Since losing their first five games of the season, the Cleveland Browns have awoken to win two of their last three.
So 2-6 meets 5-2 when the Browns host the Ravens Sunday looking to continue their rise and make it three out of four.
Cleveland hasn’t been especially good at anything this season. The offense ranks 29th in total yards, 30th in rushing and 25th in points per game while the defense is just a shade better - tied for 19th in points allowed per game and 26th in yards permitted.
The offensive problems are in part because the Browns are shepherding in a pair of rookies, running back Trent Richardson and 29-year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden.
“They look like they are building something there,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “They look like they have something, and I guess you can congratulate their GM (Tom Heckert) for bringing both of those guys in. Like I said, they are playing inspired football. They are doing pretty good.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he has seen progress in that duo since Baltimore beat the Browns 23-16 on Sept. 27.
“They’re more experienced. They’re further down the road than they were at that time,” Harbaugh said. “Weeden has been making some nice plays. They’re winning football games. They’re finding ways to win games. They’re a very physical outfit in all ways, and, of course, Weeden is leading that. They’re doing a good job.”
The numbers don’t bear that out too clearly, but standards are different for first-year players, who are judged more on development than statistics.
Weeden has had a rough rookie season in some ways, ranking 31st in the NFL in quarterback rating and completion percentage while tying for third with 10 interceptions. However, he does rank 12th in the league with 1,912 passing yards and is tied for 17th with nine touchdown passes.
Inconsistency is expected from a rookie, and that definitely describes Weeden this season. He’s had lows, such as his first game and his most recent one. In his debut, he passed for just 118 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions. In last week’s win over the Chargers, he completed just 40.7 percent of his attempts for 129 yards, no scores and no picks.
Weeden has mixed in highs, like his two games before the victory over San Diego when he combined to throw for 495 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
Richardson has experienced similar inconsistency, ranking 18th in the league with 470 yards on the ground. Like Weeden, he has flashed what he can do.
The 5-foot-9, 230-pound Richardson is tied for third in the league with five rushing touchdowns. Plus, he’s coming off his best game yet, leading the Browns past the Chargers by running for a season-high 122 yards and a touchdown.
It was his second 100-yard game of the season.
Ravens tailback Ray Rice said he’s a huge fan of Richardson and plans to try to exchange jerseys with him after the game. Rice believes Richardson’s main attribute is that he’s hard to tackle.
“There’s a reason why he was a first-round pick,” Rice said. “He’s very powerful. The biggest thing is that he’s short. I think he weighs about 20 more pounds than me, and he’s fast, explosive and he never goes down on the first hit. It’s always the first hit, and then he’s dragging you for an extra five yards. I think that’s pretty impressive as a running back.”
Since the Browns lost to Baltimore, they’ve found a significant vertical threat in another rookie, supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon.
The former Baylor wideout started the year slow with just seven receptions for 93 yards and no touchdowns through four games.
Over the last four games, however, Gordon has made 10 catches for 286 yards and four touchdowns. That stretch has him leading the NFL with 22.3 yards per catch.
“They’ve added that quick-strike capability now,” Harbaugh said. “They’ve made some big plays, some down-the-field throws. He’s a big part of that.”
And although the Browns defense ranks among the league’s worst, quarterback Joe Flacco called it a good unit.
“They play hard, they’re physical,” Flacco said. “They’re bringing a good amount of pressure and trying to get to the quarterback a little bit. The biggest thing is with all of the teams in our division - these guys are just the same - they play physical ball. They make it a full 60 minutes for you.”