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Although the Cleveland Browns only lost to the Baltimore Ravens, 15-14, in September as kicker Matt Stover booted a field goal with 20 seconds remaining, these two teams have gone in completely opposite directions heading into Sunday’s game at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens (10-3) have won six of their past seven games, and the Browns (4-9) are coming off a 27-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers where they only rushed for 18 yards while allowing 528 yards of total offense. Baltimore is 5-1 at home this season, hasn’t lost to Cleveland at home since 2002 and the Browns haven’t scored more than 17 points in their seven previous trips here. Plus, the Browns are 0-5 in the division and the Ravens need this game to clinch a playoff berth and keep up their pursuit of home-field advantage in the playoffs. They should be sufficiently motivated. The Browns have the NFL’s 29th-ranked defense and the 30th-ranked offense, two deficiencies that should be impossible to overcome.
2. How many times will Derek Anderson get sacked?
The Ravens tend to thrive against pocket passers, and the 6-foot-6, 229-pound former Baltimore practice squad quarterback is extremely immobile. Baltimore sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger nine times, Browns starter Charlie Frye seven times and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Trent Green five times during last week’s 20-10 victory. The Ravens are second in the NFL with 46 sacks, including 10 apiece from defensive end Trevor Pryce and outside linebacker Adalius Thomas with Bart Scott (8 1/2) and Terrell Suggs (seven) not far behind their torrid pace. The Browns’ offensive line is down a couple starters, and the Ravens don’t have to worry too much about a running game. Not with starter Reuben Droughns only rolling up five yards on six carries against the Steelers.
3. Can the Ravens contain Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards?
These are the Browns’ chief downfield threats, and both had an impact against Baltimore in their previous meeting. Winslow is battling nagging injuries, though, and only registered 19 yards against the Steelers. In the first meeting with the Ravens, they combined for 12 receptions and 208 yards. However, that was with Frye under center and he’s unlikely to play Sunday because of a bone bruise in his right wrist.
4. How many yards will Jamal Lewis gain?
The Steelers gashed the Browns’ defense for 303 yards on the ground, including 223 from Willie Parker on 32 carries. Without defensive end Orpheus Roye and inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, the Browns could have severe problems containing Lewis as well. He’s no longer flashy, but the former Pro Bowl runner can wear down a defense through attrition.
5. Will Steve McNair stay on pace?
With only two interceptions and eight touchdowns in the past seven games since Brian Billick assumed play-calling duties after firing Jim Fassel, McNair hasn’t thrown an interception in his past 142 throws. The Browns’ defense wasn’t just abused on the ground in Pittsburgh. Their secondary couldn’t stay with the Steelers’ wideouts despite both of their starters being out. McNair should have plenty of time to throw. The Browns didn’t generate a sack last week, and Baltimore hasn’t given up one in three games. Rookie outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley represents the Browns’ top play-making threat on defense.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland