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Browns take on Ravens in do-or-die matchup

(Sports Network) - The Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens will both be looking for their eighth win of the season when the two do battle on Sunday in a Week 16 affair at Ravens Stadium.

The Browns dropped a 28-23 decision to the Indianapolis Colts a week ago. QB Tim Couch completed 21-of-35 for 287 yards and two touchdowns, but it wasn't enough, as the Browns blew a 16-0 halftime advantage.

"This is a tough time," Browns coach Butch Davis said. "This is a game that just kicks you in the gut."

"Obviously, this hurts," Couch said. "We donít know whatís gonna happen. The only thing we can do is win these next two and see where that puts us. I think weíll need some help from some other teams. It was a heartbreaking loss."

The Ravens picked up a 23-19 win over the Houston Texans a week ago. QB Jeff Blake was 18-of-30 for 228 yards with two touchdowns.

"Just a hell of an effort, went out on the road in a playoff hunt, just executing what you have to do to win a game," Ravens head coach Brian Billick said. "They did an outstanding job."

SERIES HISTORY: The Ravens own a 5-2 advantage in the series, including a 26-25 victory in Week 5 of this season, when RB Jamal Lewis rushed for 187 yards.

Davis is 2-1 against the Ravens, while Billick is 5-2 against the Browns.


Couch was under a lot of pressure to perform last week, and despite the loss, he did. Couch was finding open receivers all afternoon, and his play put the Browns in position to win the game. He also led a fourth quarter comeback that came up just short when his final pass, which was meant for WR Kevin Johnson, was tipped by rookie WR Andre Davis and fell incomplete.

"In my opinion, he answered the bell," Butch Davis said of Couch. "It was the biggest game in four years here, it was a pressure-packed situation and he went out there and threw two TDs and no interceptions and 287 yards against the NFL's second-ranked [pass] defense. That's a pretty good day's work."

Couch also showed maturity. He never said the pass wasn't intended for the rookie wide receiver.

"You try to protect your guys, especially the young guys you know are going to catch a lot of heat anyway," Couch said. "As the quarterback, it's my offense and I want to be the guy that takes the heat for everything."

"Tim is never going to point a finger at anyone," Johnson said. "That's the sign of a true leader. You want to go out and kill yourself for a guy like that, because you know he's never going to kill you in the paper or anywhere else."

Couch said the loss, while very costly in the playoff hunt, can be used as a learning experience.

"It was the first time we were in a playoff atmosphere like that - and we put ourselves in a position to win," Couch said. "But we're all kind of learning on the go and hopefully we can all be here for a long time and make this thing work."

While the comeback bid fell short, the Browns did have a productive day on offense. However, that hasn't been the norm, as the Browns throw for an average of just 221.4 yards per game. In fact, the offense as a whole has struggled all season, averaging just 21.9 points per game and 318.1 yards per game.

The biggest problem this season for the Browns' offense has been turnovers. The team has already thrown 18 interceptions on the year, and Couch has accounted for 16 of them.

This week, the Browns will lineup across from a much improved Ravens defense, who despite playing without middle linebacker Ray Lewis, have played very well.

"Defensively, we've got young players that we drafted and [coordinator] Mike Nolan has put a group together with a philosophy that we give up a lot but we play very good in the red zone because it always seems like we're down in the red zone at the end of games," said Ozzie Newsome, Ravens executive vice president and general manager.

The Ravens allow an average of 21.9 points per game and 339 yards per game. And while those numbers aren't terrific, it's much better than what people expected, considering they had a lot of young, inexperienced players in the mix.

Ed Hartwell, who is currently starting in place of Lewis, is one of the inexperienced players who has taken a step in the right direction this year. Billick is hoping that he can continue to make plays for the team.

"Ed Hartwell has had an incredible year for us and with Ray coming back next year we should have one of the best inside linebacking corps in the game," Billick said.


The Ravens offense will consist of a heavy dose of Jamal Lewis this week. The running back has accounted for 41 percent of the Ravens' offense thus far, and given the success he had against the Browns in the first meeting of the season, there's no reason not to do it again.

"It's pretty clear-cut what we have to do to play well," Billick said. "Jamal has been effective for us inside and out. Cleveland has very good inside tackles and their middle linebacker Earl Holmes is playing well, so we will have to attack them on both inside and out."

Truth be told, the Browns haven't stopped anyone on the ground this year. The defense gives up an average of 130.6 rush yards per game, and it has allowed seven different running backs to rush for 100 yards in a game this year. The Ravens know this, and they will attack the Browns' weakness.

"If you got any sense, it should be," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "I know that's been questioned at times but it's imperative [to run the ball]. We all know the stat that we're 17-1 when [Lewis] carries the ball 20 times or more. I think there's something to that. When he's getting the ball that much, we're doing the things we want to do."

"Our matchups are very good and they remain that way," Billick said. "The Browns are big and physical inside and so are we. Their linebackers are very solid, but [fullback] Alan Ricardand and our tight ends match up very well."

Lewis is planning on having another huge day against Cleveland this week.

"Wearing them down is what we've done in the past," Lewis said. "The offensive line has really dominated up front and that has showed in the third and fourth quarter. We can do that to any team, but we tend to do it more against this team. That's the game plan and that's how I like to do it. The Browns know what to expect. They know we're going to run the football."

While the Ravens should succeed when running the football, the offense could struggle throwing the ball. Blake has done a good job filling in for Chris Redman, but he still calls the signals for an offense that throws for an average of just 172.1 yards per game. Redman, who has been sidelined with a back injury, will remain the backup for the rest of the season.

"I tell him to be patient," Billick said. "He knows that weíre not going to do anything this late. Itís Jeffís to finish. Heís not going anywhere, so all he can do is be patient."

This week, Blake's primary role will be handing the ball to Lewis. And that should prove to be successful, especially considering the Browns' inability to stop the run. Also, the Browns will be without DE Courtney Brown, who was recently placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.

"Thereís no major structural damage; no torn tendons or ligaments," Davis said. "But the swelling is not subsiding as fast as we hoped. Itís been unbelievably frustrating for him."

And while he Browns' problems against the run have been well-documented, Davis is confident that his troops can get the job done this week.

"Our success Sunday will all start with being able to stop their running game," Davis said. "[Lewis'] success last time came on two big plays. He had a 70-yard run where somebody got out of their gap, and the same thing happened on another 25 or 30-yard run. Itís all about pursuit angles, gap responsibility, and defeating blocks."

12/19 17:05:33 ET

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