Reporting Daryl Ruiter
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Baltimore Ravens are once again perched atop the AFC North and starring down at the last place Browns.
It’s a view they’ve enjoyed for years but the times could be changing – and they know it.
Baltimore holds a 1-game lead on Pittsburgh in the standings and are coming off of their bye week following a 43-13 blowout loss at Houston on Oct. 21.
They aren’t expecting another bye week against the Browns.
Despite being 5-1 and owning the Browns over the last 4-plus seasons – coach John Harbaugh, quarterback Joe Flacco, and running back Ray Rice are a perfect 9-0 for their careers – they know they’ll have their hands full Sunday in Cleveland.
“We’ve always had the greatest respect for all the teams in this division,” Harbaugh said. “Cleveland plays us to the wire every single year. It’s always a tough, physical game.”
The Ravens have won those 9 games by an average of 13.2 points but the Browns are starting to close the gap.
The last 8 meetings have been decided by an average of 8.8 points. The Last 2 by 6.5.
In week 4, Baltimore hung on for a 23-16 victory.
The Browns drove down the field in the final seconds to get within striking distance of the end zone. The game was a high Brandon Weeden pass out of the back of the end zone on 4th down from going to overtime.
“It’s kind of crazy that we haven’t lost, because there have been a lot of close ones,” Flacco said. “Even all the way back to my rookie year, they were beating us up there and we came back. There have been a lot of games that have come down to the wire, including the last one we played against them.”
Flacco threw for 356 yards and receiver Anquan Boldin had 9 catches — all in the second half — for 131 yards in that week 4 win which did not come easy.
“They’re a good ‘D.’ They play hard; they’re physical,” Flacco said.. They’re bringing a good amount of pressure and trying to get to the quarterback a little bit. The biggest thing is with all of the teams in our division – these guys are just the same – they play physical ball. They make it a full 60 minutes for you.”
While Browns fans would love to consider the Ravens, who are the former Browns, a rival, it’d be understandable based on the lopsided record if Baltimore didn’t feel the same.
Harbaugh says that’s not the case.
“We consider it a rivalry. We always have,” Harbaugh said. “Same thing with Cincinnati. It’s just a really tough division, and it always has been. From the outside looking in, that’s how we’ve seen it and that’s kind of how it’s played out every time we’ve played everybody in this division.”
Baltimore is a perfect 4-0 after their bye under Harbaugh and the Ravens have won NFL-best 14 straight in games after loss.
The Ravens are also riding a 10-game winning streak inside AFC North – the longest current division winning streak in the league.
But all is not well with the vaunted Ravens defense.
They are no longer the great wall of China when it comes to stopping the run.
The Ravens are ranked 30th in the NFL and have allowed 621 yards – an average 207 yards – rushing in the last three games. This from a franchise that went 39 consecutive games without allowing a 100 yard rusher.
Those days are long gone and injuries have played a major role as to why.
Linebacker Ray Lewis (triceps) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (knee) have been lost to season-ending injuries. Defensive tackle Haloiti Ngata may not be available Sunday. He missed practice Thursday and Friday with a shoulder injury.
Linebacker Terrell Suggs returned from a torn Achilles against the Texans. He has 13 career sacks and 7 forced fumbles against Browns.
Having Suggs back on the field should help but won’t solve the problem – that’s something that even he realizes.
“One man is not going to change that,” Suggs said. “It’s definitely a team effort. We’ve all got to do things better, the whole defense. It’s a team thing. We’ve got to get back to playing Ravens style football. But we’re not panicking. We’re not hitting the panic button. We know we’ve got address it, and it needs to get fixed.”
The Ravens also don’t play well on the road where they play 3 of their next 4 games. They’ve lost 2 of their 3 games away from home to date this season and their win was a 9-6 triumph over now 1-7 Kansas City.
“It’s tough to win on the road; we already know that,” Rice said. “As professionals and a growing offense, it’s our job to go out and execute on the road at a high level. We owe that, No. 1, to ourselves, but to the organization and our fans to go out there and not lay an egg on the road.”
Rice loves running against the Browns. He averages 91.6 yards per game and his 824 yards on the ground are the most against any opponent in his career.
“Their defense is playing at a high level, and we’re going to have a challenge ahead of us,” Rice said. We know. It’s no surprise that they just beat a great team in the San Diego Chargers. They are coming off a high, and we have to go in there, and like coach ‘Harbs’ [John Harbaugh] said, ‘It’s a must-win situation for us.’”