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Richardson to test Ravens' run defense tonight

Patriots running back Steven Ridley drives against the Ravens during the first half of their Sunday night game against the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Patriots running back Steven Ridley drives against the Ravens during the first half of their Sunday night game against the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

OWINGS MILLS - The first 10 yards were easy, but then came resistance from the Cincinnati Bengals' defense.

No problem.

Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson juked one would-be tackler, effortlessly ran through two leg tackles and eventually spun out of the grasp of one more Bengals defender before crossing the goal-line for an electrifying 23-yard touchdown catch-and-run.

It's the type of play those who watched the former University of Alabama star play in college have come to expect.

A rare combination of size, power, speed and vision, the physically imposing 5-foot-9, 230-pound Richardson was the Browns' top pick (third overall) in this year's draft.

He'll be a primary concern for the Baltimore Ravens' defense heading into tonight's matchup with Cleveland.

"He's a tough runner, not much else to say," said Ravens outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, a college teammate of Richardson's. "He's a hard runner and you've got to gang tackle him."

Richardson helped lead Alabama to national championships during two of his three collegiate seasons.

He shared carries with 2011 first-round pick Mark Ingram for his first two years with the Crimson Tide before taking over as the primary ball-carrier last season. He ran for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging nearly six yards per carry.

His production's been up and down as a rookie with the Browns, but he showed glimpses of his potential during Cleveland's 34-27 loss to Cincinnati Sept. 16.

He scored two touchdowns - one on a 32-yard run and another on the 23-yard catch-and-run - and finished with 145 total yards. He had 109 yards on 19 carries and added four catches for 36 yards.

Cleveland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said Richardson's "tremendous vision" sets him apart.

"If I could point to one thing that separates backs in this league, because all backs are good, there's not one back that you can say is much better than the other," Jackson said. "When you can add that vision skill to the equation, also with toughness and being able to have quick feet and be able to catch the ball out of the backfield, you add another dimension to an offense."

Baltimore struggled to stop the run in its season-opening win against the Bengals, but has fared better each of the last two weeks.

The Ravens limited New England Patriots ball-carriers to just 77 yards on 34 carries last week after holding Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy to only 81 yards on 25 carries the week before.

Nonetheless, Baltimore outside linebacker Albert McClellan expects Richardson to challenge the Ravens' front seven tonight.

"He loves contact, but he's also quick and kind of shifty," McClellan said. "So if you play too soft with him, he's going to find that soft shoulder and lay his shoulder into you. But if you don't show him any respect, you better have some good ankles because he can cut on a dime. He's a pretty tough running back."

Despite their 0-3 record, Baltimore isn't overlooking Richardson and the Browns.

Each of Cleveland's three losses has come by 10 points or less.

The Browns' defense has struggled the last two weeks without suspended cornerback Joe Haden, especially against the pass, but their offense has an improving rookie quarterback in Brandon Weeden and the dynamic Richardson lined up behind him.

After a shaky debut - tossing four interceptions in Cleveland's season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles - Weeden has thrown for 559 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in the Browns' last two games.

The Ravens are ranked 28th in the 32-team NFL against the pass, surrendering nearly 290 yards per game.

"We know [Weeden] is dangerous," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. "He's big, he's smart and he has a great arm. He gets the ball out very quickly. He has talent around him - not the least of which is running back Trent Richardson, who runs behind a very physical offensive line."

Weeden has completed passes to 11 different receivers this season, although his top wide receiver, Mohamed Massaquoi, will miss tonight's game with a hamstring injury.

With Massaquoi out, second-year player Greg Little and rookie Josh Gordon will both be counted on to play larger roles.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Little has struggled with drops, enough to draw the ire of Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur, but is a big, physical receiver who has seven catches for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Gordon was a second-round pick of the Browns in July's supplemental draft. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder provides another big target for Weeden, but also has the speed to stretch the field vertically. He had three catches for 40 yards in Cleveland's 24-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills Sunday.

"They have some young talented receivers that can get out on you at any time," Harbaugh said. "There are a lot of weapons out there. We have to make sure to contain those guys."

But Ravens outside linebacker Paul Kruger said Baltimore's first priority will be slowing Richardson and the running game.

"That's our focus," Kruger said. "That's something we talk about every game, and every year that's our big focus. ... First and foremost, we've got to stop the run."

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