Rice fallout hasn't gone, but Harbaugh stressing preparing for next game

September 15, 2014|By Jeff Zrebiec | The Baltimore Sun

When Ravens coach John Harbaugh scanned the audience in the team auditorium Monday afternoon, the scene was dramatically different than it was for much of last week.

There weren't multiple rows of television cameras to chronicle his responses to questions about Ray Rice, a player who was no longer in the organization. There weren't dozens of media outlets represented in the room, few of them interested in talking about a football game.

The attention surrounding Rice's release and the way the organization and the NFL handled the running back's assault on his then-fiancee was not the overwhelming topic of conversation at the team facility Monday after it dominated dialogue around the Ravens last week. However, Harbaugh understands that the Ravens will probably be dealing with the questions all year.

"We're probably not going to get away from it and probably rightly so," Harbaugh said. "Not just us, the league and hopefully it impacts society in a good way going forward."

The NFL Players Association is expected to file an appeal of Rice's indefinite suspension by today's deadline, according to sources.

The Ravens, meanwhile, will get back to work today in preparation for Sunday's AFC North contest against the improved Cleveland Browns. After their 26-6 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Thursday evened their record at 1-1, Harbaugh gave his players off Saturday through Monday, presenting them with a rare extended, in-season break.

In a five-day span, the Ravens not only navigated the short turnaround and two physical games against what may be their top two rivals, they dealt with the emotional Rice fallout and all that entailed.

"We don't get up in the swirl as much as you think," Harbaugh said. "The media is always here, and I thought our guys did a great job of handling the situation that came up. I'm not trying to downplay it. But our guys also understood, they were able to compartmentalize the fact that they had to address a situation that was going on that was a deep-seated deal, that has ramifications beyond sports. It's a bigger issue than sports. It's a societal issue. It's a problem that is all across society.

"… If good can come out of that some way, and our organization and players can be part of that somehow, I would really embrace that. I would hope we can do that. So that part was very important, it was part of what we went through and I thought our guys handled it great. But they also did a great job of preparing for the football game."

Harbaugh broke down the tape of the victory over the Steelers late last week and his initial optimism was reaffirmed. He saw significant improvement from Week 1 to Week 2. Against the Steelers, the Ravens committed no turnovers and forced three, were called for only four penalties and possessed the ball more than 10 minutes longer than the Steelers.

"We're not really in the evaluation mode right now. We're in the getting-better mode, being as good as we can be in all three phases," Harbaugh said. "We have plenty of things to work on and get better at. We're playing well in different ways for the most part. We're not making a lot of mistakes. We're not committing a lot of penalties. We're playing with very good discipline. We're playing with good technique overall. We still should just be scratching the surface in what we're trying to accomplish. We need to get a lot better and we need to do it quickly in order to be the team we want to be in all three phases."

The Ravens had beaten the Browns 11 straight times before they lost to them, 24-18, on the road last November. That was their first defeat by Cleveland during Harbaugh's and quarterback Joe Flacco's tenure.

The Browns, however, will provide a different look at FirstEnergy Stadium Sunday. Former Ravens assistant Mike Pettine, whom Harbaugh called a friend, is the Browns' fifth coach in the past seven seasons. He has the Browns playing a disciplined and physical style of football, evidenced by their zero turnovers through two weeks.

"There's no comparing them to the past," Harbaugh said. "Really the question is what we're facing now this week, and they are playing mistake-free football. To me, that's why they're 1-1. They could easily be 2-0. They've not turned the ball over. They've played solid defense. They haven't given up too many big plays since the first half of the first game [against the Steelers]. That's why they're playing so well."

On offense, veteran Brian Hoyer has established himself as Cleveland's starting quarterback, though Harbaugh said that the Ravens will also be preparing for rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel, a first-round pick in May. With free agent acquisition Ben Tate sidelined with a knee injury, the Browns are going with two rookies — former Towson standout Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell — at running back, and they rank seventh in the league in rushing yards per game (152.5) and fifth in yards per carry (5.1).

The Browns are also loaded with talent on defense. The group gave New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees all sorts of problems in the Browns' surprising 26-24 victory on Sunday. In that game, Browns safety Tashaun Gipson picked off Brees and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown. Hoyer also led the comeback victory by driving the Browns down the field in the final seconds and setting up former Raven Billy Cundiff's game-winning 29-yard field goal.

"He's the best quarterback they've had in a number of years," Harbaugh said of Hoyer, who is 4-1 as the Browns' starter dating back to last year. "He's playing great."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsun

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