The Ravens are becoming pros at dealing with a short week.
They started the season on a Monday, and then had to travel to Philadelphia the following Sunday. This time, the turnaround is even shorter, as Baltimore hosts the Cleveland Browns tonight after beating the Patriots 31-30 on Sunday Night Football.
First, NBC invaded the city and now the Ravens welcome the NFL Network for another nationally televised tilt.
Coach John Harbaugh didn’t seem too worried about the swift return to the turf.
“We’ve done this before. We’ve played Thursday after a Sunday, but we haven’t played Thursday after a Sunday night,” he told reporters. “We are adjusting the schedule a little bit. Two things are important: preparation and recovery - those two things. One can’t really take a backseat to the other. The recovery is going to be just as important as the preparation and the preparation, obviously, we have to be prepared.
“It’s a very good football team, a young football team, a team that’s in the process of finding their way. You watch it on tape, you see so many good things. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us. I know they are going to come in here, a division game, big rivalry game, always a very emotional game against the Browns. We’ve played a lot of tough games against these guys, as you guys all know. We expect it to be another one of those kind of games.”
The Browns come to town winless at 0-3, but all have been tight games so far. Cleveland has lost each contest by 10 points or fewer - 17-16 to the Eagles, 34-27 to the Bengals and 24-14 to the Bills.
The Ravens are coming off a game where they again experienced some defensive difficulties in terms of stopping an opponent. But the unit came up with big stops late against a talented Patriots team to allow the offense to come back for a victory as the clock expired.
The Ravens offense came back alive after a so-so performance against Philly, eclipsing 500 yards and utilizing both the pass and run attacks. Joe Flacco threw for 382 yards and Ray Rice ran for 101 while Torrey Smith made six catches for 127 yards.
Harbaugh discussed the positives of having such offensive balance earlier this week.
“You don’t have to answer the questions about who didn’t get their touches. That’s really not the reason, actually,” Harbaugh said. “You just never know which way it’s going to go. Some days you might spread it around, and we like that because we are less predictable that way. We like to be moving it in different places. The progressions take Joe to where he’s going to go, and then the run/pass, a lot of times the defense dictates that in the system that we are in right now.
“You are always going to try to do what you think gives you the best chance to move the football and ultimately score points. The fact that it played out that way is a good thing.”
Perhaps the biggest news surrounding this game involves not the teams themselves but the men policing them. The regular NFL officials are back, as they struck a deal with the league to end the lockout and put an end to the controversial three-week run with replacements.
That should clean up the penalty calls, the inconsistency and the complete dissatisfaction of all surrounding the game.
But let’s get back to the players who will actually have a hand in this contest, and the Ravens will have to contend with a pair of rookies at the center of the Browns’ offense: quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson.
Neither has been especially productive so far, as Weeden has passed for 677 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions while Richardson has rushed for 175 yards and two scores through three games.
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees had positive things to say about both.
“Richardson is everything that everybody talked about in the draft and coming out of Alabama. The guy is physical, he’s strong. He’s never going backwards. He’s always falling forwards,” Pees told reporters. “You get in a short-yardage situation, he’s really exceptional. He’s everything, I think, that everybody thought he would be coming out. He is an exceptional, exceptional back. He’s going to be something to deal with for probably a long, long time.
“Weeden’s the same way. He has a strong arm. I think he’s a smart guy. He’s a big guy, can see the field real well. I think it’s just a matter with him is experience of getting playing time and stuff like that and learning the offense and that sort of thing. When he makes a mistake, he just makes maybe a bad read or something. If he has his read down and he’s got his feet set, he can throw the ball pretty good.”
The Browns rank 23rd in the NFL or worse in the following categories: pass offense, rush offense, pass defense and rush defense. Yet they’ve stayed in every game.
Whether they can hang with an upstart Ravens offense remains to be seen, but a divisional win on short rest would be crucial to Baltimore as it looks to improve to 3-1.
“These guys, they certainly don’t need a pep talk,” Harbaugh told reporters. “Everybody in football works hard, and our guys do a great job. Our advance coaches did a great job of preparing all of us for the Browns, so when we rolled in here (Monday), whatever you want to call it, that stuff was laid out, and we were ready to go to work.”