If the Baltimore Ravens are to continue their dominance of the Cleveland Browns, they must return from their bye week playing better than they did heading into it.
Hoping to avoid a third straight defeat, the visiting Ravens try for a 12th consecutive victory over a Browns team that looks to end a three-game slide Sunday.
Not since Nov. 18, 2007, has Baltimore (3-4) lost to the Browns, a stretch of 11 games during which it has won five straight in Cleveland by an average margin of 12.0 points. However, the Ravens were held to 296 yards and trailed 6-0 at halftime in a 14-6 win over the Browns on Sept. 15.
“They’re a hard playing bunch,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh told the team’s official website. “(Cleveland’s) a good football team.”
Though the Browns (3-5) haven’t scored more than 17 points in any of the teams’ last nine meetings or their last three games overall, the Ravens can’t take anything for granted while saddled with their worst record through seven games since Harbaugh took over in 2008.
Baltimore went into the bye following consecutive losses to Green Bay and Pittsburgh by a combined five points. The Ravens have dropped three of four with each decided by three or fewer points after going 7-3 in such games last season, including their playoff run to a Super Bowl title.
Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco is completing 59.5 percent of his throws and has a passer rating of 78.9 - neither ranks in the league’s top 20 - with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Ray Rice’s 117.3 average yards from scrimmage over the previous four seasons is second to Arian Foster’s 118.7, but he’s surpassed 75 total yards or 45 rushing only once in 2013. Backup Bernard Pierce was expected to play more of a role but has averaged the same 2.8 yards per carry the Ravens do as a team - worst in the NFL.
Baltimore has remained competitive thanks to a defense that’s allowed 16.5 points and 315.2 yards per game since giving up 510 in a 49-27 season-opening loss at Denver. However, in the last two games, the Ravens have allowed the Packers and Steelers to rush for a combined 281 yards and convert 13 of 29 third-down attempts.
“We have to get better. We have a lot to improve on,” Harbaugh said. “We have to find a way to get better. That’s the business we’re in.”
After Pittsburgh’s Shaun Suisham kicked a 42-yard field goal as time expired to send Baltimore to a 19-16 loss Oct. 20, Harbaugh said, “We’ll do whatever it takes. We’ll trade guys, we’ll cut guys, we’ll sign guys, we’ll coach guys, we’ll change schemes. It doesn’t matter.”
The Ravens traded offensive lineman Bryant McKinnie to Miami shortly after that defeat and waived defensive veterans Michael Huff and Marcus Spears this week. They also signed former Cincinnati running back Bernard Scott.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how we respond in terms of how we play,” Harbaugh said.
First-year Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski shares the same curiosity for his team after the Browns fought hard during a 23-17 loss at undefeated Kansas City last week.
Cleveland gave up 281 yards and 16 first downs in the first half, but held the Chiefs to 50 yards and four first downs in the final two quarters while recording five of its six sacks. Jason Campbell threw for 293 yards with two TDs in his first start, and Josh Gordon caught five passes for 132 yards and a score.
The Browns, however, were held to 57 yards on the ground. Their 82.6 rushing yards per contest ranks 26th and two spots higher than Baltimore’s 74.0.
Top rusher Willis McGahee has been limited to 104 yards on 30 carries during the three-game losing streak, which has come against teams with a combined 18-5 record.
“It’s been a tough stretch,” Chudzinski said. “What guys have learned playing some very good teams is we’ve played, whether it’s a half, whether it’s a quarter, whether it’s a couple series or three quarters of games, very well at times. It’s a matter of consistently putting it together for four quarters. That’s what the mission is we’re on right now.”
Cleveland will have Gordon to help achieve that after deciding to keep the talented but sometimes troubled receiver instead of trading him prior to Tuesday’s deadline. He’s second on the team with 32 receptions for 582 yards, but was held to three for 54 yards in two games versus Baltimore last season.
Gordon missed the first 2013 meeting while serving a two-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Tight end Jordan Cameron had five receptions for 95 yards and leads the Browns with 49 and 596, respectively, but he’s scored once in four games after totaling five TDs through the first four.
Flacco is 11-0 versus Cleveland, throwing for 13 touchdowns and five interceptions.