This season, Ravens have been playing like an offense possessed

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens aren't turning back the clock. They're just controlling it.

Nearing the midpoint of the regular season, the Ravens lead the NFL in average time of possession and have won that battle in six of seven games this season. That has helped factor into the team's 4-3 record.

"The coaches have always embedded it into us during training camp that the more we're able to move the ball, if we can run the ball and average 5 yards a run, that's a big plus for the offense," fullback Le'Ron McClain said. "That keeps the drives going. That's something we continue to work on because we want to continue to be No. 1 at that."

The team's stranglehold on time of possession did not escape the attention of Sunday's opponent, the Cleveland Browns.

"We know it's going to be a challenge for us," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said during a conference call yesterday. "So now what we have to do is every portion of our team has to play their part. Our specialists are going to have to do a good job so that we can maybe help change field position, and our defense has to do a good job of being able to stop the run and hopefully keep [the] offense off the field."

The Ravens have averaged a time of possession of 34 minutes, 7 seconds, more than 45 seconds longer than the New York Giants at 33:21.

The Ravens have kept the ball so long because of a run-first offense that ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing production, extends drives and consumes time.

Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco said the offense's ability to rush the ball has alleviated pressure from opposing defenses.

"Anytime you have a rushing game, it helps out a quarterback, because it opens up things in the passing game and it takes pressure off everybody on the team," he said. "But we're going to do what can to be successful. We've been a good running team all year, and we're going to continue to do that."

The other part of the equation in winning the time-of-possession battle is the play of the defense. The league's second-toughest unit in yards allowed has forced opponents into three-and-outs 32.9 percent (27 in 82 possessions), which ranks as the best percentage in the NFL.

"We tell our defense all of the time that time of possession is their responsibility for the first three quarters," coach John Harbaugh said. "If we get those three-and-outs like we did Sunday [six against the Oakland Raiders in Sunday's 29-10 win] and the kind of field position that we had, we're going to win the time-of-possession battle. I think our defense has done a great job of putting our offense back on the field to control time of possession."

McClain said the relationship between offense and defense is symbiotic. The longer the offense keeps the football, the more rested the defense is. And the more rested the defense is, the more energy the unit can expend to stymie opponents and return possession to the offense.

"When they're fresh, we can expect three-and-outs and the other team to not drive down the field for that long," McClain said. "So when we're on the field for a long time, we're helping out the defense. And when they get three-and-outs, they get us back on the field so that we can continue what we're doing and score points."

The only time the Ravens weren't successful was when the Indianapolis Colts turned the table, controlling the ball for 32:04 in a 31-3 win Oct. 12.

Part of that can be attributed to the Ravens' season-worst five turnovers. In addition, Flacco was forced to air it out a career-high 38 times because the team fell into a deep hole so early against the Colts.

Diverting the Ravens to throw rather than run is one of the priorities for the Browns.

"That's what all defenses try to do - stop the run so that you can put your opponent into throwing situations and now you can pin your ears back and go after them," Crennel said. "We're no different than everybody else. That's what we want to do."

As pleased as the Ravens are with managing the clock, the main objective is to score.

"It should help us in the long run, but we're trying to put points on the board," Flacco said. "If we have 50 points, I don't think we're going to be complaining about having 15 minutes of possession."

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Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Browns

by 1 1/2

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