For the last two weeks, the Ravens have heard about the issues that surfaced during the Week 7 loss to the Texans.
After all the talk about how the defense needs to improve and the offense needs to find success on the road, the Ravens now get a chance to get back on the field and put the chatter to rest.
The Ravens (5-2) will travel to Cleveland to face the Browns (2-6) in what Head Coach John Harbaugh referred to as a "must-win game."
"We need to win that game this week, and I know Cleveland feels the same way," Harbaugh said.
The Ravens took time during the bye to re-examine themselves, and they hope to build upon a string of four-straight victories following the bye week. Those wins have come with an average margin of victory of 18 points, but Harbaugh cautioned against believing that past success will help the team Sunday.
"Just because maybe we have done well in an area, that doesn't guarantee anything, obviously," he said. "Every game stands on its own. This one is going to be a tough battle."
The Ravens haven't lost to the Browns since Harbaugh arrived in 2008, but those nine-consecutive wins haven't come easy. This year's Week 4 win came down to the wire and the Ravens kept Cleveland out of the end zone on their final drive to seal the victory.
The Browns have played the Ravens tough, and the expectation is for that to continue this week.
"If you go back and actually individually look at most of the games, it's kind of crazy that we haven't lost, because there have been a lot of close ones," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "There have been a lot of games that have come down to the wire – including the last one we played against them."
3 Matchups To Watch
RB Trent Richardson vs. Ravens Front SevenStopping the run is the top priority for the Ravens defense, especially with Richardson in the backfield. The third-overall pick is coming off the best game of his rookie campaign, where he rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers. After dealing with knee and rib injuries through the first half of the season, Richardson appears to be getting healthy, which could make him even more difficult for the Ravens to stop. Baltimore expects the Browns to pound the ball on the ground, so stopping Richardson is at the top of the priority list for a defense that is out to prove it can still be stingy against the run.
DT Haloti Ngata vs. C Alex MackNgata has been dealing with lingering injuries the last couple of weeks, which limited his production against the Texans and Cowboys. A knee issue hobbled him before the bye week, but a shoulder issue has limited his practice time this week. Ngata will go up against one of the AFC's top centers in Mack, who will look to take advantage of him if he's not at full strength.
WR Anquan Boldin vs. CB Joe HadenBoldin had a huge day against the Browns earlier this season, catching nine passes for 131 yards. But the key difference in that contest was the absence of Haden, who was serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. But now Haden is back, and his return has made the Browns an entirely different defense.
Bonus Matchup: CB Jimmy Smith vs. WR Josh GordonGordon, the rookie wide receiver the Browns selected in the supplemental draft, has come on strong in recent weeks. The second-round pick has four touchdowns in the last four games, and* *has emerged as the team's primary deep threat. This is Smith's second game as the starting cornerback, and Harbaugh emphasized that Smith has to be careful with getting beat by the double move.
3 Questions To Answer
Which offense will show up?The Ravens offense has been a case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this season, depending on where they are playing. They have averaged 32.3 points per game at home, but have scored just one touchdown in their last 10 quarters on the road. Improving the offense on the road has been a point of emphasis during the bye week, and now Flacco and company get a chance to show they can get it done in Cleveland.
Will Ray Rice stay hot in Cleveland?The last time Ray Rice and the Ravens travelled to Cleveland, he racked up a career-high 204 yards on a rainy afternoon. Rain isn't expected this week, but that Ravens still want to show they can run the football to help the offense get into a rhythm. Getting Rice the ball is expected to be a priority this week, and the Ravens hope he continues his recent success in Cleveland.
What changes are made on the offensive line?Harbaugh has indicated that the Ravens could make some tweaks along the offensive line to give some young players a chance to play. That could mean that second-year lineman Jah Reid rotates in at left guard, along with veteran Bobbie Williams. The Ravens could also look to give Ramon Harewood another shot at left guard and rookie Kelechi Osemele has also reportedly taken some reps at left tackle. Whoever ends up getting the starting nod, Harbaugh suggested that they may use a rotation to see what gives them the best chance to win game.
RavensTotal Defense – 400.0 (28)
Rush Defense – 142.9 (30)
Pass Defense – 257.1 (24)
Points Allowed Per Game – 23.0 (17)
Total Offense – 355.1 (16)
Rush Offense – 104.1 (19)
Pass Offense – 251.0 (13)
Points Scored Per Game – 24.9 (11)
BrownsTotal Defense – 392.4 (26)
Rush Defense – 131.6 (24)
Pass Defense – 260.8 (25)
Points Allowed Per Game – 23.3 (19t)
Total Offense – 314.8 (29)
Rush Offense – 85.9 (30)
Pass Offense – 228.9 (19)
Points Scored Per Game – 19.3 (25)