Ravens Attacking Lopsided Browns Defense

Cleveland’s pass defense is atop the league, but its rush defense is near the bottom.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Categories: Ryan Mink

On paper, it seems clear how to attack Cleveland’s sixth-ranked defense.

The Browns are first in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (174.7). However, they’re 29th in rushing yards allowed per game (138.6). They also suffered serious injuries at linebacker and on the defensive line last week.

But how are the Ravens approaching it?

“You look at these guys as a whole defense,” quarterback Joe Flacco said.

“The bottom line is people have had success running the ball on them for whatever reason. Obviously they’ve been good in the pass defense. … We just have to go in there and attack them with our game plan.”

The Browns have given way to 100-yard rushers in three of the last four games. That’s affected by teams running the ball a lot against them, but doesn’t explain it all.

San Francisco’s Frank Gore had 134 yards in Week 8. Houston ran for 261 yards against them in Week 9, as Arian Foster put up 124 and his backup Ben Tate had 115. St. Louis’ Steven Jackson logged 128 yards in Week 10.

After holding the NFL’s second-leading rusher, Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew, under 100, Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson had 106 yards last week on 21 carries last Sunday.

Ravens running back Ray Rice isn’t drooling, however.

“When there’s something that needs to be fixed, they’re going to address the run game,” he said. “I’m sure that will be a top priority going into this game.”

The Browns have been affected by changes up front.

Cleveland went to a 4-3 defense under new Head Coach Pat Shurmur and Defensive Coordinator Dick Jauron and have two rookies starting on the defensive line: 6-foot-3, 335-pound Phillip Taylor at defensive tackle and defensive end Jabaal Sheard (4.5 sacks).

Now they’re hurt by injuries. They lost defensive leader and third-leading tackler, linebacker Scott Fujita, to a broken hand this past weekend. Starting defensive end Emmanuel Stephens suffered a pectoral strain. They’ve both been placed on injured reserve.

On the flip side, Baltimore’s running attack is poised to get stronger.

Since 2008, the Ravens have rushed for 152.6 yards per game in December and January regular-season contests, which is the NFL’s third-best average.

On Dec. 26 in Cleveland last year, Rice ran 25 times for 92 yards. That was one game after he broke out for 153 yards on 31 carries against the New Orleans Saints.

“I’m looking forward to December football,” Rice said. “December football is when I want to elevate my game. It’s sort of like being a fourth-quarter player. This is the fourth quarter of our season.”

While Cleveland may be susceptible on the ground, its secondary poses problems.

The Browns have one of the brightest young cornerbacks in the game in Joe Haden. The 2010 first-round pick had six interceptions as a rookie, and most teams have shied away from him.

Second-year strong safety T.J. Ward has missed the last three games with a foot injury, but could make his return this weekend. 

What’s not being forgotten by the Ravens or Head Coach John Harbaugh is the big picture. The Browns are ninth overall in points allowed per game (19.6).

“Very salty defense,” Harbaugh said. “Just watch them on tape.  It’s going to be a big challenge for us, especially there, in the conditions that we are probably going to have to go against.”

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