You have to establish the run.
So goes conventional NFL wisdom, and the Browns knew Sunday's game would be no different. But Jamal Lewis and the Browns faced more than they could handle in their efforts get their rushing offense going on Sunday.
"Their job is always to run at you," Ray Lewis said in the afterglow of Baltimore's 37-27 victory. "If there's one thing I've said, if you're willing to run up on the lion, don't tell them that's what you're going to do. Sneak up on it.
"You're not going to be able to run the ball on us. That's just a fact."
Jamal Lewis, the Browns' leading rusher, was the latest to run the gauntlet that is the Ravens' run defense, carrying the ball 19 times for 49 yards.
Thanks in large part to the efforts of Haloti Ngata and Justin Bannan in clogging up the line of scrimmage, Baltimore did not allow a 100-yard rusher for the 27th consecutive game. Cleveland's Lewis, who came into Sunday's contest averaging nearly 70 yards per game, was held to his second-lowest output of the season (next to his 38 yards against Pittsburgh on Sept. 14).
Ngata made his presence felt immediately as he combined with Jarret Johnson to stop Lewis on the game's first play from scrimmage, limiting him to 1 yard on that rush.
Lewis was hard-pressed to improve on that output, as he would average 2.6 yards per carry with a long rush of 7 yards. In addition, the Browns picked up just one first down on the ground, coming on a second-quarter rush by Lewis.
The defensive front continued to turn in big plays not only in the running game, but also by disrupting Cleveland's passing plans.
Trevor Pryce notched Baltimore's lone sack of the day in the first quarter. On the play, Ngata split his blockers, center Hank Fraley and guard Rex Hadnot, flushing Browns quarterback Derek Anderson out of the pocket. Pryce similarly shed guard Eric Steinbach's block and wrapped up Anderson for a 9-yard loss on his third sack of the season.
Having allowed touchdowns on the Browns' first two second-half possessions and falling behind 27-13 with 6:17 remaining in the third quarter, Ray Lewis took it upon himself to fire up the troops.
"I told each of them to look me in the eyes," he said. "I told them we were going to win the game and how we were going to do it. We have to believe that. Adversity builds character."
The Ravens' defense responded to the nine-time Pro Bowler's challenge and allowed only one first down the rest of the way.
On the Browns' subsequent possession, Bannan got a paw up at the line of scrimmage on third down and batted down Anderson's pass to force a punt.
Later, on a key fourth-quarter Cleveland possession immediately after Baltimore had taken its first lead of the second half, Baltimore once again forced a three-and-out. Keying that defensive stand was Bannan's first-down defense, on which his displayed outstanding agility.
With Cleveland operating from the shotgun, Bannan quickly moved up field, but running back Jason Wright ran past Bannan on the draw play. As Bart Scott slowed Wright by filling his rushing lane, Bannan, who was already eight yards up the field, turned and sprinted back to take out Wright's legs.
As the Ravens continued minimizing the Cleveland offense's effectiveness, even the Browns sensed the game slipping from their grasp.
"We felt the momentum change and they started making plays," Anderson recalled. "It's very frustrating."
On the game-sealing play with 2:52 to play, Ngata's pressure on Anderson forced an errant throw as he attempted to connect with Wright on a screen pass. Suggs intercepted the toss and returned it 42 yards to paydirt.
On the sequence, Hank Fraley chipped Ngata and began to set up his block for the screen. After freeing himself from Fraley, however, Ngata used his closing speed to force Anderson into a hurried throw. Once Suggs made the theft, Ngata promptly turned and blocked Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, the only player with any opportunity to catch Suggs on his trek to the end zone.
Suggs recalled his thought process en route to making the play like this: "We're an aggressive defense, and that's probably one of the plays that we can make. I rushed the passer the play before, and I saw him talking to himself. In a game time situation, what can he possibly be talking about? I kind of just baited him, and he threw it right to me."
In summary, the Browns' final six possessions yielded four consecutive three-and-out series followed by Suggs' pick-six and a turnover on downs. Those six drives combined for just 40 yards, including 23 on the ground, and one first down. The lone first down came on Cleveland's last possession when the outcome was all but decided.
And, as if his efforts on defense weren't enough, Ngata also displayed his versatility on the offensive side of the ball for the second consecutive game, making an appearance in the Ravens' goal line package. Ngata lined up in Baltimore's heavy personnel group several times, including on Le'Ron McClain's third-quarter touchdown run.
"We talk about character and integrity and doing what's right," head coach John Harbaugh summarized. "To overcome the adversity that they did in the second half speaks about how big their hearts are."
For the 27th consecutive time, an opposing running back goes home with a better understanding of all the qualities - the heart, the power, the speed and the skill - that make the Ravens' run stuffers the best in the business.