The Ravens are set to take on the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium (1:00 p.m. ET).
*BR.com offers a look at Baltimore's next opponent. *
2009 Rankings* *
Total Offense – 32nd (234.0 ypg) Total Defense – 25th (379.5)
Rush Offense – 27th (71.5) Rush Defense – 31st (205.5)
Pass Offense – 28th (162.5) Pass Defense – 7th (174.0)
Points Per Game – T30th (13.0) Points Per Game – 29th (30.5)
Sizing Them Up
The Cleveland Browns are attempting to get out from under years of disappointing seasons with the hiring of new head coach Eric Mangini and general manager George Kokinis, who was formerly with the Ravens as the director of pro personnel.
Even though the Browns' offense is ranked dead last in the league, the unit does have its share of playmakers. Quarterback Brady Quinn was a highly-regarded prospect when he came out of Notre Dame in 2007, but he has struggled mightily so far this year.
But, Quinn has the luxury of being protected by left tackle Joe Thomas, one of the best blockers in the game. The Browns are also starting rookie center Alex Mack, so there are some inconsistencies up front, where the Cleveland offensive line has already allowed nine sacks through two games.
Quinn's best weapon in the passing attack is Braylon Edwards, a tall and physical wideout that has led the team in receiving for the past three years. On the ground, former Raven running back Jamal Lewis typically handles the workload, but he was ruled doubtful with a hamstring injury. That means backup Jerome Harrison will get the bulk of the carries with promising rookie James Davis coming off the bench.
Defensively, the man in the middle is Shaun Rogers, and the massive defensive tackle creates havoc on the interior to allow Cleveland's linebackers to make plays. Their two best tacklers are D'Qwell Jackson and Eric Barton, both inside linebackers. Cornerback Eric Wright, a former second-round draft pick, is playing up to his status, but his bookend, corner Brandon McDonald, was picked on last year when the Ravens played their AFC North rival.
What's Up?* *
My counterpart, Zac Jackson of ClevelandBrowns.com, examines the Ravens' offense resurgence.
"Many of the names are the same. Same with the schemes, the identity and the aggression. But these are not the same Ravens you know and probably loathe. These guys are scoring points."
Tony Grossi of the *Cleveland Plain-Dealer* breaks down how Mangini and Kokinis' first draft class is doing. Apparently, not too great thus far.
"In the Not For Long league, rookies sit and watch not for long anymore. On the 0-2 Browns, coach Eric Mangini's rookie draft class is off to mixed results in the early going."
Grossi also notes how Quinn is taking the brunt of criticism for the offensive struggles.
"Quinn maintains he is 'always optimistic' and intends to work himself -- and his offense -- out of their doldrums. The Browns rank last in offense in the NFL."
Offensive – Joe Thomas is a top-flight talent that will keep any quarterback, whether that is Quinn or backup Derek Anderson, clean. The issue with the offensive line is that the Browns are thin up the middle. Thomas made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2007 and regressed somewhat his sophomore season. But according to Ravens officials, Thomas is playing to his elite level again.
Defensive – Shaun Rogers is the lynchpin in the Browns' 3-4 defense. At 350-plus pounds, he is nearly an immovable force, but he also possesses surprisingly light feet and active hands. Rogers already has 10 tackles and one of the Browns' four sacks, impressive numbers for a nose tackle.
S Abram Elam
The fourth-year player is emerging as a regular NFL starter instead of an injury fill-in. Much of that can be attributed to his relationship with Mangini, who brought Elam along from the New York Jets to Cleveland. One year ago, Elam started nine contests and finished the season with 56 tackles, two sacks and one interception that he returned for a 92-yard touchdown. Elam is continuing his production this season, as he is currently second on the team with 14 tackles and has a sack.
Ravens C Matt Birk vs. Browns DT Shaun Rogers
This is a meeting of two familiar foes. Birk used to play for the Minnesota Vikings before joining the Ravens, while Rogers was also in the NFC North with the Detroit Lions for seven years. When the Ravens lost Jason Brown via free agency, Birk, a six-time Pro Bowler, was the perfect replacement to handle the stud defensive tackles in the AFC North.
Ravens CBs Fabian Washington and Domonique Foxworth vs. Browns WR Braylon Edwards
The Ravens were torched through the air last week against the San Diego Chargers, mainly due to size mismatches with their receivers. Edwards will provide a good test as to if those problems were fixed. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Edwards is physical and will fight for the ball with the smaller Washington and Foxworth.
Mangini on Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis' constant success:"He's passionate. He has an incredible work ethic. He has great instincts that he combines with the fact that he studies so hard. He plays faster, and he always has, than he is. Not that he's slow by any stretch, but he knows where things are going. He sees it and anticipates it and then is able to go over and execute it. The way that he's able to rally guys around him, it's unique. You always talk about leadership – learned or born with it. I saw it from Day One from a very unique perspective from a rookie linebacker, and it looks like he hasn't stopped since."
Quinn on how he would assess the way he's played thus far:
"Obviously, not the way I'd like to. Again, there have been some good things, but I think as a whole, we need to get a lot better. And myself, I need to work on not having those turnovers and converting more on third down. I think it's been a problem for us and something [where] we need to get the chains moving."
The Ravens must make sure they take the Browns seriously in this Week 3 showdown. Let's be honest, it is easy to dismiss a team that has featured an anemic offense and a defense thus far.
In truth, there haven't been many positives to come out of Cleveland this year. But in the NFL, that really means nothing. Remember back in 2007, when the Miami Dolphins (who were coached by Cam Cameron at that point) were working on a winless record when they hosted the Ravens in Week 15?
A confident Baltimore squad went down to south Florida and got ambushed by the prideful Dolphins for their only victory of the season.
Don't think the Browns are simply going to roll over. Head coach John Harbaugh certainly doesn't.
"I think every week you take it separately and individually for what you have in front of you," he said on Friday. "The Browns are capable of being an elite team. They haven't been able to put it together yet. You listen to those guys talk, that's what they're telling you. But, I think they have every intention of putting it together on Sunday. It's our job to make sure that doesn't happen, just like it's their job to make sure that they play as well as they can play.
"We know that we're going to get the very best Browns on Sunday. We've got to make sure they get the very best Ravens."
Of course, there are also the AFC North implications. A win inside the division could count as a double victory when the playoffs are being sorted out, as in tiebreaker situations.
Sure, the Ravens may seem better on paper. Considering Cleveland's starting running back will likely be held out, the Ravens are healthier.
But this Cleveland team is always scrappy. It has played Baltimore tough in recent years.
The Ravens are expecting the best, no matter the opponent.