Scouting report: Ravens vs. Browns

September 26, 2012|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

RAVENS PASSING GAME: The Ravens weren't kidding when they talked about revving up their passing attack in quarterback Joe Flacco's fifth season. Flacco is currently second in the NFL in passing yards (913) and tied for fifth in touchdowns (six). Flacco has never lost to the Browns in eight tries and Thursday night he'll face a shaky secondary, looking to improve on a career 94.4 quarterback rating against Cleveland. Flacco used all of his weapons in a 31-30 victory over the New England Patriots last Sunday, completing passes to eight different guys. Mostly quiet this season, wide receiver Anquan Boldin has 300 yards receiving and three touchdowns in five career games versus the Browns. The Ravens' offensive line has exceeded early outside expectations, allowing five sacks in three games.

BROWNS PASSING GAME: There's been some good and plenty bad so far from rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who is completing only 56.5 percent of his passes for 677 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions, which is tied for the NFL lead. It certainly would help if Weeden, a 28-year-old first-round pick, had a few more weapons around him, but his best receiver, Greg Little, is prone to drops and another one of his top options, Mohamed Massaquoi, has battled inconsistency and injuries. Weeden has also been sacked eight times despite the presence of standouts Joe Thomas and Alex Mack on the Cleveland offensive line.

EDGE: RAVENS

RAVENS RUNNING GAME: Ray Rice has punished a lot of teams, but he's specifically had his way with the Browns. His 775 rushing yards against them are his most against any team and his best career game on the ground — a 205-yard outburst — came against Cleveland in Week 13 last year. Rice has averaged 96.9 rushing yards over eight career games against the Browns to go along with three touchdowns. Rice is seventh in the NFL with 268 rushing yards but he ranks sixth in yards per carry (5.8) among backs with 30 carries or more. Balancing their passing game, the Ravens rushed for 121 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry against New England.

BROWNS  RUNNING GAME: Rookie Trent Richardson, an explosive and physical running back who the Browns selected third overall out of Alabama, has been the bright spot for Cleveland amid its 0-3 start. He leads the team in rushing yards (175) and receptions (11). He also is tied for the league lead among all rookies in points scored (18) and is second in receptions, third in yards from scrimmage (240) and fourth in yards. Still, the Browns are ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing yards, averaging 87.3 per game. Chris Ogbonnaya is Cleveland's top backup, but he has just one carry and is mostly used in the passing game.

EDGE: RAVENS

RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: While there are continued concerns with the pass defense, the Ravens have looked far stingier against the run the past two weeks. For the season, they are allowing 111.7 rushing yards per game, but much of that damage was done in Week One by the Cincinnati Bengals' BenJarvus Green-Ellis. In the victory over the Patriots, New England rushed for just 77 yards on 34 carries, representing a meager 2.3 yards per carry. The previous week, the Philadelphia Eagles rushed for 129 yards but only registered 3.1 per carry. Linebackers Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe are the Ravens' leading tacklers, while defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has made 16 total tackles in the interior.

BROWNS  RUSH DEFENSE: The Browns book-ended a strong showing versus the run against Green-Ellis and the Bengals by allowing 150 and 138 rushing yards respectively to the Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills. The Bills' output came despite already being without starter Fred Jackson and losing his backup, C.J. Spiller, who entered the game as the NFL's leading rusher, to a shoulder injury early in the game. Overall, Cleveland ranks 22nd in the NFL against the run, permitting 122.7 yards per game. Ahtyba Rubin is one of their top run stuffers inside, while linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (Maryland) is probably the Browns' top defensive player with 14 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions.

EDGE: RAVENS

RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: After three weeks of facing Pro Bowl quarterbacks, the Ravens' beleaguered pass defense could get a little breather this week against rookie Brandon Weeden, though they certainly aren't looking at it like that. The Ravens are giving up 289.7 yards per game through the air. Only four teams are surrendering more. With Lardarius Webb on one side and safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed playing center field, teams have victimized cornerbacks Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith on quick throws to the outside. One way to combat those is putting more heat on the quarterback. The Ravens are ninth in the league with eight sacks, but they've mostly had to blitz to get them.

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