The strength of the Ravens' defense was supposed to be its secondary. That's the way it looked on paper entering the 2022 season.
While Baltimore's pass defense has made strides since a rocky start to the season, it's been the Ravens' defensive line that has been a consistent pillar so far this season.
That muscle will be flexed again this week, as the Ravens take on the league's No. 1 rushing attack, led by the NFL's top rusher. Browns running back Nick Chubb enters Sunday's game at M&T Bank Stadium with 649 rushing yards (108 per game) and Cleveland is averaging 172 rushing yards per game.
"He's one of the best backs in the league, for sure," defensive tackle Justin Madubuike said. "We definitely have to keep him back there [and] not get him going early. So, those are things that we're trying to do to eliminate his run."
Baltimore's run defense ranks tied for seventh in the league, allowing just 103.8 yards per game. After some games allowing more than expected on the ground, the Ravens showed they can crack down on opponents' rushing game last week. Saquon Barkley entered as the NFL's second-leading rusher and left with just 83 yards on just 22 carries (3.8 per carry).
"It's a game to build on as far as the running game goes," defensive end Brent Urban said. "But it's tough every week. It's a new challenge with different guys out there. Now it's the No. 1-ranked rushing attack.
"They're an impressive team for sure. Their O-line is great. Nick Chubb is a tremendous running back. We have a tall task ahead of us. But it's a challenge we like. We're built strong up front and a lot of us like to play against the run. It'll be a fun one; we're all looking forward to it."
Ravens Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald said it's the Browns' scheme and variety of runs that makes them so difficult to stop. Head Coach John Harbaugh said Chubb's combination of explosiveness and power that makes him a special runner.
"You have to wrap him up, and then everyone else has to come too, because he's going to be running and bringing it 100 miles an hour with a lot of power," Harbaugh said. "If he's not the best back in the league, he's one of, for sure. So, we have a lot of respect for him [and] their whole offense, the way they're built, but he drives it."
The Ravens lost nose tackle Michael Pierce to a season-ending torn biceps on Sept. 25 against the Patriots, forcing rookie Travis Jones and Broderick Washington Jr. to step into larger roles.
While Baltimore would certainly be stronger with Pierce, the Ravens haven't missed beat, and their pass rush is getting cranked up as well.
Madubuike is tied for the team lead with 2.5 sacks so far this season. Defensive tackle Calais Campbell is just behind him with two. Jones got his first career sack last week against the Giants.
"I think it speaks to the depth and the guys in the room with 'Piercy' going down and having one less guy in the rotation so to speak," Macdonald said. "But it lets us stay flexible."
Madubuike gave the team's "wise words" at the end of practice Thursday. He'll be a game captain Sunday as well. The Ravens know the defensive line is going to be a huge player in whether Baltimore wins at M&T Bank Stadium.
"It's going to be a good challenge for us as a defense, so I'm looking forward to it really," Madubuike said.