OWINGS MILLS – Ray Rice is too savvy to assume that the Cleveland Browns’ defense will be a pushover Sunday on the road.
The Baltimore Ravens’ Pro Bowl running back is aware that the Browns are struggling to stop the run, ranking 29th in the league with an average of 138.6 yards allowed per contest.
However, he expects the Browns to make adjustments after losing strongside linebacker Scott Fujita for the season this week and having given up 100-yard rushers in three of the past four games.
“Obviously if there’s something that needs to be fixed, they’re going to address the run game,” Rice said. “I’m sure that’s going to be a top priority coming into this game. We have to execute against them in the front.”
Despite the presence of aggressive linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and big, active defensive linemen Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor, the Browns have struggled against the run.
San Francisco 49ers runner Frank Gore gashed them for 134 yards, Houston Texans running back Arian Foster gained 124 yards while backup Ben Tate rushed for 115 more with St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson finishing with 128 yards and Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson rushing for 101 yards last Sunday.
The Browns rank first in passing defense, but their run defense has been shoddy since shifting to a 4-3 defense.
“The bottom line is people have had success running the ball on them for whatever reason,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “Obviously, they’ve been good in the pass defense. We just have to go in there and attack them with our game plan.”
The Ravens tend to run the football effectively this time of year, averaging 152.6 yards on the ground in December and January dating back to 2008.
“I’m looking forward to December football,” said Rice, who has rushed for 722 yards and eight touchdowns. “December football is when I want to elevate my game. It’s sort of like being a fourth-quarter player. This is the fourth quarter of our season.”
The Ravens remained stubborn with the run against the top-ranked 49ers run defense with Rice gaining 59 yards on 21 carries last week.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has had a more balanced approach over the past two games.
“Traditional thinking says that’s all that matters, and then you watch Green Bay and New England,” Cameron said. “You look at teams that are winning championships and you say, ‘Really, it doesn’t hold true.’ Maybe it holds true for us. Bottom line is we want to run the football.
“We like to be physical. Bottom line is we can run it, we can throw it. We have to execute no matter which direction we decide to go and do whatever it takes to win every individual game. I think a little traditionally, but look around. It’s not about running the football to win championships. That’s not a slam dunk anymore, though we do want to run the football.”
The Ravens rushed for 105 yards on 28 carries against the Bengals and 92 yards on 35 carries against the 49ers.
It keeps opposing defenses honest.
“We always want to run the football,” Cameron said. “That’s part of our DNA. That’s what we want to do. Sometimes good defenses don’t allow you to do that, and so you can’t be stupid either. We’ve got a ton of trust in Joe, we’ve got Anquan Boldin, we’ve got tight ends, we’ve got people we can throw the football to.
“So it all fits together. There’s times when you’re going to run it a lot. We also know in this league, the teams that are scoring points consistently have to execute in the passing game.”
R. LEWIS SIDELINED: Middle linebacker Ray Lewis didn’t practice for the second day in a row.
The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year has missed the past two games with a right turf toe injury.
Should Lewis not practice today, it looks unlikely that he would play Sunday.
Cornerback Chris Carr (back) was downgraded to not practicing after being limited Wednesday. He missed the 49ers game.
For the second consecutive day, inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring, groin), defensive tackle Arthur Jones (concussion) and rookie running back Anthony Allen (hamstring) participated fully.
Browns safety T.J. Ward (foot, finger) didn’t practice again along with linebacker Quinton Spears (hamstring).
Free safety Mike Adams (shoulder) and running back Montario Hardesty (calf) were upgraded to limited after not practicing the previous day.
Former Ravens offensive tackle Tony Pashos (ankle) was limited again along with defensive back Dimitri Patterson (ankle), linebacker Kaluka Maiva (shoulder) and defensive lineman Jayme Mitchell (ankle).
Quarterback Colt McCoy (right elbow), running back Peyton Hillis (hamstring), fullback Owen Marecic (concussion) and defensive lineman Scott Paxson (shin) participated fully.
FACING CRIBBS: The Ravens have buckled down lately against Browns Pro Bowl return specialist Joshua Cribbs.
Four years ago in an overtime win over Baltimore; Cribbs had 245 yards on seven kickoff returns.
One year later in a loss, he had 237 kickoff return yards on seven kickoffs. That included a 92-yard touchdown return.
During the past four meetings, Cribbs has been contained with no returns over 40 yards.
“We didn’t stay in front of him, and the guy’s just dynamic,” safety Haruki Nakamura said of previous setbacks against Cribbs. “He’s big, he’s strong he’s physical. So, he’s going to just run straight ahead and run through arm tackles. And that’s exactly what he did.
“As the years went on, we learned how to defend him, because it’s as simple as just getting in front of him, making him go laterally and just not letting him go north-south. Once he goes north-south, he’s pretty much going for the touchdown.”
Cribbs is a bullish returner at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, racing up to catch the kickoff and aggressively running into tacklers.
“He’s strong, he’s elusive,” said Ravens special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, who helped develop Cribbs’ skills when he was coaching in Cleveland. “He’s got speed. So, we know going into the game that he’s a big weapon for them, and it’s our job to make sure that he doesn’t get away from us.”
The Ravens want to force Cribbs to run toward the sideline, but he rarely does that. He prefers to attack kickoff teams right up the middle.
"He’s so big, he’s so strong, and he uses that," Nakamura said. "That’s his strength, so why would he go laterally? He can run through little guys. Now that we’ve faced him a whole bunch of times, we kind of figured out how to attack.
"And thank God we’ve got Jerry. Jerry totally understands him because he’s the guy who found Cribbs. It just was a matter of experience and getting better."
Cribbs is averaging 26.8 yards per kickoff return and nine yards per punt return.
The Ravens have allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown to New York Jets running back Joe McKnight and a punt return for a touchdown against Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson.
However, they fared well against Ted Ginn Jr. and Leon Washington over the past couple games.
"We’ve gone the last few weeks against some of the premier punt returners in football, and one of our main priorities was to not let them wreck the game for us," Harbaugh said. "And that’s going to be true with Josh Cribbs. He’s hurt us a few times, not recently. We’ve just got to make sure we do a great job of that, but our guys are up to the challenge.
ROSTER MOVES: The Ravens brought back rookie linebacker Josh Bynes to the practice squad after cutting him earlier this week.
They placed rookie wide receiver Rodney Bradley on the practice squad injured list.
QUICK HITS: Newly-acquired safety Emanuel Cook is expected to contribute on special teams Sunday.
He’s doing well, we’re excited to have him,” Rosburg said. “He’s still in the learning mode, obviously. He’s got some catching up to do with how we call things and how we do things, but he’s eager, he’s spending extra time. He understands special teams. So, it’s not like we have to teach him how to play. We just have to teach him how we call things and how we work together and how we do things. He’s had two good days.” … The wind off Lake Erie can affect kicks at Cleveland Browns Stadium, one more thing for kicker Billy Cundiff and punter Sam Koch to prepare for. “Sometimes it’s coming off the lake and sometimes it’s not,” Rosburg said. “The wind, generally speaking, is always a challenge in that stadium. It’s not just the direction, it’s also the velocity and the fact that it swirls inside that stadium. Yes, the wind is always a factor there, and it will be this week.” … Browns coach Pat Shurmur is a good friend of Ravens coach John Harbaugh, working together with the Philadelphia Eagles. “Pat’s a great friend,” Harbaugh said. “He’s obviously a really good coach, and you can certainly see what he’s building there in Cleveland as far as the way he’s putting that team together.”