Despite a receiving corps decimated by injuries, the Baltimore Ravens remain confident given the success on the ground they’ve enjoyed against the Cleveland Browns throughout the years.
After Justin Forsett helped run the Ravens to their first victory, they could rely heavily on him again Sunday while trying to continue their dominance over the visiting Browns.
Baltimore (1-3) enjoyed a collective sigh of relief following last Thursday’s 23-20 overtime win at Pittsburgh, but the severity of a back injury suffered by receiver Steve Smith has tempered the enjoyment. The 36-year-old Smith, who leads the team with 29 receptions and 373 yards, is considered week to week. The Ravens have already placed budding second-year receiver Michael Campanaro (back) on injured reserve and first-round pick Breshad Perriman (knee) has yet to play.
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Tight end Crockett Gilmore (calf) also could miss a second straight game after recording 10 catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns in the first three contests.
"It’s just part of the league; you’ve got to be able to adjust and deal with all that adversity," quarterback Joe Flacco told the Ravens’ official website. "I think we’re going to be alright."
Though Kamar Aiken has been a solid contributor with 11 receptions for 165 yards and a TD and veteran Chris Givens was acquired in a trade with St. Louis last weekend, Baltimore’s best bet Sunday could be to keep feeding Forsett.
After averaging 3.2 yards per carry while gaining 124 in the first three games, Forsett ran 27 times for 150 against the Steelers.
"We feel like that’s the strength of this team is the running game," Forsett said after the second-highest rushing total of his career. "It just didn’t pan out the past couple weeks, but (Thursday) we were able to get it going and now we can build upon that."
Forsett averaged 6.5 yards per attempt in two games against Cleveland last season. He gained 119 on 17 carries as the Ravens recorded a seventh consecutive home victory in the series, 20-10 on Dec. 28.
"You want to make sure you get in the flow of the game and you’re feeling things out," Forsett said.
Baltimore’s won 13 of the last 14 against the Browns (1-3), gaining at least 100 rushing yards in all but four. It is 24-8 in the all-time series.
The Browns yielded a NFL-worst 141.6 rushing yards per game in 2014 and rank 31st at 141.5 through the first quarter of this season.
”We know what we need to do and we need to do it better,” coach Mike Pettine said. ”I have a lot of faith in (second-year defensive coordinator) Jim O’Neil and the rest of that staff. We’ve showed that we’re very capable of playing well. We just need to do it on a more consistent basis.”
The 91 rushing yards Cleveland allowed in last Sunday’s 30-27 loss at San Diego were a season low but came against the pass-first Chargers, who gained 347 through the air. The Browns played without lockdown cornerback Joe Haden (finger), who if available Sunday could determine which direction the Ravens’ game plan goes.
It’s also uncertain if Browns safety Tashaun Gipson (ankle) will play.
”Right now, defensively, we’re not doing enough of those little things right, and we have to get them crossed off the list and make sure that they don’t come back to the list," said Pettine, who is not expected to make any significant changes to a defense that ranks last in the league with an average of 406.2 yards allowed.
"We have to be that team that if a mistake is made, we learn from it, we lock it away and we don’t make it again.”
Josh McCown threw for 356 yards with two TDs against the Chargers and connected six times with Travis Benjamin, who leads the team with 328 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Isaiah Crowell ran 12 times for 63 yards last weekend, while rookie Duke Johnson had a team-high nine catches for 85 yards and a touchdown.
Flacco has thrown 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions in going 13-1 against the Browns.