RAVENS PASSING GAME: The big question coming in is which Ravens' offense will show up. If it's the one from their three other road games this season, the Ravens could be in trouble. Quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown for 566 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions on the road this year. He is 9-0 in his career against the Browns with 11 touchdowns and a 92.3 quarterback rating. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin dominated the Browns earlier this season, catching nine balls for 131 yards.
BROWNS PASSING GAME: Brandon Weeden's 1,912 passing yards are the third most by a rookie through the first eight games in NFL history. He is second among first-year signal callers in touchdowns (nine) and completions of 20 or more yards (27). Weeden has thrown 10 interceptions, the second most in the NFL, but he's gone two straight games without one. Wide receiver Josh Gordon leads all rookie receivers in yards (379) and touchdowns (four).
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: Ravens coach John Harbaugh has hinted that running back Ray Rice, his backup Bernard Pierce, and fullback Vonta Leach could all see more prominent roles going forward. Now would be the time. Rice has 824 career rushing yards in nine games against the Browns, his most against any opponent. In their last four games in Cleveland -- all played in November or December -- the Ravens have averaged 193 rushing yards.
BROWNS RUNNING GAME: Cleveland is averaging just 85.9 yards rushing per game, which is 30th in the NFL, but it appears that they have a future star in running back Trent Richardson. Playing through a rib injury, the first-round pick out of Alabama has five touchdowns and is coming off a career-high 122-yard rushing performance against the San Diego Chargers. Left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack are among the best in the NFL at their positions.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens held rookie Trent Richardson to 47 yards on 14 carries in Week 4, but that was one of the few successes for this otherwise disappointing group. Allowing 142.9 yards per game, the Ravens have statistically the third-worst run defense in the NFL. Over the last three weeks, the opposition has totaled 622 yards on the ground against a Ravens' defense that is without leader Ray Lewis. Defensive tackles Terrence Cody, Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Art Jones have made little impact.
BROWNS RUSH DEFENSE: The Browns have been uneven against the run, holding the Ravens' Ray Rice to 49 yards in Week 4 but then allowing 200 yards rushing to the New York Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw the next week. They are allowing 131.6 yards on the ground per game, which ranks 24th in the NFL. They have been stingy against the run in the red zone, permitting five rushing touchdowns in eight games. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, a former Maryland standout, leads the Browns in tackles and sacks.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: Cornerback Cary Williams' 63-yard interception return for a touchdown was the decisive play in the Ravens' 23-16 victory over the Browns in September. It was also one of the few bright spots in a rocky first seven games for the secondary. The Ravens are 24th in the NFL in pass defense (257.1 yards per game) and tied for 24th in sacks (12). The return of Terrell Suggs has provided hope that the pass rush will improve. Safety Ed Reed has 10 interceptions in 20 games against Cleveland.
BROWNS PASS DEFENSE: The return of cornerback Joe Haden from suspension has helped this group, which held Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to 154 yards passing last week. Still, the Browns' secondary has allowed 15 touchdown passes this season and 260.8 yards per game through the air, which ranks 25th in the NFL. They do have 10 interceptions. Four of the Browns' 18 sacks came against the Ravens in Week 4.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: While the Ravens' offense and defense have both battled inconsistency, this unit has been nearly flawless. Rookie kicker Justin Tucker has connected on 14-of-15 field goals and is 4-of-4 from beyond 50 yards, setting a team record. Punter Sam Koch is having another solid season and both Ravens' coverage units have been among the best in the NFL.
BROWNS SPECIAL TEAMS: One of the NFL's steadiest kickers, Phil Dawson is 12-of-12 on field-goal attempts and he's made all four from 50 yards or more, including three against the Ravens in the first meeting. He's 30-of-32 on field goals against the Ravens in his career. Joshua Cribbs ranks second in the NFL in both kickoff and punt return yardage. The Browns are holding teams to 20.5 yards per kickoff return, the third lowest total in the NFL, but they're allowing 14.9 yards per punt return, the third highest total.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens' psyche may be scarred from their blowout loss to Houston and from past road struggles, but they should enter Cleveland Browns Stadium with a ton of confidence. The Ravens are 9-0 against the Browns during the John Harbaugh, Flacco and Rice era. They have won an NFL-best 10 consecutive games against divisional foes. They are 4-0 under Harbaugh after the bye, and have won nine of their past 10 games following the week off.
BROWNS INTANGIBLES: With Weeden and Richardson leading the offense, the Browns appear to be headed in the right direction. Harbaugh noted earlier in the week that in the Browns, he sees a young team learning how to win. After losing their first five games, three of them by a touchdown or less, the Browns have won two of their last three. They should get a boost with the expected return of defensive tackle Phil Taylor who gave the Ravens problems last year.
PREDICTION: The Ravens have been so good following the bye under Harbaugh, and they've so dominated the Browns the past five seasons that it's really hard to go against them in this spot. But beyond those things, they've spent two weeks hearing about how badly they were dominated by the Texans and how poorly they've played this season on the road. They'll respond, relying on a heavy dose of Rice and the run game, and a couple of big stands from their much-maligned defense. Ravens, 23-17Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun