Baltimore Ravens: Cleveland Browns
This offseason has seen plenty of high-profile additions and departures in the AFC North.
The Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens brought more excitement to their offenses. The Browns drafted quarterback Johnny Manziel in the first round, and the Ravens signed wide receiver Steve Smith.
The Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers dealt with some significant losses. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer left to become the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, and three starters (Brett Keisel, LaMarr Woodley and Ryan Clark) are gone from the Steelers defense.
How will these changes affect the teams in the division? That's the focus for ESPN's AFC North reporters: Scott Brown in Pittsburgh, Coley Harvey in Cincinnati, Jamison Hensley in Baltimore and Pat McManamon in Cleveland.
Johnny Manziel will be the starting quarterback for the Browns in the season opener in Pittsburgh.
Scott Brown: Fiction. Johnny Football has too much ground to make up to overtake Brian Hoyer as the starter by the time the Browns open the regular season in Pittsburgh. Manziel will start at some point this season, but it won't be Sept. 7 at Heinz Field. Even if it is a toss-up between Hoyer and Manziel leading up to the season opener, the Browns will be wise enough to go with the player who has NFL starting experience over the one who will have a Texas-sized bullseye on his jersey. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau generally torments rookie quarterbacks and definitely doesn't take selfies with them. The Browns wouldn't put Manziel in a position in which he has little chance of succeeding ... would they?
Jamison Hensley: Fiction. There are too many factors going against Manziel starting right away. Browns coach Mike Pettine was on the Bills' sideline this past season when he watched EJ Manuel struggle as a rookie. The Browns have a legitimate alternative in Brian Hoyer. And the Browns' first game is against the Steelers, who are known to rough up young quarterbacks. Including the playoffs, the Steelers are a league-best 17-2 vs. rookie quarterbacks since 2004, when coordinator Dick LeBeau re-joined the Steelers as defensive coordinator. Plus, Manziel hasn't done much to prove to the coaching staff that he's mature enough to handle the starting job after becoming Johnny Las Vegas on holiday weekends. It just makes too much sense to sit Manziel as a rookie. Then again, the Browns aren't known for making logical moves
Pat McManamon: Fiction. The Browns simply do not want Manziel to start the opener, and Mike Pettine has made no secret of that. Over and over, he's said that though Manziel can start at some point, he does not believe it's ideal. Given that the first three opponents are the Steelers, Saints and Ravens, it's even more reason not to rush him. Those three opponents have chopped up a lot of veterans, not to mention rookies. If Josh Gordon is not on the team, the quarterback's challenge is even more difficult. The Browns want to take things slowly with Manziel, and right now he admits he's not the best quarterback on the team. The only way he starts in Pittsburgh is if Brian Hoyer is hurt.
The Bengals have a top-10 defense even without coordinator Mike Zimmer.
Brown: Fact. With all due respect to Zimmer, he didn't make one tackle in the six seasons he coordinated the Bengals' defense. Not to marginalize coordinators, but Dick LeBeau has one of the keenest and most imaginative defensive minds in NFL history, and he somehow forgot how to coach defense this past season, when injuries and age caught up with the Steelers. The Bengals have plenty of talent, assuming defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall make a healthy return from their respective injuries. And the adjustment to new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther should be a relatively smooth one since Guenther coached the Bengals' linebackers before succeeding Zimmer. If the Bengals don't field a top-10 defense this season, it will be because they can't make up for the free-agent loss of defensive end Michael Johnson or their secondary springs too many leaks.
Harvey: Fact. Zimmer was rightfully deified during his time in Cincinnati, but his exit for Minnesota doesn't mean there's now a sudden end to the Bengals' era of defensive dominance. Cincinnati will be bringing back a defense that mostly mirrors the group it had last year. The only absences of note are Michael Johnson, James Harrison and Chris Crocker. Johnson was signed by Tampa Bay in free agency, and Harrison was released. Signed to a one-year deal when he emerged from retirement this past September, Crocker was a free agent this offseason who didn't have his contract renewed. Still, knowing Crocker's track record of signing as a September off-of-the-couch call-up the past two years, you can't fully rule out an appearance from him in Cincinnati at some point this year. Of all the Bengals' defensive departures, Zimmer's was certainly the biggest. The coordinator who helped revolutionize the Bengals' defensive system and turned them into a perennial power implemented unique rotations, lineups and blitz and coverage packages. As the league's No. 3 defense this past season, the Bengals pulled off a franchise feat that hadn't been replicated in more than 30 years. Under new coordinator Paul Guenther, who formulated many of the blitz packages for Zimmer, the Bengals are hoping to be even better than that No. 3 ranking this year. While they probably won't get ranked as high as No. 3, they still will be among the top 10.
Hensley: Fiction. It's true that a defense is only as good as its players on the field. But let's not disregard the impact of Zimmer on the Bengals' defense. In Zimmer's first season in Cincinnati (2008), the Bengals jumped from No. 27 to No. 12 in defense. The Bengals then went on to finish in the top 10 in yards and points allowed in four of the next five seasons under Zimmer. He's a fiery leader who got the most out of his players. Many expect a smooth transition with Paul Guenther being promoted to defensive coordinator, but he's never been in charge of a defense in the NFL. His job won't be made any easier by the fact that defensive end Michael Johnson left in free agency and defensive tackle Geno Atkins is still recovering from an ACL injury. The Bengals secondary is dealing with aging veterans (Terence Newman and Adam Jones), injury (Leon Hall) and unfulfilled potential (Dre Kirkpatrick). Don't be surprised if the Bengals slip out of the top 10 this season.
Pat McManamon: Fact. The Bengals have too many good players and too good a system to falter with Zimmer's departure. He'll be missed, but defenses are as good as the players on the field, and with stalwart Geno Atkins coming back from injury to go with a crew that includes Vontaze Burfict, the Bengals should still be formidable. Also, new coordinator Paul Guenther knows the system, knows the blitzes and worked closely with Zimmer. It always hurts to lose a coordinator like Zimmer, but the Bengals seemed to be as prepared as a team can be. The other thing to remember is that offenses can help defenses by possessing the ball, and new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will run the ball more than Jay Gruden did.
Steve Smith will become Joe Flacco's top target this season.
Brown: Fiction. I'm tempted to say fact here because of the trust and rapport that Flacco developed with Anquan Boldin before the Ravens traded the veteran wide receiver to the 49ers this past year. Boldin, however, is bigger and more physical than Smith and doesn't rely as much on speed as the latter still does, even at the age of 35. Look for tight end Dennis Pitta to re-establish himself as a big part of the Ravens' offense after missing all but four games this past season because of a dislocated hip. Pitta caught 61 passes and was targeted 93 times by Flacco in 2012, while Boldin caught just four more passes than Pitta, despite getting targeted 112 times. A healthy Pitta becomes Flacco's go-to receiver again.
Harvey: Fiction. Another Smith will end up being Flacco's top passing target this season. Torrey Smith, the man who saw 139 throws directed his way this past season, will remain the go-to receiver in an offense that hopes for increased production from 2013. During the mostly down year for Baltimore's offense, Torrey Smith caught 65 of the 139 balls thrown his way, leading the team in receptions. While at Carolina last year, Steve Smith caught 64 passes on just 109 targets from Cam Newton. The longtime Panther was one of the stars of an offense that also relied on Newton to make plays with his feet, in addition to spreading the ball to other receivers. The Ravens had difficulty getting any kind of rushing offense going, which made it easy for defenses to sell out on guarding their receivers. If Ray Rice struggles to perform out of the backfield again this year -- or if he ends up missing considerable time due to a possible suspension from commissioner Roger Goodell following his arrest in Atlantic City this offseason for assault on his now-wife -- much the same could happen to the Ravens' receivers in 2014. Even if that happens, Steve Smith's addition ought to help Flacco and the Ravens. Still, don't look for the 35-year-old to take over as the team's dominant receiver. That title ought to remain Torrey Smith's.
Hensley: Fact. There's a chance tight end Dennis Pitta or wide receiver Torrey Smith will end up being Flacco's go-to receiver. In the end, Flacco will spread the ball around to Pitta, Torrey Smith and Steve Smith. But if you're asking who will be Flacco's top target, the best bet is Steve Smith. All you needed to do was watch one practice this offseason, and you'd see the chemistry building between Flacco and Smith. Many have compared Steve Smith to Anquan Boldin because both are tough receivers. Smith, though, stacks up more favorably to Derrick Mason, who averaged 71 receptions in three seasons with Flacco. Like Mason, Smith can get open on the comeback route as well as slants. A prideful player such as Smith will also do everything in his power to show the Carolina Panthers he can still play. The Ravens will get the best out of Smith this year.
Pat McManamon: Fiction. The Ravens still have this guy Torrey Smith, right? He's a little younger than the 35-year-old Steve Smith. A little bigger too. And he should be ready to be the No. 1 receiver on the team. This is not to say Steve Smith won't help. He will. He brings a veteran presence the Ravens lacked -- though it's curious they gave away Anquan Boldin before last year and signed another aging guy who fits the "crafty veteran mold" a year later. Ozzie Newsome said Smith is not the "typical aging player," which is good, because he'll catch a lot of passes and open up the field more to provide opportunities for Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta. The Ravens also seem to be a team well-suited to getting the most from veterans. But if Baltimore brought Steve Smith in to be the top guy, it's a problem. That role and responsibility belongs to Torrey Smith.
The retooled defense is enough to get the Steelers back to the playoffs.
Brown: Fact: The Steelers got younger and faster and will be better on that side of the ball if their outside linebackers provide some semblance of a pass rush. The Steelers don't need dramatic improvement from their defense if their offense builds on its strong finish in 2013. The Steelers averaged just under 28 points in their final eight games this past season, and they only lost one starter (wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders) on offense. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey returns from a torn ACL to lead an offensive line that allowed just seven sacks in the final seven games last year. And the Steelers have enough talent at the skill positions for Ben Roethlisberger and the offense to carry the defense.
Hensley: Fact. The Steelers got younger and quicker with their first two draft picks this year, linebacker Ryan Shazier and defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Cam Thomas, a free-agent addition, will be a space-eater on the interior of the line. What will help this retooled defense become even better are the moves made on offense. The Steelers stockpiled their backfield by signing free agent LeGarrette Blount and drafting Dri Archer in the third round. Plus, Le'Veon Bell was beginning to hit his stride at the end of his rookie season. This commitment to the run will control the clock and take pressure off a defense adjusting to its new parts.
McManamon: Fact. There is no team in the league that finds personnel to fit its system better than the Steelers. With three new starters defensively, Pittsburgh continues its transition from the James Harrison-James Farrior-Casey Hampton-Brett Keisel days. Kevin Colbert's drafting is usually logical and sound, and in Ryan Shazier the Steelers believe they found an immediate starter. One thing will be true about Pittsburgh this season: They will be faster on the field and they will not start slow. Pittsburgh will build on the momentum of an 8-4 finish in 2013 (after an 0-4 start), and as they build the defense will grow..
But the Cleveland Browns spoiled any chances of a homecoming for Towson running back Terrance West. On Friday night, the Browns traded back into the third round to move five spots ahead of the Ravens to grab the prolific small-school runner.
The Ravens eventually selected Colorado State tight end Crockett Gilmore in the third round. General manager Ozzie Newsome acknowledged that West, who played high school football in Baltimore City, was on the Ravens' radar.
"We like Terrance," Newsome said after the third round ended. "He was a guy that we had as a draftable player, and we’ll just be playing against him twice a year now.”
It was expected that the Ravens were going to look for a running back as early as the third round. The Ravens landed a potential starting safety in Terrence Brooks earlier in the third round and were powerless to do anything at the end of the round.
There was no way for the Ravens to move up in the third round because their last pick was a compensatory one, which can't be traded. Actually, the only remaining non-compensatory pick for the Ravens is a sixth-rounder, so the only way to get an additional third-round pick this year was to give up a pick in a future draft.
It sounded like the Browns were concerned the Ravens were going to draft West. The Browns traded picks in the fourth and sixth rounds to go up 12 spots and jump ahead of the Ravens.
So, Ravens coach John Harbaugh can thank his brother for not getting a shot at someone who would have bolstered the depth behind Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.
“We had an inkling that other teams were going to try to circle the wagons on (West) when it got to the compensatory picks,” Browns general manager Ray Farmer said. “And, so we felt that we needed to jump back in before he disappeared.”
The Ravens have four remaining picks on Day 3 to add a running back.
Total picks: 33. Picks still on roster: 23 (70 percent). Picks who are currently projected starters: 8. Pro Bowl players drafted: 0.
Best player: Wide receiver Torrey Smith (second round, 2011). This was a tough call over cornerback Jimmy Smith. While Jimmy Smith made a significant impact last season, Torrey Smith has a much better body of work. Torrey Smith became the first Ravens receiver to produce 1,000 yards since Derrick Mason in 2009. His 17.4 yards per catch ranked fifth in the NFL last season.
Best value: Tight end Dennis Pitta (fourth round, 2010). Not only was Pitta the seventh tight end drafted that year, he was the second one taken by the Ravens in that draft. Pitta has developed into a go-to target for Joe Flacco in the red zone and on third downs. In the Ravens' Super Bowl season, Pitta's seven touchdowns tied Todd Heap's 2005 team record for tight ends.
Biggest disappointment: Pass-rusher Sergio Kindle (second round, 2010). Kindle created more headlines off the field, from fracturing his skull after falling down two flights of stairs to his drunken driving arrest. He played a total of three games and is the only player from that draft not currently on an NFL roster right now.
Total picks: 37. Picks still on roster: 24 (65 percent). Picks who are currently projected starters: 8. Pro Bowl players drafted: 4.
Best player: Wide receiver A.J. Green (first round, 2011). This was an easy decision because Green's 3,833 yards receiving is the second-most of any player in his first three seasons (trailing only Randy Moss). He was one of three receivers in the league to rank in the top 10 in both yards and touchdowns last season.
Best value: Defensive tackle Geno Atkins (fourth round, 2010). He was the best interior pass-rusher in the game before tearing his ACL last season. Atkins recorded 18.5 sack in his last 25 games before the injury.
Biggest disappointment: Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (first round, 2012). You can't label him a bust, but he hasn't lived up to expectations. Injuries have hurt his development. Still, he has yet to beat out aging corners like Terence Newman and Adam Jones.
Total picks: 33. Picks still on roster: 17 (51 percent). Picks who are currently projected starters: 7. Pro Bowl players drafted: 3.
Best player: Wide receiver Josh Gordon (second round, 2012 supplemental draft). His eye-opening season puts him among the elite of NFL receivers. Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmur were widely questioned for using a second-round pick on Gordon, but now it looks like a steal.
Best value pick: Tight end Jordan Cameron (fourth round, 2011): Developing into a standout tight end when the Browns took him in the fourth round after he had barely played at USC.
Biggest disappointment: Running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden (first round, 2012): The Browns moved up a spot to take Richardson with the third overall pick and he was didn't even last three games into his second season before being traded. Weeden was Mike Holmgren's hand-picked quarterback, and he is the second of two first-round picks in 2012 no longer with the team.
Totals picks: 35. Picks still on the roster: 20 (57 percent). Picks who are currently projected as starters: 12. Pro Bowl players drafted: 2.
Best player: Wide receiver Antonio Brown (sixth round, 2010). Brown set a Steelers single-season record with 1,499 receiving yards in 2013 and his teammates voted him Steelers MVP for the second time in three seasons. Brown gives the Steelers added value as a punt returner and he is one of the best picks they have made in recent years as they got him with the second of their two six-round picks in 2010.
Best value: Offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum (seventh round, 2012). Beachum had been a valuable reserve because of his versatility. Then the Steelers turned to him when Mike Adams flopped at left tackle last season and Beachum played well in 11 starts while protecting Ben Roethlisberger's blind side, and his emergence is why let tackle isn't a glaring need for the Steelers in the draft. And to think Beachum was the Steelers' final pick in 2012 and No. 248 overall.
Worst pick: Cornerback Curtis Brown (third round, 2011). The Steelers released Brown after he didn't contribute much beyond special teams in three seasons. The selection of cornerback Cortez Allen in the fourth round helps ease this miss as Allen projects as a long-term starter. But the Brown pick in one reason why cornerback may be the Steeler's biggest need in this draft.
Or something like that.
Since the 2014 version of free agency began, the Browns have spent $55.8 million in guaranteed money.
That’s the highest total in the AFC North, and following the matching of Jacksonville’s offer to Alex Mack, ranks third in the league in guaranteed money spent since March 11.
Which means the Browns rank third to the Bucs and Broncos in guaranteed money, with most of it going to Mack ($18 million reported, though the number has not been confirmed), linebacker Karlos Dansby ($12 million) and safety Donte Whitner ($13 million). The Browns started free agency with a glut of cap space, and they’ve not been shy about using it.
And they’ve spend more than $50 million in guaranteed contracts without even addressing the quarterback position.
Second in the division in spending are the Baltimore Ravens at $36.3 million, though their total does not include re-signing Dennis Pitta just before free agency began. That signing brings the Ravens' guaranteed money total to $52.3 million -- still short of the Browns.
Most of Baltimore’s money went to Pitta and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe ($19 million).
Take away those two re-signings and Baltimore’s guaranteed total of $18 million is more like a team that feels good about itself.
Same for the Bengals, a team that has made the playoffs three years in a row and feels it’s close to something good. Cincinnati has spent just $7.3 million in guaranteed money, the fourth lowest total in the league.
Pittsburgh? The Steelers never go overboard in free-agent spending and this year is no different. Their total of $8.7 million is just ahead of Cincinnati.
TE Dallas Clark: He looked like a tight end playing in his final season, catching 31 passes for the Ravens (his fewest in a season since 2006). It wouldn't be a surprise if Clark retired. He turns 35 in June.
TE Ed Dickson: The signing of Owen Daniels rules out a return for Dickson. He'll be playing in the NFL in 2014, and it will likely be for about the league minimum. Dickson needs a fresh start elsewhere, and he's visiting the Carolina Panthers.
RB Bernard Scott: The Ravens opted to sign Justin Forsett instead of Scott to be their third running back. Scott could have trouble catching on with another team. This offseason, Scott turned 30, which is not a kind number for running backs.
WR Brandon Stokley: He said after the season that he plans to retire after suffering another concussion. Stokley was the last active player from the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl championship team.
LB Michael Boley: Signed to a one-year deal early last season, Boley has been seen as little more than a stop-gap for last season's team. His return is unlikely.
DB Chris Crocker: Danieal Manning's signing last week might have been enough to prevent the Bengals from re-signing Crocker. The two play similar positions and serve similar purposes as older players. Crocker still hasn’t announced -- for a third time -- if he’s retiring.
P Zoltan Mesko: Much like Boley, Mesko was a stop-gap solution while punter Kevin Huber was out injured. When OTAs and minicamps resume, Huber is expected to be near full health from a broken jaw.
OT Dennis Roland: Though the Bengals signed former Packers tackle Marshall Newhouse this offseason, they still could re-sign Roland for depth, and to give them a tackle who can be a good short-yardage edge blocker.
TE Alex Smith: There is still a chance the Bengals could bring Smith back, considering H-back Orson Charles was arrested and charged with wanton endangerment March 31 in Richmond, Ky., the result of what police believe was a road rage incident involving a handgun.
C Alex Mack: His only visit has been to Jacksonville, where the Jaguars are expected to sign him to an offer sheet. The Browns then will have five days to decide if they want to match the offer.
RB Willis McGahee: Not surprising there has been so little interest. His age and the poor running back market make him a tough sign.
OT Levi Brown: Suffered a season-ending triceps injury before playing a down for the Steelers last season; would have to accept a non-guaranteed contract to return and try to make the team in 2014.
WR Plaxico Burress: Wants to play in 2014, but is 36 and coming off a shoulder injury that sidelined him all of last season; does not appear to be in Steelers' plans.
RB Felix Jones: Didn't show enough last season as a change-of-pace back or a kickoff returner to warrant serious consideration for the Steelers to bring him back.
DE Brett Keisel: Re-signing the 12th-year veteran is still an option for the Steelers, who are thin along the defensive line, though nothing will happen until after the draft.
P Mat McBriar: McBriar did OK after the Steelers signed him in October, but it looks like they will go with a younger leg at the position in 2014.
C/G David Snow: Didn't dress in final four games after signing with Pittsburgh last December, and the Steelers have added depth to their offensive line.
RB LaRod Stephens-Howling: Another player coming off an injury (torn ACL) the Steelers might consider re-signing once he is healthy or close to full strength.
LB Stevenson Sylvester: Is a core special teams player and a depth guy the Steelers would probably have interest in bringing back at the right price.
C Fernando Velasco: The Steelers are likely to re-sign one of their most unsung players in 2013 once he has fully recovered from the ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in November.
LB Jamaal Westerman: Played in the regular-season finale after signing with the Steelers last December, but is not not in the team's plans.
Results will be announced after the season.
But we thought it might be fun to get input from readers on one of the tougher positions to select: wide receiver.
We can only pick two for the All AFC North Team, and the division includes four standouts and one up-and-coming rookie: Cleveland’s Josh Gordon, Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Marvin Jones, and Baltimore’s Torrey Smith.
The Baltimore Ravens have won 11 games in a row over the Cleveland Browns. That number is a measure not only of how good the Ravens have been since 2007 — the last time the Browns won in this series — but also how badly the Browns have struggled.
That 11-game win streak also is the longest current streak of regular-season wins by one team against another, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
By ending that streak, the Browns would make a statement about themselves and their status in the AFC North. But the Ravens realize they will need to start righting themselves if they wish to have a chance to defend their Super Bowl title. Let’s look ahead to the game with ESPN.com Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley and Browns reporter Pat McManamon.
Pat McManamon: The Ravens won the first game between these teams this season, in Week 2, and since then the Browns have started three different quarterbacks. What about the Ravens has changed since the first time these teams met?
Jamison Hensley: Pat, the problem for the Ravens is what hasn't changed. A big reason Baltimore is sitting at 3-4 is its inability to run the ball. The Ravens averaged 2.8 yards per rush against the Browns in Week 2, and they have averaged a league-worst 2.8 yards per rush for the season.
Ray Rice injured his hip in the fourth quarter against the Browns, and he really hasn't looked healthy since. But Rice has a great track record when playing in Cleveland. It's like his home turf, based on the results. In five games there, Rice has averaged 127.4 yards rushing. His worst game was 89 yards.
Is there any shot of Rice getting back on track against the Browns?
McManamon: The Browns are pretty good against the run. They give up 103.6 yards per game, good for 12th in the league. Three opponents have rushed for fewer than 100 yards, and last week they held the Chiefs' Jamaal Charles, second in the NFL in rushing yards this season, to 74 yards. That being said, if anyone is going to bust loose against the Browns, it would be Rice. He seems to salivate when he plays the Browns, especially in Cleveland -- where he's had games of 154, 89, 92, 204 and 98 yards in the last five seasons.
Let's flip to the passing game, Jamison. In his first start, Jason Campbell was surprisingly effective against the Chiefs' pass rush. He was able to make his reads and get rid of the ball in a hurry. Do you anticipate the Ravens coming up with anything to take advantage of Campbell, who is on his fourth team in eight seasons?
Hensley: The Ravens were impressed by Campbell, but they were more impressed by the Browns' offensive line, which allowed just one sack against the Chiefs. Baltimore will find out if Cleveland's pass protection will hold up for a second week. The Ravens will likely use the same aggressive game plan that resulted in five sacks of Brandon Weeden in the earlier meeting with the Browns.
In addition to Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil coming off the edges, the Ravens generated pressure by blitzing up the middle. Where the Ravens will really test Campbell is on third down. Baltimore has recorded 10 sacks on third down this season, fifth-most in the NFL. The last time the Ravens faced Campbell as a starter was 2008, but only two Ravens defensive starters from that game (Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata) remain on the team.
The bigger concern for the Ravens has been their inability to protect Joe Flacco. Has the Browns' pass rush lived up to expectations so far?
McManamon: In general, no, but last Sunday, yes. The Browns got six sacks against a pretty mobile quarterback in Alex Smith. The catch is that whereas defensive coordinator Ray Horton went after Smith, he dialed back the blitzes the previous two weeks when he faced Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers. The Browns have guys who can bring pressure in Jabaal Sheard, Phil Taylor, Paul Kruger (even with his low sack total) and rookie Barkevious Mingo. But against Green Bay and Detroit, Horton played coverage. Flacco isn't mobile, but he is smart and he's won a Super Bowl. It will be intriguing to see whether the Browns go after him or sit back.
Kruger is one of the departed Ravens from last season's Super Bowl champs. Which of those guys who left -- including the retired Ray Lewis -- do they miss the most?
Hensley: The Ravens haven't really missed Lewis on the field. Daryl Smith, who replaced the longtime face of the franchise, has been the defense's top playmaker. The top four players that the Ravens miss the most (in no particular order) are wide receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Ed Reed, safety Bernard Pollard and center Matt Birk.
Boldin was a difference-maker on third down and in the red zone, two areas where the offense has struggled this season. Teams would likely take fewer deep shots if Reed were playing center field, and there's less of an intimidation factor on defense without Pollard. The biggest surprise is how much the Ravens have struggled without Birk. In his first season as the starting center, Gino Gradkowski is getting pushed back too often.
Speaking of changes, the Ravens didn't have to face wide receiver Josh Gordon last month because he was serving his two-game suspension. Can his impact change the Browns' fortunes against the Ravens?
McManamon: Of course. Gordon is a talent. A big-time talent. At just 22, he’s second in the league in yards per catch, and every touchdown pass in his career has been for at least 20 yards. It’s no secret that the offense opened up for Brian Hoyer, in part because Hoyer played but also because he had Gordon back. That said, not even Gordon can overcome bad quarterbacking. He struggled when Weeden had his second chance because Weeden struggled. Campbell got him back in the offense. Baltimore must respect him.
Why has Flacco and the Ravens been so successful against the Browns? According to Flacco, it's the fact that they don't dwell on their success against the Browns.
"We haven’t won 11 straight on accident, and we haven’t planned on winning 11 straight," Flacco said. "We’ve taken them one game at a time, and it just so happened that it’s worked out this way. I think that shows you that we’ve had a good mindset and we’ve been able to take it one at a time. We know that they’re a good opponent, so we don’t take them lightly in any way."
In his career against Cleveland, Flacco has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 2,248 yards. He has thrown 13 touchdowns and five interceptions for a 92.7 passer rating.
Flacco's wins have come against five Browns quarterbacks: Derek Anderson (twice), Brady Quinn (twice), Seneca Wallace (twice), Colt McCoy (twice) and Brandon Weeden (three times). On Sunday, Flacco will look to beat his sixth Browns quarterback in Jason Campbell.
A reporter asked Flacco if he still viewed the Browns as a formidable rival considering his perfect record against them.
"Look at the last game," Flacco said. "We didn’t score a point until the second half, and we had to play a really tough game to pull one out. It’s always a really good game."
The last Ravens starting quarterback to lose to the Browns was Kyle Boller in 2007.
It happened on the second play of the game, and the 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty turned a potential third-and-long into a first down for the Ravens.
"I usually don't do things like that," Taylor said, "but something happened and I still have to keep my composure."
Did Rice spit on him?
"Look at the film," Taylor said. "You'll see."
Rice wasn't in the Ravens locker room after the game and didn't speak to reporters.
Asked if he had any past problems with Rice, Taylor said, "I don't like any running back that I play against."
BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 14-6 win against the Cleveland Browns:
What it means: On the day the Ravens unveiled their Super Bowl banner, they looked far from champions but they played well enough in the second half to beat the Browns. Down 6-0 at halftime, the Ravens converted timely third downs on offense and sacked Brandon Weeden five times in the second half. It was a sloppy start for the Ravens, who watched rookie receiver Marlon Brown drop a touchdown and kicker Justin Tucker miss two field goals. Joe Flacco, whose wife delivered their second son an hour before kickoff, finished 22-of-33 for 211 yards and one touchdown. The Browns fall to 0-2 for the fifth time in six seasons.
Ray Rice injured: The Ravens running back injured his left hip with 11:57 left in the game and didn't return. He went down to the ground without being hit. Rice gained 36 yards on 13 carries before getting hurt. He also had a fumble early in the fourth quarter. Bernard Pierce, who scored the go-ahead 5-yard touchdown, replaced Rice.
Weeden hurt: He injured his thumb late in the fourth quarter. He was listed as questionable to return, but he didn't come back into the game. Weeden was 21-of-33 for 227 yards and was sacked five times. Jason Campbell replaced him with the Browns trailing 14-6.
Stock watch: Rising: Baltimore's pass rush. Five Ravens got at least a half sack on Weeden as the quarterback got hit from all angles. Falling: Cleveland's offense. The Browns were shut out in the second half, and the closest the Browns got to the end zone after halftime was the Ravens' 36-yard line. Former Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff supplied all of their points on field goals from 21 and 51 yards.
Critical stop: The biggest stop by the Ravens came on fourth-and-4 on the first play of the fourth quarter. With the Ravens up 7-6, linebacker Courtney Upshaw held tight end Jordan Cameron less than inch away from converting a first down. The Browns' drive ended at the Ravens' 36.
What's next: The Ravens (1-1) play host to Ed Reed and the Houston Texans on Sunday, and the Browns (0-2) go to the Minnesota Vikings.
The Ravens have a lot of confidence in Oher's health because they're only carrying two backup linemen (center A.Q. Shipley and tackle Rick Wagner) for Sunday's game.
Defensive lineman Art Jones (illness) and backup running back Bernard Pierce are active after being limited in practice this week. Jones missed the season opener with an irregular heartbeat. Pierce should handle kickoff returns as well because Shaun Draughn is inactive.
Browns: DE Ahtyba Rubin, RG Shawn Lauvao, DE Armonty Bryant, QB Brian Hoyer, TE MarQueis Gray, OL Martin Wallace and LB Paul Hazel.
Ravens: WR Jacoby Jones, WR Deonte Thompson, DT Brandon Williams, DE DeAngelo Tyson, G-T Jah Reid, C Ryan Jensen, RB Shaun Draughn.
The Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns have different levels of expectations for the season, but these two AFC North teams find themselves with the same 0-1 record. In their season-opening losses, the Ravens and Browns had some of the same problems. Their quarterbacks threw multiple interceptions. Their defenses wore down in the second half. Penalties were a problem again. And their commitment to the running game was lacking.
The Ravens are looking to get back on track against a Browns team they have dominated. John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco have never lost to Cleveland, beating the Browns 10 straight times. Under first-year coach Rob Chudzinski, the Browns are trying to avoid an 0-2 start for the fifth time in six years.
ESPN.com's Matt Williamson and Ravens team reporter Jamison Hensley discuss whether or not these streaks will continue or end.
Hensley: The one area of defense where the Ravens excelled in Denver was stopping the run. Baltimore held the Broncos to 2.8 yards per carry and didn't allow a run over 9 yards. But a big storyline in Cleveland right now is how the Browns ignored running back Trent Richardson in the season opener. He only received 13 carries and only ran the ball five times in the second half. So, does Richardson get over 20 carries on Sunday in Baltimore?
Williamson: I am not sure that Richardson gets more than 20 carries against the Ravens, but he certainly should have more than 20 total touches, as he is an excellent dump-off option out of the backfield. It was a crime for Cleveland's coaching staff to give their star runner just 13 carries while asking the struggling Brandon Weeden to throw the ball 53 times. That is a losing formula. However, clearly the best way to attack Baltimore's defense right now is through the air, so look for Weeden to target Baltimore's safety corps, specifically with Jordan Cameron. The Ravens had all sorts of problems with Denver tight end Julius Thomas, and the Browns could be looking to exploit the same weakness with budding star Cameron, a similar athlete and body-type player.
So, along those lines, obviously facing Weeden is a much easier assignment than doing battle with Peyton Manning and his extreme wealth of weapons in Denver, but the Ravens coaching staff should be concerned about their second half collapse against Denver's great passing game. Do you see any changes in this department on the horizon for Week 2?
Hensley: The Ravens acknowledge that it's tough to shut down Manning. The problem the coaching staff had is that the Ravens secondary made it too easy for him. There were miscommunications that left targets wide open in the red zone. There were cornerbacks, namely Corey Graham and Jimmy Smith, who flat-out got beat. And there were too many missed tackles, especially from safety Michael Huff.
I don't see the Ravens making any major changes to personnel for a couple of reasons: They're not going to panic after one game and they don't have many options. Lardarius Webb was the only defensive back who played well, and he's 11 months removed from ACL surgery. Graham and Smith are struggling at the other cornerback spot, and the Ravens don't have the confidence in Chykie Brown to bench someone. Baltimore will likely stick with Huff and James Ihedigbo at safety right now because of their experience, although rookie first-round pick Matt Elam will eventually be the starter this year.
What this secondary really needs is a strong pass rush on Weeden. And pass protection is a big storyline for both teams considering the injuries along the offensive line. The Browns have only sacked Joe Flacco 14 times in 10 meetings. Can the Browns get more pressure on Flacco this time?
Williamson: Mike Lombardi and company made it a huge offseason priority to improve their pass rush. And I think they very much accomplished that goal by signing Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant, who was a real force rushing the passer from the interior last week, as well as using a high first round pick on the ultra-talented Barkevious Mingo. I expect Flacco to be under duress quite a bit in this contest when the Browns chose to bring just four, but with Joe Haden possibly locking down Torrey Smith (as he did last week to similar wide receiver in Mike Wallace), I could see Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton dialing up a lot of additional blitzes, which goes back to his roots learning from Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh.
The Browns have an exceptional young offensive line, but the Miami defensive line, led by Cameron Wake, dominated this group in all facets last week. The right guard position is particularly weak right now for Cleveland, but that performance against the Dolphins was rather shocking. The Ravens feature a very deep and talented defensive front. Could they wreak the same havoc up front?
Hensley: The Ravens know all about the Browns' struggling right guard. Oniel Cousins was a third-round pick of the Ravens in 2008. Coincidentally, that's the same draft that produced Flacco and Ray Rice for Baltimore. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata lined up over the right guard for most of the game in Denver. He's healthy after playing last season all dinged up, and he has more explosion coming off the line. This is the game's biggest mismatch.
As you pointed out, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz had a rough time with Wake, and his assignment won't be any easier Sunday. In passing situations, Elvis Dumervil will be coming off the Browns' right edge. In his Ravens' debut, Dumervil had one sack and three quarterback hurries. Even with the Browns' No. 1 wide receiver Josh Gordon out, the Browns can't let Weeden have too much time in the pocket.
The biggest matchup that favors the Browns is at returner. The Ravens won't have Pro Bowl returner Jacoby Jones for another month after he sprained his knee. The Ravens, who have had lapses in their return game, have to contain Travis Benjamin. What are your thoughts on the Browns returner? And what other matchup could the Browns exploit?
Williamson: Benjamin isn't nearly as big or physical with the ball in his hands as Josh Cribbs, his predecessor, but Benjamin is flat out fast. He can change the game in a heartbeat and he doesn't need a lot of room to explode through. To me, as alluded to above, the Browns' pass defense against the Ravens' passing offense is what favors Cleveland the most in this contest. The Browns' secondary is very much a work in progress but if Haden eliminates Smith, which I think is quite possible, the Ravens really have very few other options in terms of wide receivers or tight ends to threaten the defense. Also, Baltimore's pass protection could be a liability against this revamped pass rush. Still, this will be an uphill climb against the defending Super Bowl Champions who were embarrassed on national television last week and has an extra long week to prepare.