Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec breaks down the Ravens' game against the Cleveland Browns Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
RAVENS: Despite his woeful performance against the Houston Texans last week, quarterback Joe Flacco needs one more touchdown pass to eclipse his career high of 25, and 239 passing yards to move past his career high of 3,912. In 13 career games against the Browns, Flacco has thrown 16 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Steve Smith had five catches for 101 yards in the first meeting with the Browns. James Hurst is expected to start at right tackle for injured Rick Wagner.
BROWNS: For a second straight week, the Ravens will face an unproven quarterback. Unlike the Texans' Case Keenum, Connor Shaw, an undrafted rookie, has never played in an NFL game. He was named the starter on Friday, with Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer ailing. His task will be to invigorate a Browns' passing game that has a league-low 12 touchdowns. Star wide receiver Josh Gordon won't play because the Browns suspended him for violating team rules.
RAVENS: Justin Forsett keeps saying he feels fine, that knee and ankle injuries aren't major issues. However, his recent games seemingly indicate that a career-high in carries — he has 100 more than any of his previous seasons — has taken a toll. Over the past two games, Forsett has just 67 yards on 26 carries, an average of just 2.6 yards per carry. The Ravens are still averaging 126 rushing yards per game, but that's also how many yards they've totaled the past two weeks.
BROWNS: The Browns rank 17th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, though they've been effective running in the red zone. Cleveland has 16 rushing touchdowns, the fourth most in the NFL and 12 more than they had all last season. Rookie Isaiah Crowell has eight of those scores and a team-leading 601 yards. Fellow rookie Terrance West (Towson) has had an up-and-down season and he's coming off a game in which he didn't get a carry.
RAVENS: One of the few positives from the loss to the Texans was that the run defense held up, extending its streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher to 25 games. The Texans gained 123 yards on the ground — the second most the Ravens have allowed all year — but they did it on 38 carries and averaged just 3.2 yards per attempt. The Ravens have allowed just seven rushing touchdowns all season and the Browns have two of them. Nose tackle Brandon Williams continues to be a force.
BROWNS: The Browns are dead last in the NFL in run defense, surrendering 142.4 yards per game on the ground. Over the past two weeks, they've allowed Cincinnati's Jeremy Hill to rush for 148 yards and two touchdowns, and Carolina's Jonathan Stewart to gain 122 yards. The Browns clearly miss injured defensive tackle Phil Taylor. The Browns allowed 160 yards rushing to the Ravens in Week Three. Karlos Dansby is their top run stopper with 85 tackles.
RAVENS: The Ravens allowed 284 passing yards to the Browns in the first meeting, but much has changed for both teams. Only one starter in the Ravens' secondary that day — free safety Darian Stewart — remains in the same role. The Ravens rank 28th in the NFL against the pass, but their cornerbacks have played much better the past two weeks. Elvis Dumervil is one sack from setting a career high with 18. The Ravens had only one sack against Cleveland back in September.
BROWNS: With an aggressive and ball-hawking secondary, the Browns have given quarterbacks problems all season. Opposing quarterbacks have a 71.9 rating against Cleveland, the lowest in the league. The Browns also lead the league with 21 interceptions and are third with 29 forced turnovers. However, their interception leader, Tashaun Gipson, went on injured reserve last week. Former Raven Paul Kruger has had a nice second season with the Browns; his 10 sacks lead the team.
RAVENS: Jacoby Jones was one of the few Ravens who did anything against the Texans, with a 45-yard punt return that set up a touchdown and a 30.5-yard average on four kickoff returns. Jones is second in the NFL in kickoff return average and eighth in punt return average. Sam Koch is tied for second in the NFL with a 47.4 punting average, which would be the highest of his career. Justin Tucker has made 27 of 32 field goal attempts. The Ravens' coverage teams have been good despite weekly turnover.
BROWNS: Former New Orleans Saints kicker Garrett Hartley replaced an injured Billy Cundiff prior to Week 15, and he's converted both of his field-goal attempts this season. Veteran punter Spencer Lanning has struggled. Reserve defensive back Johnson Bademosi leads the league with 15 special-teams tackles, and he's one of the reasons the Browns' coverage teams have been among the league's best. The Browns have used a host of returners, including former Raven Shaun Draughn.
RAVENS: The Ravens have said all the right things about just focusing on the Browns and not worrying about the result of the San Diego Chargers-Kansas City Chiefs game. But it will be interesting to see how they'll react if the Chargers take an early lead and word starts circulating around the sideline. Since becoming the Ravens' head coach, John Harbaugh's teams are 12-1 against the Browns, including a 23-21 victory on Sept. 21. The Ravens are 5-2 at home this season.
BROWNS: Mike Pettine's team appeared ready to make a playoff run but the Browns have lost four consecutive games. All, however, is not lost. With a win, they'd have an 8-8 finish, their best since 2007. A victory would give them their second most road wins since 1999 and tie them for their most divisional wins since 2002. Pettine, a former Ravens assistant, would like nothing more than to end his ex-team's playoff hopes, but the Browns haven't won in Baltimore since 2007.
As surprising as it was to see the Ravens get manhandled by the Texans in such a big game, it would be even more shocking to see them not take care of business against the struggling Browns. Flacco traditionally plays well against Cleveland, so he should bounce back from last week. The Ravens will also take advantage of a few turnovers. Back in September, most Ravens' fans would've been ecstatic if the team finished 10-6. Now, unless the Chiefs come through and beat the Chargers, there will be nothing but disappointment late Sunday afternoon because 10-6 won't be enough to play on.