Ravens hope to turn down din for Browns; Billick uses taped boos in drilling for crowd


CLEVELAND -- When Ravens cornerback Duane Starks was playing at the University of Miami, he experienced heated rivalries on the road against teams such as West Virginia and Florida State.

So today, when the Ravens (2-5) appear in to Cleveland Browns Stadium to face the Browns (1-7), Starks -- as well as many teammates -- know what to expect, crowd noise that could reach a deafening level.

The Ravens are playing in Cleveland for the first time since owner Art Modell moved the franchise from Cleveland to Baltimore nearly four years ago.

"I heard my share of boos in college, especially when we played Florida State," said Starks. "I know what it's like on the road. This is my first time going to Cleveland. I have heard about what to expect, but I've got a feeling it will be something I have never experienced."

Both the Ravens and the Browns have taken extra precautions about this game, and Modell said he doesn't expect trouble.

A policy at the stadium prohibits signs, but the booing will be so loud that Ravens coach Brian Billick piped in a lot of crowd noise during practices the past week.

Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett played in Cleveland for six years. He expects the fans to be rowdy but not like in the old days at Cleveland Stadium.

The Dawg Pound has become a corporate Pooch Palace -- with two areas designated for fanatical fans -- and now has its own logo. The seats have backs.

Tightened security in the areas has cut down on the obscenities and objects being hurled at players. What happened? It's called "permanent seat licenses."

"The average person can't go to a game anymore," said Burnett. "What's it going to cost him, about $280 per game? When I was there, those fans were crazy. They were great fans. I expect them to be extra loud but not like it used to be. I've also heard the configuration of the stadium has changed, and the acoustics aren't the same."

The Browns aren't the same, either, although this expansion version has gotten better gradually since August. Not in a class with the Ravens physically and in talent, they still will get an emotional lift today.

The Browns also were encouraged by their 17-10 loss to the Ravens in Baltimore on Sept. 26, and Cleveland won its first game last Sunday, 21-16, against the New Orleans Saints on a 56-yard "Hail, Mary" pass on the game's last play.

"I admit, my patience was starting to run a little thin," said Browns coach Chris Palmer. "But in this situation, as long as you're making progress every week, that's all you can ask for as coaches and players.

"We're approaching this game like any other game. Players and coaches stay in their own little world, but I'm sure our fans have a lot of animosity."

Defensively, the Ravens will focus on stopping quarterback Tim Couch, the first player taken in the 1999 draft. Couch has completed 104 of 196 passes for 1,161 yards and seven touchdowns. He has been virtually a one-man offense, occasionally teaming with receiver Kevin Johnson for big plays. Johnson has 29 catches for 466 yards and five touchdowns.

"Couch is progressing every week," Billick said. "You're reminded why he was the No. 1 draft pick. He throws well from the pocket. He makes plays on the run, and he shows leadership and toughness every week."

The Ravens should be able to get to Couch or, at least, make him move around in the pocket.

In the teams' first game, Ravens defensive ends Michael McCrary, Burnett and outside linebacker Peter Boulware constantly beat Cleveland tackles Orlando Brown and Lomas Brown.

But the Browns had some success running up the middle against the Ravens, who were without defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who was recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. Browns running back Terry Kirby had 51 yards on 18 carries.

Siragusa will start today.

"Tony Siragusa is a force inside," said Palmer. "I played against him when he was at [Indianapolis], and I got a lot of respect for him. He is a major part of a great defense that was playing well before but is playing with a lot more confidence now."

Offensively, the Ravens would like to score early and take some of the rowdiness out of the crowd.

The Browns are allowing 169.1 rushing yards and 229.9 passing yards a game. The Ravens counter with running back Errict Rhett, who is fourth in the AFC with 541 rushing yards on 135 carries. Rhett rushed for 113 yards against Cleveland in September, but Billick still was trying to find some strength in his passing game.

The Ravens are expected to play smash-mouth football today, although they may surprise the Browns with a package that contains speedsters Jermaine Lewis, Patrick Johnson and Billy Davis on the field at the same time.

"We have to run the football, and it would be all right with me if we ran it every down," said Ravens right guard Jeff Blackshear. "We have to step up our level of play. I can't imagine what it's going to be like, especially with their fans.

"But you can't go into town with a mind-set of losing. You have to think about getting a win and getting out of town quickly."

Ravens today

Site: Cleveland Browns Stadium

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Ravens by 3 1/2

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

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