This could be a good week for the Ravens to get rookie running… (Patrick Smith, Getty Images )
If you listen to all the criticism the Ravens have taken from the so-called experts and all the moaning their fans have done recently, you'd think they're a team on the verge of collapse.
You'd think they were 2-5 instead of 5-2.
You'd never know they have the second-best record in the AFC going into Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, who are suddenly being portrayed as a team on the rise because they've won two of their last three, including that 7-6 snoozer over the free-falling San Diego Chargers two weeks ago.
Let's get this straight: the Browns are not a good team. They're not even a decent team, really.
I don't care if Ray Rice gushes about Trent Richardson as if he's the reincarnation of Jim Brown. I don't care if John Harbaugh talks up Brandon Weeden like he's Tom Brady.
What did that scowling poet of the gridiron, Bill Parcells, say about lousy teams? You are what your record says you are.
The Browns' record is 2-6. And that says they're not very good, period.
So even though they've looked shaky on the road, I look for the Ravens to put that nightmare 43-13 loss to the Houston Texans behind them and beat Cleveland decisively.
And if the Ravens are smart, what they should start doing now is give a few of their younger players a look, if for no other reason than to keep some veterans fresh down the stretch.
Personally, I'd start at running back, where it wouldn't hurt to give rookie Bernard Pierce more work.
Understand, I bow to no one in my respect for Ray Rice. And, like everyone else, I think he needs a lot more touches than he got against the Texans (nine carries for 42 yards), when it felt as if the Ravens abandoned the run right after the national anthem.
So I'm all for ground and pound. And we'll probably see the Ravens attempt that against the Browns' 26th-ranked defense, which stinks almost as much as Baltimore's 28th-ranked 'D'.
But if you ground and pound too much with Ray Rice, you'll pound him into the ground by December.
What is he, 5-foot-8 now? He'll be the size of Danny DeVito by then.
Pierce, the Ravens' third-round pick out of Temple in Apri'sl draft, has been a pretty good backup to Rice. But Pierce didn't carry the ball once against the Texans, when Rice and the rest of the offense were getting shut down.
What was that all about? There's no reason for the Ravens not to give Rice a blow on a regular basis and see what Pierce can do. He sure did pretty well the last time he faced the Browns.
In the Ravens' 23-16 win over Cleveland on Sept. 27, Pierce carried the ball six times for 48 yards. Even I can do the math there. That's an average of eight yards a carry, which isn't too shabby.
There are other spots where the Ravens could work in young players and see if they can help.
If guard Bobbie Williams keeps diving at the feet of pass rushers like he's Greg Louganis, why not give Jah Reid a shot?
I say that knowing Reid has been a major disappointment so far. He's been inactive for seven games after coming off a calf injury, slowly working his way back to game shape.
But Williams has looked slow and confused, and he's been beaten a lot. I'm not sure Reid can look any worse. And at 6-feet-7 and 340 pounds, he's the size of a small building. At least it'll take pass rushers longer to run around him on their way to Joe Flacco.
The Ravens could rotate some young guys in the defensive line, too. I think it's safe to say that Pernell McPhee, Terrence Cody, Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Arthur Jones haven't exactly set the world on fire with their play.
I give McPhee credit: the big defensive end came out this week and basically said he stunk, that he doesn't have the explosiveness he needs after two knee surgeries.
So why not see what second-year defensive tackle Bryan Hall or rookie DT DeAngelo Tyson can do, if even for a few series?
Who knows, that might even motivate a guy like Cody, the big nose tackle the Ravens took in the second round of the 2010 draft who's been more or less a bust so far.
As Harbaugh pointed out a few days ago, there's no need to make wholesale changes with this team. Again, the Ravens are 5-2, not 2-5.
But getting a look at some young guys and seeing if they can contribute and spell some veterans makes sense in the long run.
And the long run — deep into the playoffs — is what the Ravens say they're all about.
Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."