Key matchup: Browns running game vs. Ravens run defense

Mike Wilkening
Turner should benefit Browns RB Richardson

The Ravens' run defense has been under attack of late, and now it has to deal with Browns RB Trent Richardson. We take a closer look: 

Browns running game vs. Ravens run defense

There has been a good deal of lamenting about the state of the Ravens' defense, and rightfully so. They are allowing 400 yards per game, which places them near the bottom of the league in this category. 

The Ravens aren't used to staking out this sort of statistical real estate. More often than not, they have epitomized ferocious, sound, good defense. 

Perhaps one of the most jarring aspects of the Ravens' defensive struggles is this: teams are eager to run against them. In five of the Ravens' last six games — including each of the last three — opponents have attempted 34 or more rushes against Baltimore. In three of the contests, the opponent attempted more than 40 rushes.

To put this into context, opponents attempted more than 40 rushes vs. Baltimore just twice a season ago (Seattle, Jacksonville). Before that, we have to turn back the clock to 2006 to find the last time an opponent tried 40 rushes or more against the Ravens. 

To be fair, the 2012 Ravens aren't awful against the run from a yards-per-carry surrendered perspective. Opponents are gaining 4.0 yards per attempt. In that category, Baltimore is slightly above the league average. 

However, the relentless pounding the Ravens are taking from opposing ground games is certainly not average. 

The trend started in Week Five, when the Chiefs attempted 51 rushes and racked up 214 yards. Baltimore prevailed, 9-6, but it wasn't pretty. The following week, the Cowboys, who had hardly been running much entering the contest, racked up 227 yards on 42 carries. Once again, the Ravens barely dug out a win, edging Dallas 31-29.

The narrow escapes came to an end the following week, as Houston rolled to a 43-13 win — and rolled up 181 yards on 37 carries.

Entering Week Nine, the Ravens (5-2) were 30th vs. the run, allowing 142.9 yards per contest. 

It's safe to say opponents are likely to challenge the Ravens to stop the run. Baltimore had a bye in Week Eight, giving it time to make some adjustments. The time off couldn't have hurt the Ravens. 

Something else that should help the Ravens as they prepare for a rematch with Cleveland on Sunday: they have already proven they can slow talented Browns RB Trent Richardson, at least from a rushing perspective. 

When the teams met in Week Four, the Ravens limited Richardson to no rushes of more than seven yards. In all, he had just 47 yards on 14 carries. 

However, the Ravens, who prevailed 23-16, didn't completely shut down Richardson. He put the Browns on the board with a one-yard TD run in the second quarter, and he added four catches for 57 yards (long of 20). 

All told, Richardson had 18 touches for 104 yards and a score. Viewed through that lens, it was a productive evening.

It will be interesting to see how much the 2-6 Browns use Richardson. He racked up career-highs in rushing yards (122) and carries (24) a week ago vs. San Diego, but wet and windy conditions forced a conservative approach. He hasn't exceeded 19 carries in any other game. 

Fast, elusive, quick and strong, the 5-9, 230-pound Richardson can hurt defenses in multiple ways. He can wear them down over four quarters, and he can power away from them on any given play. The Ravens need to be sound tacklers, and they must be relentless tacklers. Case in point: On Richardson's 26-yard TD run vs. the Chargers in Week Eight, he kept the play alive early, bouncing outside, then cutting back inside. He eluded a couple of tackle attempts and bounced off another. Then, with an assist from ORG Shaun Lauvao, who helped him stay up, he was gone for the TD.  

“I think he runs the ball harder than anybody in the league,” Ravens DE Pernell McPhee said this week. “Not saying he’s the best back in the league, but I’ll say he’s the hardest back in the NFL to tackle.”

Richardson has battled a chest/rib injury of late, but he was able to play a full game last week, and he will carry the load again Sunday. 

All eyes are on how the Ravens handle the challenge.