Previewing Ravens vs. Browns
As the Ravens (3-4) take on the Cleveland Browns (3-5) on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, here's Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson's checklist of key players and questions to keep an eye on.
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1. Will the running game improve?
Ravens running back Ray Rice has piled up yards in the past against the Cleveland Browns.
He's rushed for 958 yards and four touchdowns in 11 career games against the Browns, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. It's the most yards he's gained against a single opponent.
That was in the past, though, when Rice was healthier and running behind a better offensive line than this season's iteration, which has struggled to create holes and adjust to run-game coordinator Juan Castillo's blocking-scheme changes.
Now that Rice has declared himself fully healthy and recovered from a strained left hip flexor suffered earlier this season, and now that the line has gone back to a more straightforward approach, perhaps a lackluster running game will improve.
It can't get much worse. The Ravens rank 28th in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging 74 yards per game. Rice has rushed for only 242 yards and three touchdowns, and is averaging 2.8 yards per carry. He's on pace to finish the season with 553 rushing yards.
Those numbers could be helped Sunday. But why has Rice had so much previous success against the Browns?
"I don't know what the deal is in Cleveland — [maybe it's] the grass or something like that," Rice said with a laugh. "Maybe there's something in the grass out there. I always look forward to playing these guys."
These Browns are stout up front, though, ranking seventh in total defense and 12th in rushing defense. They're allowing just 103.6 rushing yards per game.
Cleveland has a hefty front seven, including feisty nose tackle Phil Taylor, defensive linemen Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant and former Maryland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson.
"They're a very tough front," Rice said. "Obviously, we know what they're ranked statistically on defense. They get after it. We've definitely got our hands full."
The Ravens have been saying for a while that they're going to upgrade their dormant running game.
But, as quarterback Joe Flacco pointed out, talk is cheap.
"There's an issue, you talk about it, you work on getting it better, and you have to go out there and play well," Flacco said. "That's how you address things ... by going out there on Sunday and doing it well and getting yards. All the other stuff is really just talk. It's just a matter of going out there and doing it."