NFL Nation: Phil Taylor

A few NFL players weighed in on Josh Gordon’s most recent arrest, for suspicion of DWI in Raleigh, North Carolina, early Saturday morning.

Gordon allegedly had a blood-alcohol count of .09, which would be over the legal limit of .08. It marked a continuing pattern of behavior that has drawn attention from players, fans and the Browns organization.

Gordon faces a minimum one-year ban for failing an offseason drug test. He has been pulled over twice this offseason, once with marijuana in the car and the second time for the DWI. He was suspended two games a year ago and played two without pay. He also did not last at two different colleges.

The general theme from those players who voiced their opinions about Gordon were strong: Don’t criticize Gordon; instead put the focus on helping him.

One teammate was angry at the public bashing Gordon has received. As of Saturday evening his name had appeared in more than 45,000 tweets, most of them critical and negative.

Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor posted this Sunday morning:



This from former teammate D’Qwell Jackson, now with the Colts, drew a lot of attention:



Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts:



From former NFL linebacker Keith Bulluck:



Finally, Ben Watson, former Browns and current Saints tight end, and a member of the NFL Players Association Executive Committee, said this:

The Cleveland Browns made the logical move picking up the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Phil Taylor.

Taylor now is under contract through the 2015 season, when he will make $5.5 million.

Taylor
Why logical? Because the deal is not guaranteed. The team extends Taylor’s initial contract one year at no risk.

If the Browns choose to keep Taylor, they can, or they can re-do the deal, or they can release him with no 2015 salary-cap carryover.

Taylor’s initial four-year deal, signed when he was drafted, averaged $2.023 million per year.

Taylor has developed into a good tackle after he was taken in the first round of the 2011 draft. He’s big, strong and has the right attitude.

“Phil’s explosive,” coach Mike Pettine said after the first of the team’s minicamp had concluded. “He’s got some pass-rush ability, yet he’s solid enough to be at the point of attack. Absolutely, he’s a fit for us.”

It will be interesting to see how much Taylor plays this season. A year ago, Ray Horton often took him off the field, especially in pass-rush situations. In the end, he was only on the field 47 percent of the snaps.

But Taylor is one of the Browns' “core” defensive guys, along with Joe Haden, Jabaal Sheard, Desmond Bryant, Tashaun Gipson, Ahtyba Rubin and new signees Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby.

It simply makes sense to keep him.

Emmanuel Sanders a game-time decision

December, 27, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders practiced Friday and will be a game-time decision Sunday in what could be his final contest with the Steelers.

Sanders
Sanders (knee) and outside linebacker Jason Worilds (abdomen) are listed as questionable for the 1 p.m. ET game against the visiting Browns. Linebacker Terence Garvin (knee) is the only Steelers player who has been ruled out for the regular-season finale at Heinz Field.

Worilds practiced on a limited basis Friday while Sanders was listed as a full participant in drills.

“Right now I’m 50-50,” said Sanders, who sprained his knee last Sunday while making a cut on the muddy turf at Lambeau Field. “I practiced today and the pain was bearable.”

Sanders said he will play Sunday if he can’t make the injury any worse.

“I’ve always played through injuries no matter what,” said Sanders, who has played in every game this season and caught 65 passes for 714 yards and six touchdowns. “I’m not going to hold anything back, and that’s always been my mentality.

Sanders will be an unrestricted free agent after the season and he is among a handful of Steelers players who face an uncertain future.

In addition to Sanders, right guard David DeCastro (back) practiced on Friday after missing drills the previous day. DeCastro said his back won’t limit him against the Browns, who will be without starting nose tackle Phil Taylor (concussion).

"Back's fine," DeCastro said. “I’m good to go."

DeCastro, defensive end Brett Keisel (foot), outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (illness), wide receiver Markus Wheaton (finger), safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller are all listed as probable for Sunday.

Browns' Cameron, Taylor miss practice

December, 24, 2013
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Several Cleveland Browns missed the first practice in preparation for the season finale in Pittsburgh, but coach Rob Chudzinski would not speculate on their status for Sunday's game.

Offensive guard Jason Pinkston, defensive lineman Phil Taylor and tight end Jordan Cameron are all sidelined by concussions and undergoing NFL mandated testing.

Cornerback Joe Haden (hip), defensive lineman John Hughes (knee) and linebacker Paul Kruger (flu) also did not practice. Guard John Greco returned from a sprained knee on a limited basis.

Upon Further Review: Browns Week 16

December, 23, 2013
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A review of five hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 24-13 loss to the New York Jets:

Injured coach: Secondary coach Louie Cioffi left the locker room on crutches after hurting his knee on the sideline. Cioffi took the worst of it when Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo shoved Geno Smith out of bounds at the end of a run.

Other injuries: Defensive tackle Phil Taylor left the game with a concussion. He will go through the league's concussion protocols. Cornerback Joe Haden played with a badly bruised hip. After the game, he told the media in the locker room the adrenaline had worn off and the pain had increased.

What happened: There were times early this season when many thought the Browns defense was playing well and it has been a strength of the team. But the past month has been the exact opposite. Ray Horton has been accountable, candid and up front when he has addressed the media, but his players have simply not gotten it done. The Browns defense gives up too many scores late in halves, and too many long drives at key points of games to consider itself a top defense.

Steeling for Pittsburgh: The season finale will be against the Steelers for the fifth time in six seasons. The Browns haven't won any of them. They lost 24-10 a year ago, 13-9 in '11, 41-9 in '10 and 31-0 in '08. The Steelers have something to play for, so this visit figures to be as difficult as any.

What a win means: The Browns have four wins. A win against Pittsburgh would give them five, which would at least match the win total in the last of Pat Shurmur's years as coach. If they lose, they'll tie for the third-worst mark since the expansion ere started in 1999. The worst two records came in 1999 and 2000.
CLEVELAND -- Frustration crept closer to anger for the Cleveland Browns following their 27-11 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A team that two weeks ago pointed to a game in Cincinnati as a chance to re-establish themselves, and to a game at home against Pittsburgh as a chance to stay relevant, saw themselves lose both by a combined 37 points.

[+] EnlargeJosh Gordon
AP Photo/Tony DejakJosh Gordon had a big day, but he and the Browns hung their heads after another tough loss.
The Steelers did their usual slapdown on the Browns, controlling the game throughout. In the last seven quarters, the Browns have been outscored by 50 points (68-18). They’ve given up 24 or more points in five of the last seven games, and three times surrendered 31 or more.

A team that seemed on the brink of making something good happen and had people talking as if they could win the division got a smack of reality as cold as the frigid wind off Lake Erie.

When the locker room opened, several players sat at the lockers staring blankly. The overwhelming silence in the room spoke loudly. Defensive lineman Phil Taylor declined to answer questions. Safety T. J. Ward used the same phrase after this loss that he used after losing in Cincinnati: The Browns aren’t ready. They simply are not ready.

“That was a big game,” said receiver Josh Gordon. “The city wanted to see us win. We all wanted to win. It meant a lot.”

And in the end it meant another loss to Ben Roethlisberger, who has won 16 of his 17 starts against the Browns.

The main issue against Pittsburgh was the main issue against Cincinnati: turnovers. In two weeks, the offense has turned the ball over eight times, the other team just twice.

“They just wanted it a little bit more than us,” Gordon said. “At the same time we kind of gave them the game in certain situations. It makes it extremely hard for the offense to get going and the defense to stay in there, to keep going on the field with the offense giving up the ball.”

“That’s why we’re losing,” Ward said. “It says it right there. You can’t win ballgames turning the ball over.”

For the first time, frustration seemed to seep into the defense, which has been put in bad situations two weeks in a row -- but also failed to respond to quick-change situations. After Jason Campbell’s fumble in the third quarter, it took Roethlisberger one play to score a touchdown from the Browns' 4-yard line.

“It is frustrating,” Ward said. “I’m not gonna lie. It is out of our power. We have to trust that they are doing everything in their power to win ballgames like we are. And I trust that and I know that.

“It’s just that things are not going the way that [any] of us want them to go right now.”

There’s a 4-7 record that indicates where the season is going. There’s struggle. There’s frustration. There’s turnovers. There’s a defense starting to wonder about the offense. There’s a completely different outlook after just two weeks. And there’s uncertainty at the quarterback spot, where a guy may start who was booed when he replaced the injured starter.

Aside from those concerns, the Browns' situation at this point of the season, after yet another loss to Pittsburgh, qualifies as simply "peachy."

Pro and con: Steelers' no-huddle offense

November, 22, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- Todd Haley did not tip his hand regarding the topic that has dominated talk at Pittsburgh Steelers' headquarters this week and more than a few Western Pennsylvania establishments that serve adult beverages.

But the question had to be posed to Haley, and it dealt with whether or not he would be more inclined to run the no-huddle offense from the start of the Browns game given the success the Steelers had with it in beating the Lions.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarBen Roethlisberger and the Steelers jumped out to a 14-0 lead on the Lions using the no-huddle.
“I am not going to divulge anything like that,” the Steelers offensive coordinator said with a laugh. “Sorry.”

What makes it just as difficult to project how much the Steelers will use the no-huddle offense against the Browns is a handful of variables as well as this: Arguments can be made for the Steelers to go no-huddle a lot in Cleveland or hardly use it at all.

The case for: The Steelers opened in a no-huddle offense against the Lions to keep Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley from settling into the game, and they also wanted to try to wear out the mammoth tackles.

The Browns are just as stout up front as the Lions, and nose tackle Phil Taylor is better than Suh or Fairley. The Browns also like to play a lot of defensive linemen and not huddling would limit how much Cleveland could substitute.

The most obvious reason for going with the no-huddle a lot is that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger thrives in it, and it may be the best way to attack a Browns defense that probably isn't going to give up a lot of rushing yards.

The case against: Rain didn't hamper the Steelers' ability to run the no-huddle against the Lions. Snow and the wind that whips off Lake Erie may be a different story. If the weather is as bad, as expected, the last thing the Steelers need to do is run a hurry-up attack that could leave them prone to turnovers.

The Steelers committed eight turnovers in a 20-14 loss at Cleveland last season, and their top priority Sunday should be hanging onto the football.

Haley lauded the communication that took place among the players and coaches against the Lions, but that becomes increasingly more difficult when playing on the road and in a stadium where fans boo and bark at the visiting team.

Haley says: “I thought Detroit was real good (on defense) but I think this team's better. It starts inside with Taylor and (defensive end Ahtyba) Rubin. The front seven in general, I think, is probably the best front seven we've seen. We've got our work cut out for us because as we move into late November and December you've got to be able to run the ball effectively when they know you're running it.”

My take: the Steelers should use the no-huddle sparingly against the Browns. The weather and crowd increase the difficulty of running it effectively, and it's not like the Steelers are going to need a lot of points to win a shootout with journeyman Jason Campbell starting for the Browns.

If I'm coach Mike Tomlin I lean toward a more conventional approach on offense and lean on my defense and special teams. Make Campbell beat you; don't do it to yourself.

W2W4: Browns at Bengals

November, 16, 2013
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CINCINNATI -- As has been mentioned often this week, for the first time in a generation the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals have a November ballgame that's worthy of attention from the rest of the NFL.


With the Bengals' loss last week at Baltimore, the Browns are suddenly in the thick of the AFC North race and could inch dramatically closer to first place if they beat their in-state foes Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium. A win would move the Browns within a half game of the Bengals' lead ahead of Cincinnati's bye next week. For the first time in a long time, playoff fever has attacked the entire Buckeye State.

A win is possible for Cleveland, too. Despite coming in with a 4-5 record, the Browns are already responsible for one of the 6-4 Bengals' losses this season. Way back in Week 4, Cleveland's defense stood firm in a 17-6 win at home over the Bengals.

When you watch the 81st edition of the Battle of Ohio, you'll definitely want to keep a close eye on both top 5 defenses. You'll also want to keep an eye on the following:

Weather report: One week after their kickers and quarterback struggled in windy Baltimore -- gusts got as high as 28 mph -- the Bengals could be facing worse conditions at home this weekend. According to the National Weather Service, strong storms are expected to move across the Midwest on Sunday, hitting Southwest Ohio while the Bengals and Browns are playing. Lightning delays could occur at multiple games in the path of the severe weather, including Sunday's contest. In addition to intense downpours, winds with gusts up to 21 mph are being predicted. Said punter Kevin Huber about preparing for such harrowing elements: "You have to kind of trust when you're out on the field in pregame. You've got to trust that's what it's going to be like all game." It doesn't sound like that's a guarantee this week, even though coach Marvin Lewis believes the inclement weather will hold off until after the ballgame is over.

Red zone matchup: Keep a close eye on the football when the Bengals possess it inside the Browns' 20. In an otherwise balanced matchup, this is one of the few areas in which there appears to be a mismatch. Cincinnati's offense has been pretty good much of the year in the red zone, ranking sixth in efficiency at 64 percent. As good as it has been overall, Cleveland's defense hasn't been that impressive inside its own 20. The Browns rank last in the league in defensive red zone efficiency, allowing scores on 68 percent of plays inside their 20-yard line. Of course, for this to be an issue for either team, the Bengals' offense has to reach the red zone. Against the Ravens last week, it took the Bengals nine drives before they reached the red zone. They were 1-for-2 on their only red zone drives of the game.

Matchup in the trenches: In addition to seeing how well the teams fare against one another inside the 20s, keep an eye on the Bengals' offensive line and the Browns' defensive line. Cincinnati enters this game without offensive guard Kevin Zeitler, who was ruled out Friday with a foot injury. It'll be the first game in his two years that Zeitler will miss, prompting the Bengals to likely bring Mike Pollak off the bench to play his spot. The sixth-year veteran hasn't started a game since 2011 and has missed most of this season with a knee injury, but coaches are confident that he'll play well if called upon. Pollak, center Kyle Cook and left guard Clint Boling, in particular, will be facing a Browns defensive line that boasts one of the biggest and strongest interior players in the league in Phil Taylor. Defensive ends Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant have been headaches for offensive linemen, as well. Outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo will play close to the line too, providing an added element to the Bengals' blocking schemes.

Outside battle: While the threat of inclement weather could force both teams into running the ball, still pay close attention to the battle on the outside between Bengals receiver A.J. Green and cornerback Joe Haden. In their earlier meeting, Haden got the better of the competition, holding Green to just seven catches for 51 yards. It seemed like every step Green took, Haden was right there with him. Even Green's yard-after-catch numbers were abysmal in that game -- he had only four. While Haden will be trying to lock him down, the Bengals are going to use a combination of corners Adam Jones, Terence Newman and Dre Kirkpatrick to slow receivers Josh Gordon and Davone Bess. Since Chris Crocker is doubtful with a hamstring injury, when Bess lines up in the slot, he likely will see Kirkpatrick opposite him.

These Browns have different feel

November, 7, 2013
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Joe Haden had never entered a bye week with more than two wins in his career.

He’d seen the Browns go a combined start of 6-14 (.300) before byes.

This season, the Browns are 4-5 and it feels like they’re two games from clinching a division.

Wednesday, the Browns left their locker room with a lot more confidence and a little more swagger than they have in recent seasons.

[+] EnlargeJoe Haden
AP Photo/David RichardJoe Haden and the Browns are playing with a swagger that is starting to produce results.
Some might consider swagger to be posing and extreme; Browns coach Rob Chudzinski calls it confidence borne from preparation. He has seen it. He’s lived it with the Miami Hurricanes. He has examples of it around him. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner coached under Jimmy Johnson and won Super Bowls with him. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton has no lack of confidence, and he’s brought an approach the defense likes. Russell Maryland played at the University of Miami with Chudzinski and went from having the last scholarship to being the first pick in the draft. He’s on the coaching staff. Wednesday, Chudzinski had Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin speak to the team.

Irvin said all the right things. But ... nobody remembered these speeches when the Browns were losing.

A team that hears this stuff and walks with swagger and doesn't win might as well be playing Tiddlywinks -- the swagger means nothing without results.

A 4-5 record might not be great results, but the way the past two games went seemed to bolster the team. The Browns hung in there against the team with the best record in the league, and they followed that performance by beating the defending Super Bowl champions.

Add to that the almost serene presence and excellent production Jason Campbell has brought -- Chudzinski said he “can’t say enough” about what Campbell has meant -- and the team takes a week off feeling good about itself instead of wondering where things will go the rest of the season.

For the first time in a long, long time, the Browns and their fans are talking about November in November, not April.

Haden said “by far” this is the best he’s felt about the Browns at a bye.

And he’s a good example of what is happening. In his first three seasons, Haden produced, but he also enjoyed his celebrity and newfound fame. A year ago, his four-game suspension was a key reason the Browns lost their first four games. As the season went on, he had other issues with practice and promptness.

This season, he’s a different guy.

He carries himself differently, acts differently and talks differently. He has a presence about him that screams he’s growing up and recognizing what it takes to win. Where a year ago, he might have fallen off the track, he now seems destined to come close to realizing how good he can be. The difference in his approach and personality is striking.

To a lesser extent, those traits seem to be present in other players, guys such as T.J. Ward, Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard, Jordan Cameron and Buster Skrine. Against Baltimore, even Greg Little looked like the player touted when he was drafted: A big, strong receiver who could go get the ball and run after a catch. Sprinkle a little veteran presence with Campbell and Willis McGahee and the mix seems to blend well.

Nine games do not make a season, and the test will be how the Browns finish. But this team has a different feel to it than past seasons. It just might be growing up and understanding what it takes to win.

Irvin spoke to the team about the commitment needed. Commitment doesn’t happen from words. It takes work and effort and drive and heart and unity and belief -- all intangibles that sound good until a team loses.

This same growth very well could have taken place with Pat Shurmur and Tom Heckert.

But it’s happening under Chudzinski, and it’s important.

The Browns are developing the feel of a team.

Locker Room Buzz: Cleveland Browns

November, 3, 2013
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CLEVELAND -- Observed in the locker room after the Cleveland Browns' 24-18 win against Baltimore:

Campbell
X-Rays for Campbell: Browns quarterback Jason Campbell went immediately to the X-ray room next to the locker room to have his injured ribs checked. Campbell said he had trouble breathing after Haloti Ngata landed on him, and that continuing to play was difficult -- but he was not leaving a game he called a “must-win.” Campbell said he didn’t think he had broken ribs, but asked if he could play in a week if the Browns were not off, he said: “Who knows?”

Also hurt: Wide receiver Greg Little never made it into the locker room after the game, presumably because he needed treatment on an injured shoulder. Little had one of his best games as a Brown, with seven catches for 122 yards, but left the game in the fourth quarter after hurting his right shoulder.

Confident crew: The Browns seemed almost arrogant heading into the game, but after they simply seemed confident. The defense has been a completely different crew since receiving a tongue-lashing from the coaching staff at halftime in Kansas City, and the Browns now are in second place in the AFC North. It’s been a long time since the Browns beat the Ravens (since 2007), but this win was complete, efficient and impressive.

Confused by the Ravens: Brown defensive tackle Phillip Taylor said it seemed like the Ravens changed their entire offense form a year ago. He said it seemed like fullback Vontae Leach only was in for a couple plays, then added: “Who knows what’s going on over there?”

Reaching out: Owner Jimmy Haslam reached into the huddle around Davone Bess to shake the wide receiver’s hand after his two-touchdown game. Haslam then turned around and crossed paths with Campbell and offered the quarterback a greeting -- two guys who played key roles in the win.
T.J. Ward and Joe FlaccoUSA Today SportsThe Browns and T.J. Ward will try to snap an 11-game series slide against the Ravens and Joe Flacco.
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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.

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was not fined by the NFL for his altercation Sunday with Cleveland Browns nose tackle Phil Taylor.

Rice
Rice
After the game, Taylor insinuated that Rice spit in his face, which led to the lineman slapping the side of Rice's helmet. A league spokesman said Rice wasn't fined because the video of the incident was inconclusive. Taylor also wasn't fined.

Rice, who is dealing with a hip injury, hasn't spoken to reporters since the incident. Ravens coach John Harbaugh defended his player a day after the game.

"I watched it," Harbaugh said, "I didn't see that on the tape."

Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton had a different opinion.

"All I know is what my player said to me, and I trust my players and we just moved on," Horton said. "That type of incident is one of the most degrading, humiliating things you can do to another football player. I just trust my player."

The Ravens play at Cleveland on Nov. 3.
Phil Taylor, Adrian PetersonGetty ImagesPhil Taylor and the thus-far stout Browns run defense gets a major test in Adrian Peterson.
A pair of teams desperate for their first victory square off in Minneapolis this weekend when the Minnesota Vikings host the Cleveland Browns.

The Vikings are coming off a last-second loss in Chicago, after which players were venting about the defensive call that led to the Bears’ touchdown with 10 seconds left. Minnesota goes from Minneapolis to London for a date with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Vikings are in dire need of some positive momentum.

The Browns, meanwhile, have scored just 16 points in a pair of losses, and already have made major changes. They will start Brian Hoyer at quarterback this weekend with starter Brandon Weeden out because of a thumb injury. Meanwhile, the Browns traded running back Trent Richardson on Wednesday, parting with their top playmaker in exchange for the Indianapolis Colts' 2014 first-round draft pick.

As the teams meet for the first time since 2009, ESPN.com Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson break down the game:

Goessling: Matt, the last time these two teams faced each other, it was on opening day in 2009, Brady Quinn was under center for the Browns and Brett Favre was playing his first regular-season game in a Vikings uniform. How things have changed since then. The Vikings have their own quarterback issues -- Christian Ponder probably keeps his job for now after a solid second half in Chicago last week, though he’s in serious need of some consistency. With Hoyer at quarterback, Richardson gone to Indianapolis and Josh Gordon coming back from a suspension, what can we expect from the Browns’ offense?

Williamson: I was feeling optimistic about Cleveland's offense going into Week 3 with Gordon returning and the disaster at the right guard position seemingly resolved. But now Weeden is out and Hoyer is in. That doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the loss of Richardson, who should be the foundation of this offense as a runner and underrated receiver. I truly think the Colts got themselves a great young back. But that leaves the Browns in a very precarious situation in the backfield. It is going to be a long year on this side of the ball.

The Vikings had an outstanding rookie class in 2012 and made three picks in the first round of this latest draft. Although there are obvious concerns at the quarterback position, Minnesota has quietly established a fine young nucleus. What roles do you see for its three first-round picks for this game, as well as going forward in 2013?

Goessling: It’s interesting you bring that up, because Cordarrelle Patterson's role -- or perhaps his absence -- has been a big topic of conversation this week. He got only five snaps in the Vikings’ first game, and had just six as a receiver last Sunday, even after he ran the opening kickoff back 105 yards for a touchdown. He’s young, and raw, but he might also be one of the most dangerous players the Vikings can put on the field, aside from Adrian Peterson. Coach Leslie Frazier all but called for Patterson to be on the field more during his news conference Monday. The challenge for the Vikings is to either work him into their base offense or go to enough multiple-receiver sets that they can use him, but I don’t doubt we’ll see him more going forward.

That could be especially important considering how good the Browns have been against the run in their first two games. They’ve allowed just 59.5 yards per game -- how will they fare against Peterson this weekend?

Williamson: Well, facing Peterson is obviously the ultimate challenge, and his run blocking, including the tight ends and fullbacks, is quite good as well. But I am very impressed with the Browns’ run defense -- and it starts up front. I believe that Phil Taylor is on the verge of stardom; his battle with John Sullivan, an excellent center in his own right, in the middle of the formation, will be crucial for the success of Cleveland’s interior run defense. But the Browns also have very good size at outside linebacker and do a nice job containing the outside run; their second- and third-level defenders get to the ball carrier well.

I mentioned before that the right guard position has been a nightmare, but the Browns’ excellent set of offensive tackles, Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz, also has struggled much more than would be expected against two formidable defenses. As you know, Jared Allen is still playing at a very high level. But as some might not know, Brian Robison is also excelling this year and Everson Griffen is a highly athletic and intriguing end, too. Could Minnesota’s defensive ends rule the day?

Goessling: They certainly could. They struggled in Week 1 in Detroit, as Matthew Stafford found Reggie Bush on a number of early screen passes before the rush could get home. But the Vikings put consistent pressure on Jay Cutler last week, and Allen caused a Cutler fumble that Robison returned 61 yards for a touchdown. The Vikings also have not played at home yet, which means they will have the advantage of the crowd disrupting the opposing offense’s snap count for the first time this year. Minnesota has enough issues on the back end of its defense that it needs a strong pass rush to cover up for some of those deficiencies, and if the defensive line can get to Hoyer, the Vikings should be able to slow the Browns down and win the game.

To close this up, what’s the biggest thing you think the Browns need to do to win the game? What kind of a shot will they have without Weeden and Richardson?

Williamson: I really don’t like Cleveland’s chances at all, but its defense could keep this game close and limit Peterson’s production. Of course, Ponder could have a very poor game, or the Browns could score on defense or special teams. But I can’t see their offense this week moving the football with any sort of consistency. As Cleveland's front office is doing, it is time to start looking toward next year.

 
BALTIMORE -- In a game that featured a handful of skirmishes Sunday, the first one involved Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor slapping the side of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's helmet.

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."
Here are some afternoon notes from training camps in the AFC North ...

RAVENS: Offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie made his training camp debut Friday, participating in the second full-team practice, according to the team's official website. This comes one day after being held out by coach John Harbaugh for being "too heavy."

BENGALS: Wide receiver A.J. Green insisted he won't play more cautious in training camp after bruising his left knee on the first practice, and coach Marvin Lewis seems fine with it. "He made one catch this spring that was the most incredible catch I've ever seen," Lewis said, via the team's official website. "He stretched out for the ball, put his left hand down, rolled, came up on his feet and he was parallel to the ground about a foot above the ground. He's kind of put together that way."

STEELERS: Defensive end Brett Keisel made another attention-grabbing entrance to training camp, driving a dump truck to St. Vincent College. This time, Keisel came with a message. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Keisel explained that training camp would be a construction site as the Steelers work to get back into the playoffs after last year's 8-8 season.

BROWNS: Defensive tackle Phil Taylor missed Friday's practice with a calf strain, according to The Plain Dealer. Wide receiver David Nelson is practicing for the first time since his ACL surgery last year. Nelson suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1 last season with the Buffalo Bills and didn't practice in any offseason workouts after signing with the Browns in free agency. He is expected to compete for Cleveland's No. 4 wide receiver spot.

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