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Scouting report: Breaking down the Ravens vs. the Cleveland Browns

RAVENS PASSING GAME: In the victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Joe Flacco played safe and efficient football. Expect more of the same as the Ravens want him to avoid the slow starts that plagued him on the road last year. Steve Smith and the two tight ends have been extremely productive, but the Ravens need to get Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown more involved. Smith will probably draw Joe Haden, the Browns' top corner. Steve Smith has been targeted 25 times in two games.

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BROWNS PASSING GAME: When quarterback Brian Hoyer led a late drive to beat the New Orleans Saints last week, he improved to 4-1 as the Browns' starter. He's not the most dynamic quarterback but he makes few mistakes. He's gone 132 passing attempts without an interception, the second longest active streak in the NFL. With Josh Gordon suspended, Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins are the Browns' top receiving threats. The status of Jordan Cameron, who has a shoulder injury, is worth monitoring.

EDGE: RAVENS

RAVENS RUNNING GAME: This was the game that Ray Rice was initially scheduled to return, but the Ravens have moved on without him. Bernard Pierce answered his shaky performance in Week One by rushing for 96 yards on 22 carries against the Steelers. He'll remain the starter with veteran Justin Forsett providing a good change-of-pace option. Forsett is averaging an NFL-best 6.6 yards per carry. As a team, the Ravens are averaging 4.5 yards per rushing attempt. They averaged 3.1 last season.

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BROWNS RUNNING GAME: The Browns signed veteran Ben Tate to solidify their rushing attack, but he is sidelined with a knee injury and the Browns' ground game has done just fine without him. Relying primarily on two rookies — former Towson star Terrance West and undrafted free agent Isaiah Crowell — Cleveland is seventh in the league in rushing yards per game (152.5) and fifth in yards per carry (5.1). Left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack are among the best in the league at their positions.

EDGE: BROWNS

RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: This group will be key this week with the success the Browns have had behind a power running attack. So far, the Ravens have been up to the task, allowing 89 rushing yards per game. They haven't allowed a rushing touchdown or a red-zone score. Inside linebackers Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley lead the team in tackles, but safeties Matt Elam and Darian Stewart have also been big in run support. Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw will be challenged to keep outside containment.

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BROWNS RUSH DEFENSE: Head coach Mike Pettine would like to see his defense be more stout against the run after the Browns struggled to stop the Steelers' Le'Veon Bell and the Saints' Mark Ingram the past two weeks. Teams are averaging 150.5 rushing yards per game and have three rushing touchdowns against them. After adding veteran middle linebacker Karlos Dansby to a defense that already included defensive linemen Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor, the Browns should have a more formidable run defense.

EDGE: RAVENS

RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: Suggs' 15 career sacks versus the Browns are his most against any other team, so perhaps this will this will be the week he gets off the sack schneid. Fellow outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil did his part last week with two sacks and he's totaled 10 sacks in six career games versus Cleveland. Cornerback Jimmy Smith is playing at an extremely high level and Elam is the primary reason for improved safety play. The Ravens continue to focus on limiting big plays.

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BROWNS PASS DEFENSE: The Browns have allowed 299.5 passing yards per game, which ranks 29th in the NFL. The opposition is converting 44 percent of third-down opportunities. But the Browns have forced three turnovers, including an interception return for a touchdown, and they have five sacks. Former Raven linebacker Paul Kruger (2 sacks) looks rejuvenated and the Browns have other pass-rushing threats, too. Joe Haden is one of the game's best cornerbacks and free safety Tashaun Gipson is always around the ball.

EDGE: BROWNS

RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Justin Tucker continues to be one of the Ravens' biggest weapons, connecting on all four of his field goal attempts last week. In two games, Tucker has gotten touchbacks on 10 of his 11 kickoffs. That's been big for a young special teams unit, which has been uneven in its punt coverage. Punter Sam Koch played in his franchise-record 130th consecutive game last week. Return man Jacoby Jones seems primed to break one.

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BROWNS SPECIAL TEAMS: Former Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff provided the winning points for the Browns last week against the Saints with a 29-yard field goal in the waning seconds. It was his first game-winning field goal as a Brown and the ninth of his career. He's 5-for-5 on field goal attempts this season. The Browns have held their opponents to the second-worst starting field position on kickoffs. Travis Benjamin had two punt return touchdowns last season but he's been replaced by Marlon Moore as kick returner.

EDGE: RAVENS

RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens finally had a normal week of preparation with a full schedule of practices. The players got three full days off following their uplifting victory over the Steelers and their defense should benefit from the expected return of cornerback Lardarius Webb. But they have to prove that they can win on the road, which last year's squad did just twice in eight tries. John Harbaugh's Ravens teams are 11-1 against the Browns, but the loss came in the last meeting.

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BROWNS INTANGIBLES: Times have been so tough in recent years that a victory over the Ravens would make the Browns 2-0 at home, their best start since 2004. The Browns are one of four teams that haven't turned the ball over yet. They have been one of the least penalized teams in the league. They beat the Ravens in the last meeting between the teams, ending an 11-game losing streak against them. Their coaching staff and roster is loaded with ex-Ravens, so motivation will be high.

EDGE: RAVENS

PREDICTION: The days of the Ravens going to Cleveland and overwhelming sad-sack Browns teams are probably over. Cleveland is an ascending team with a talented defense and an offense that does enough things well to give the opposition trouble. The Ravens have been much too inconsistent, especially on the road. But this is a game that they should find a way to win. They are healthy, well-rested and at least on paper, a more complete team. I think that will ultimately show, but not before the Ravens survive some anxious moments at FirstEnergy Stadium. Tucker will win the game with a late field goal. Ravens, 20-19

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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