- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2009

BALTIMORE | Under different circumstances, the Cleveland Browns might be excited about facing a team that last week yielded a whopping 436 yards passing.

Problem is, that defense belongs to the undefeated Baltimore Ravens. And the winless Browns employ a sputtering attack led by Brady Quinn, who last Sunday couldn’t produce a touchdown in a 27-6 loss to Denver.

Worse, the Browns (0-2) will be without running back Jamal Lewis (hamstring) against a unit that has yielded an NFL-low 82 yards rushing in two games.

“I think if you look at their defense as a whole, obviously they’re extremely tough against the run. And their defense in general is tough,” Quinn said. “They’re 2-0 right now. So, yeah we’ve got an uphill battle. We’re just doing our best to prepare ourselves for a tough game.”

In a matchup between a desperate team and an unbeaten one, both have reasons to feel uncomfortable.

“When you play an opponent like Baltimore, the margin for error is very small. They can exploit you defensively, they can exploit you offensively. They’re solid on special teams,” said Cleveland coach Eric Mangini, who’s still striving for his first win since taking over for Romeo Crennel.

The Browns would like nothing better than to upset a bitter division rival that has won 13 of 20 games between the teams since abandoning Cleveland before the 1996 season.

“We take it as a challenge, but it’s also a good opportunity to go out there and show what we can do,” Browns offensive lineman Eric Steinbach said. “I think it would be fun to go out there and put everything together in an environment like that. It will be a great test for us.”

The Ravens are heavily favored, which does nothing to relieve the concern of coach John Harbaugh in his quest to get Baltimore to 3-0 for the second time in franchise history.

“We know what kind of talent they have, what kind of team they are, and we know what’s at stake for them,” he said.

This year’s Ravens team is an extension of the one that last season went 11-5 and made it to the AFC championship game. The offense, designed by second-year coordinator Cam Cameron and guided by second-year quarterback Joe Flacco, has become far more unpredictable and productive.

Baltimore led the NFL in rushing last year, but this season has passed 70 times for 497 yards compared to 73 runs for 328 yards.

Which is why, although the Ravens’ defense has given up an uncharacteristic 50 points in two games, Baltimore defeated Kansas City by two touchdowns and outlasted San Diego and Phillip Rivers on the road last week.

“I think Flacco has improved significantly. Not that he wasn’t a good player last year, but his growth is apparent,” Mangini said. “I’ve always respected Cam as an offensive coordinator. I think he’s innovative. I think he’s creative. I think he creates challenges for defenses by the things that he does game-planning each week.”

While the Ravens appear close to joining the NFL elite, the Browns are striving toward mere respectability.

Now in his third season, Quinn has started only five games and is still learning how to be comfortable in the pocket and read defenses on the fly. Cleveland’s average of 234 offensive yards a game ranks last in the NFL, and Quinn’s two interceptions and two lost fumbles have contributed to the team’s minus-4 turnover differential.

Quinn, a star at Notre Dame and, like Flacco, a former No. 1 draft pick, said: “There have been some good things, but I think as a whole, we need to get a lot better. And myself, I need to work on not having those turnovers and converting more on third down. I think it’s been a problem for us. We need to get the chains moving.”

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