Ranked third against the run, the Baltimore Ravens yielded more than 100 yards against the Cleveland Browns last Saturday, marking the second straight week and fourth time in seven games that the defense has given up 100 or more yards in a game.
Browns running back Peyton Hillis was a loser on the scoreboard last Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium, but the Browns’ running back won his individual battle with the Ravens’ run defense.
Hillis rushed for a season-high 112 yards on 24 carries, often leaving would be tacklers in his rear view mirror.
The absence of Cory Redding due to ankle injury certainly hurt the Ravens’ ability to stop the run. Redding is having a stellar season, and his replacement, Arthur Jones, made just one tackle in his first career start.
But the two cogs in the middle of that defensive line, Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody were on the field, and Hillis ran through them.
It doesn’t matter who is playing for the Ravens, because they need to do a better job stuffing the run. Over the past decade, the entire defensive philosophy has been centered around stopping the run on first and second downs, forcing opponents into third-and-long passing situations.
The Ravens dodged a few bullets when the Browns elected not to give the ball to Hillis on obvious running downs. In fact, on Cleveland’s very first possession of the game, Hills led them into Baltimore territory, but the Browns bizarrely called a passing play on third-and-inches at the Baltimore 32-yard line.
There’s little doubt that if Hillis got the call he would have extended the drive.
Instead, Browns quarterback Seneca Wallace dropped back to pass and was picked off by Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb. Four plays later, the Ravens took a 7-0 lead and never looked back from there.
Don’t expect to see much of the same from the Cincinnati Bengals this week. Not only has Cincinnati running back Cedric Benson done damage to the Ravens in years past, but unlike the Browns, the Bengals are a well-coached and fundamentally sound football team.
The outcome of Sunday’s contest could come down to the Ravens run defense vs. the Bengals rush offense.