge: Ravens

Special teams

The Ravens have given up a touchdown on special teams in two of their past three meetings with Cleveland. The Ravens have struggled in that area this season, ranking 20th in punt coverage and 29th in kickoff coverage. The Browns' Dennis Northcutt ranks third in the AFC in punt returns (12.3 yards), and the Ravens' B.J. Sams is second (14.6). In a game in which the offenses could struggle to get to the end zone, the kicking game is a wash. The Ravens' Matt Stover has converted 26 consecutive field-goal attempts, and Cleveland's Phil Dawson has converted on 28 of his past 30 tries.

Edge: Browns

Intangibles

The Ravens have had troubles in Cleveland, losing their past two trips there by a combined 40-19. They are also on a four-game losing streak to AFC North teams and are 2-7 on the road against division opponents the past three years. The Browns haven't gone 0-3 since 1999, their first year back as an expansion team.

Edge: Browns

Prediction

This one will be closer than what many expect. The Ravens have done an admirable job of focusing against less-than-stellar opponents, but they are due for a letdown. This is the time when their defense will prove it can win a tight game.

Ravens, 16-13

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