1. Will the Baltimore Ravens get off to a fast start?
Heading into Monday night’s road game against the hapless Cleveland Browns (1-7), the Ravens (4-4) have become notoriously slow starters. They have been outscored 28-3 in the first quarter over the past three games. The Browns, though, could prove to be the perfect antidote to what’s been plaguing the offense. The Browns rank last in the NFL in total defense and surrendered a 10-0 lead to the Ravens during the first meeting, a 34-3 blowout. The Ravens’ offense just needs to get into a rhythm, and the no-huddle offense could provide a spark.
2. Will the Ravens contain Joshua Cribbs?
The Browns’ dangerous return man has averaged 27.3 yards per kickoff return in nine games against the Ravens. That includes a 92-yard touchdown last season against Baltimore. The Ravens did a nice job against Cribbs during the first game and special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg seems to have a good plan for how to keep his former protégé from running wild.
3. How much of an edge does Derrick Mason give the Ravens?
It’s a significant one. During his past two games against Cleveland, he has posted consecutive 100-yard games. That includes a 118-yard performance during the third week of the season. Against the Browns, Mason has caught 11 passes of 25 yards or higher. He has 73 receptions against Cleveland, his second-highest total against any NFL team. Mason has caught 90 passes in Monday night games for 1,151 yards and six touchdowns.
4. Will the Ravens win the running game battle?
The Ravens are 4-0 this season when they run the football at least 18 times, dropping the other four games when they don’t run the ball at least that many times. The Browns have the 31st-ranked run defense, allowing 170.5 rushing yards per game The Ravens rank 13th in rushing offense, averaging 116.1 yards behind Ray Rice. On defense, the Ravens will have to contend with former Baltimore star Jamal Lewis in their final game against him since he plans to retire. He has been limited to a 65.2 average in four games against Baltimore.
5. Will the Ravens snap their Monday night losing streak?
Baltimore Ravens WR Derrick Mason vs. Cleveland Browns CB Eric Wright
Frustrated against the Cincinnati Bengals with three inconsequential catches last week, Mason’s return to Ohio on Monday night should be a more productive experience. Mason has generated two consecutive 100-yard games against the Browns’ secondary. He caught five passes for 118 yards earlier this season and nine catches for 136 yards last November against the Browns. He has four 100-yard receiving games against Cleveland, and his 73 receptions are the second most he’s had against any opponent. His 1,151 receiving yards are his most against any team in his career. Mason also thrives on the Monday night stage, catching 90 passes for the third most among active players. He has scored six touchdowns in 16 Monday night games. The Browns are allowing 238.6 passing yards per game.
Suggs estimated this week that he’s playing at 70 percent of his normal capacity. He’ll need to be 100 percent against Thomas, a big, technically sound blocker. Suggs, who was signed to a $62.5 million contract, is capable of producing more than his 3 1/2 sacks and one forced fumble. Suggs has played well at times, but the team is seeking more consistency from him as a pass rusher. His run-stopping has been adequate, ranking second on the team with 41 tackles. He just hasn’t been as disruptive as he was a year ago and hasn’t justified his new contract. The Ravens aren’t displeased with Suggs. They just want to see more out of him.
THREE DOWNS WITH …
Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis
1. On the team’s lack of consistency: "You used the word. The word is consistency. Any good team, I think the thing that you find going throughout the course of the season, is you find consistency. And week in and week out, as a total team, not defensive play, not offensive play, not special teams play. Everybody plays well on any given Sunday. That’s what consistency is, and that’s what rolls in and turns into wins.”
2. On where the team stands: "We’re 4-4, we’re heading into another division game, we go over .500 this week if we win this one and let it take care of itself. So, the season is so long. It’s not like you’re in the rut or something. You come off a bye, you win one, you lose one. Bottom line, you never like to lose one in your division, but you did.
"And the thing I keep telling these guys is, ‘You need to grab the journey. You need to grab the journey, man, and learn what you’re going to learn while you’re going through it.’ So, if we have made these small mistakes that have not let us finish games, let’s switch that the second half of the season. Let’s not make those mistakes."
3. On his memories of Monday Night Football as a kid: “A lot of old-schoolers. This was in the [Joe] Montana days when the 49ers were real good. The Cowboys were real good. One of my favorite from back in the day was Ronnie Lott. There was a certain stage. It’s kind of what I try to tell these guys: ‘Grab every moment of this thing. Grab every moment.
"This is one of those stages. Whatever you want to get done, whatever name you want to leave, the world will be watching. So, go have fun, man. Be yourself and let your personality show.’ I’ve watched so many great ones on Monday nights, and you saw why they were great when the big stage came up because they always, always produced.”
THREE DOWNS WITH …
Cleveland Browns running back Jamal Lewis
1. On what it will take to turn around the Browns: "“I don’t know. I think you have the players here. I think it’s just about going out and executing, and as players we need to do our job and just try to go out and execute. The system is being put in, but as far as what you can do to change the Browns?
"Hey, I’m not sure. I’m not sure; you just have to keep on working. You know, we got a new coach in this season, a new staff and stuff like that. At the same time, I think it takes a little time. But who knows.”
2. On the Ravens’ defense: "You have a new coach; you do different things. Things are kind of different than what you do, and you have changed in your coach. Rex Ryan is not there anymore, but at the same time they’re still a physical defense.
"I still see them doing some of the same things, and that’s everybody running to the ball and corralling around the ball, playing some good defense up front, trying to bring the pressure and make you make a mistake. So, I think they’re doing a lot of the same things. Sometimes there is a twist. I’m sure they’ll be OK.”
3. On the perception of the Browns: “Really, you don’t make anything of it. People are going to say what they want to say. If you’re 1-7, hey, there’s a lot they can say. But at the same time, we just have to keep pushing on and try to build what we were trying to build and put it together, put it all together and go out and execute and play our game.
"I don’t think that the locker room has turned. I don’t think that anybody has turned their back on the situation or anything. Everybody’s just out here working hard, because we know that we can go out and compete. We just have to put it all together.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.