After clashing with the Cincinnati Bengals’ second-ranked rush defense Nov. 20 and then the San Francisco 49ers’ top-ranked run defense four days later, the offense gets a shot at the Cleveland Browns’ pass defense, which is ranked first in the NFL.
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Cleveland is allowing just an average of 174.7 yards this season. The unit is tied with the Ravens for the fewest passing touchdowns surrendered (four) since Week 5, and cornerback Joe Haden ranks second in the league with 16 pass breakups.
“They’re covering real well,” coach John Harbaugh noted. “[Browns defensive coordinator] Dick Jauron does a great job in the back end. He’s kind of a secondary guy from way back. They’re very solid. They don’t give up a lot of big plays. They get good pressure up front. They’re a very good defensive football team. If you look at the numbers across the board – red zone, yards per play – there are a number of categories where they are in the top five, top 10 defensively this year. Very salty defense. Just watch them on tape. It’s going to be a big challenge for us, especially there, in the conditions that we are probably going to have to go against.”
One caveat to Cleveland’s numbers against the pass is that the run defense ranks 29th, permitting opponents to gain an average of 138.6 yards on the ground. That aspect caught the attention of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
“You look at these guys as a whole defense,” he said. “The bottom line is, people have had success running the ball on them, for whatever reason. I think when you look at their pass defense, obviously, they’ve been good in the pass defense. Some of that is the fact that teams have just chose to run the ball on them because they haven’t been able to have success.”
The Ravens, who rank 13th in passing, are just one of four teams that boast a 700-yard receiver (Anquan Boldin, 747), a 600-yard receiver (Torrey Smith, 613) and a 500-yard receiver (Ray Rice, 537). (The New England Patriots, the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys are the others.)
That’s why the offense won’t shy away from throwing the ball Sunday.
“You’ve just got to stick to the game plan,” Smith said. “Either way, you’re going to have to run and throw the ball regardless of who is over there.”