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Desperate Browns, Ravens battle in basement

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BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens are stuck in the basement of the AFC North, but it is the Browns who should be more concerned about taking up permanent residency there.

The Browns and Ravens meet at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Sunday. The Ravens are well-rested and energized after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 1.

The Browns are still reeling from their 30-27 loss to the Chargers last Sunday.

Browns coach Mike Pettine is desperately trying to keep the season from unraveling with 12 games to go.

The supposed easy part of the schedule is behind them and at 1-3, with games against the Ravens, Broncos, Rams, Bengals and Steelers coming up before the bye, the vow of owner Jimmy Haslam not to “blow things up” is being tested.

“With a quarter of the season behind us, the fact is that we’re 1-3,” Pettine said. “It’s certainly not where we wanted to be, but we’re not going to make excuses for that start. We own it and that’s our focus.”

The Browns own only one victory over Baltimore since the Ravens drafted quarterback Joe Flacco 18th overall in 2008.

For all the mistakes they have made at quarterback, the Browns can take some comfort knowing they did not pass on Flacco. They did not have a first-round pick in 2008 because former general manager Phil Savage traded it to the Cowboys a year earlier for the Dallas’ 2007 first-round pick, which Savage used on quarterback Brady Quinn.

But even if the Browns had their 2007 first-round pick, they wouldn’t have had a chance to take Flacco because they were 10-6 in 2007, while the Ravens were 5-11.

The most shocking part of the Browns’ current situation is they are last in the league in defense.

Defense was supposed to be the backbone of the team, but they are yielding an average of 406.25 yards a game, and in back-to-back losses to the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers have given up six touchdown drives 70 yards or longer.

“Some of it’s focus,” Pettine said. “We always talk about doing your job. Do your job; good things will happen. That’s been our mantra since Day One. You get guys that get anxious in those situations and try to do too much or get caught up in the moment.

“To be able to do your job, you have to know your job and know it inside and out. We need to play better in those situations, and we need to coach better in those situations.”

Quarterback hasn’t been the problem skeptics thought it would be.

Josh McCown is 0-3 as a starter, although that record is misleading. He was knocked out of the opener on the Browns first offensive series but is tagged with the 31-10 loss to the Jets because he started the game.

Still, McCown has completed 66.3 percent of his passes (65-of-98) for 746 yards with four touchdown passes and only one interception. His passer rating is 98.4.

Frustrated Browns fans are clamoring for Johnny Manziel to play quarterback, but not because they believe Manziel is better. They believe the season is already a washout and want to see if Manziel is the quarterback of the future.

SERIES HISTORY: 33rd meeting. Ravens lead series, 24-8. Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the late Art Modell moving his Browns franchise to Baltimore and renaming it the Ravens. The Browns have swept the series only twice since being reborn as an expansion team in 1999. They did it in 2001 and again in 2007.

GAME PLAN

–The Browns established some semblance of a running game last week in San Diego and want to keep that going against the Ravens on Sunday. The Browns can expect the Ravens to have a plan to muzzle rookie running back Duke Johnson, who caught nine passes last week, but Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo also has confidence in Isaiah Crowell as a pass-catching running back. If running back Robert Turbin is active the Browns can try to pound the ball.

A successful running game would grind the clock and keep the Browns’ defense off the field. No one thought that would be the plan at the beginning of the season, but it is now the way the Browns defense is struggling.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Browns ILB Karlos Dansby vs. Ravens RB Justin Forsett.

Dansby leads the Browns with 31 tackles. Forsett could keep him busy because the Ravens running back is well-rested since the Ravens haven’t played since Oct. 1, when he rushed for 150 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Forsett ran for 119 yards on 17 carries, a seven-yard average, against the Browns in the final game of 2014. The Ravens won, 20-10.

–Browns WR Taylor Gabriel vs. Ravens DBs.

Gabriel can line up on either side of the field. He is a deep threat every time he plays, as he proved in the two games against the Ravens last year. He caught two passes for 81 yards on Sept. 21 and three for 66 yards in the 2014 season finale. He has 10 catches for 67 yards this season.


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