The Baltimore Ravens have shown under John Harbaugh they never stay down for very long.
They’ve also shown a knack for beating the Cleveland Browns.
Coming off their bye week following the franchise’s worst loss in five years, the Ravens try to sweep the season series from their AFC North rival for the fifth straight year Sunday when they visit a Browns team seeking its third win in four games.
The first-place Ravens (5-2) have had plenty of time to mull over a 43-13 loss to Houston on Oct. 21, the franchise’s worst setback since a 31-point loss at Pittsburgh in 2007. The loss to the Texans was the fourth defeat of 20 points or more since Harbaugh took over in 2008, and in each previous instance, Baltimore bounced back with a win.
“You can’t achieve anything without going through some adversity,” Harbaugh said. “So, the opportunity that is presented to us now is an opportunity to get better – to become whatever it is we’re going to become.”
If they’re to repeat their recent history of success following blowout losses, the Ravens will have to find a way to patch up a banged-up defense that has been exposed.
Playing without the injured Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb, Baltimore has allowed 400 yards in back-to-back games for the first time since 2009. The defense has been brutal against the run, allowing an average of 142.9 yards to rank 30th in the NFL.
The Ravens did get linebacker Terrell Suggs back from a torn right Achilles tendon for the Houston game, but it wasn’t enough as they gave up their most points since a 44-20 loss to Indianapolis in 2007.
“We have all the players we need and we have all the scheme we need,” Harbaugh said. “Now what we have to do is organize it in a way that gives our players a chance to play their fastest and their best under pressure, on the road against good teams, and at home.”
Baltimore has won 14 straight home games – the longest current streak in the NFL – but has dropped two of three road contests this year. It has won its last nine against Cleveland, however.
In Baltimore on Sept. 27, Joe Flacco threw for 356 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a 23-16 win over the Browns. Flacco has been outstanding at home, averaging 317.8 yards with seven touchdowns and two picks in four games for a 106.6 QB rating. It has been another story on the road, though, as he averages 188.7 yards with two scores and four interceptions for a 55.9 rating.
“We’ve all got to be better on the road,” Harbaugh said. “That’s something that we’re not happy with right now.”
After an 0-5 start, the Browns (2-6) have won two of three and still feel they have time to turn their season around.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden continues to show improvement, and had thrown two touchdown passes in three consecutive games before last week’s 7-6 win over San Diego in wet, sloppy conditions. In his first look at the Ravens, the rookie threw for 320 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
Rookie running back Trent Richardson, who has fought through a rib cartilage injury, ran for a season-high 122 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers.
“I see a team that’s battling,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “I see a team that’s with me every step of the way. And they believe in their coaches. And I see a team that’s improving. I’m hopeful we’re going to continue to make those improvements and win a heckuva lot of games.”
While the Ravens are looking for more consistent play from Flacco, they’re also hoping to get Ray Rice back on track after he ran for a season-low 42 yards against Houston. Rice is fifth in the AFC with 74.9 rushing yards per game, but managed just 49 yards on 18 carries against the Browns in September.
The Browns have allowed an average of 146.0 yards on the ground in four games since.
Cleveland’s defense could be getting a nice boost, though, with the possible return of injured starting tackles Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor.
“We’re getting some defensive players back that will help us,” Shurmur said. “If you function better and you’re playing better and you win a couple games and you’re getting some players back that can help you win, that helps me stay positive.”