By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Great players often say they relish the opportunity to face elite opponents because it brings out the best in them and ultimately makes them even better.
But Browns six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas doesn’t have those feelings when it comes to facing Baltimore Ravens five-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
“Look forward to it? I don’t know if I look forward to it. I like those easy games,” Thomas said Friday with a laugh. “He’s a fantastic player. He’s been one of the best pass rushers in the NFL since I’ve been a rookie. It’s always a tremendous challenge. It’s hard to find anybody that does it as well as he does. Maybe on defense, it’s fun when you have a great challenge. But on offense, it’s not fun. It’s a headache.”
Suggs has 14 sacks and seven forced fumbles in 20 games against the Browns (3-5), who’ll host the Ravens (3-4) at 4:25 p.m. Sunday. However, Suggs, the 10th overall pick in the 2003 draft, doesn’t believe he has gotten the best of Thomas, the third overall selection in the 2007 draft. Since Thomas joined the Browns, Suggs has six sacks against them in 12 games.
“There are very few special ones, and he’s one of them,” Suggs said. … “He’s an all-around great guy, a fierce competitor. He’s going to get after it just like we’re going to get after it. So you can’t do nothing but respect that in a left tackle.
“I think people downplay his athletic ability, his smarts on the defenders he’s playing. The kid can play. He knows how to block guys and that’s why he’s there, and that’s why he’s had the success he’s had.”
Even if Thomas doesn’t like facing Suggs, Ravens coach John Harbaugh appreciates the matchup.
“It’s one of the great pass rusher, left tackle battles in football,” Harbaugh said during a conference call. “One play, one guy gets the best, and the next play, the other guy gets the best of him.”
The Browns, though, are confident that Thomas can win more times than not.
“You’ve got two Pro Bowlers going against each other,” tight end Jordan Cameron said. “They’ll have their battles. They’ll duke it out. We trust Joe that he can take care of that. You never really can stop a player, especially like Suggs. So you just got to limit his production and get some bodies on him, chip him with tight ends and kind of help out. But it’s going to be a battle between them, and that’s why they get paid the big bucks.”
Apparently Browns cornerback Joe Haden got the attention of the defending Super Bowl-champion Ravens by saying the following Thursday: “The Ravens aren’t the Ravens of old. They’re still really good, a real talented team, a division opponent. But at the same time, our team is a whole different team. We still haven’t gotten over the hump, but I think that there’s no reason why we can’t.”
Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher told Baltimore reporters Friday that every player received an email alerting them to Haden’s comments. Still, the Ravens might not be too offended, considering wide receiver Torrey Smith thinks there’s truth in what Haden said.
“I think it’s safe to say,” Smith told the Baltimore Sun. “It’s not the same team. It’s not like I’m going to take anything to him. We’re still built the same, but it’s not the same guys. That’s just fact.”
Vanishing ground game
The Browns had only 15 carries for 57 yards (3.8 average) Sunday in a 23-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Take away quarterback Jason Campbell’s three scrambles for 17 yards, and they had just 12 carries for 40 yards (3.3 average).
Starting running back Willis McGahee said three consecutive three-and-outs to begin the game and falling behind 13-0 are factors to blame.
“When you don’t start how you’re supposed to, you tend to be behind, and it’s going to be a passing game the rest of the day,” McGahee said. “But if we execute like we’re supposed to and get the little things right, we’ll have more carries.”
McGahee has 79 carries for 231 yards (2.9 average) and a touchdown this season.
“If you want to have a high average per attempt, you’ve got to break long runs, and we’re getting into our ninth game and we haven’t had any long [runs],” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “So to think all of a sudden those are just going to show up … [trails off]. So we have to manage the running game.”
Division rival devastated?
Cincinnati Bengals All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins is out for the rest of the season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Thursday night. Atkins is considered one of the best defensive players in the NFL, but Thomas believes it would be an overstatement to say the injury impacts the entire AFC North.
“Anytime you lose an All Pro it hurts, but they’re going to have to find somebody that will be able to step in there and play, and I’m sure they will,” Thomas said. “Really the only injury that’s completely crippling is quarterback because if you have an All Pro and you lose your All Pro, usually you don’t have an All-Pro replacing him, and that’s the position that makes everything go on the team.”
McGahee on Browns nose tackle Phil Taylor slapping Ravens running back Ray Rice on the helmet after Rice allegedly spit at Taylor in Week 2: “When people trash talk to me, I just laugh. I don’t really feed into it, and they don’t have much to talk about after that. … That’s a different story when you start exchanging body fluids.”
Rookie learning curve
Browns rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, is looking to become more consistent in the second half of the season. Mingo tallied a sack in each of his first three games, went three games without one and then registered his fourth sack Sunday against the Chiefs.
“[The key to consistency is] just trusting my keys, trusting my tips and trusting what I’m seeing and trusting the defense — that’s the main thing,” Mingo said. “Our defense is designed for us to make plays, and if you’re not, then you’re probably not trusting the defense. [I need to] get back to that and play the calls the way they’re called, just go out there and have fun. If you go out there stressed, it slows you down.”
Since the Ravens last faced the Browns, they acquired left tackle Eugene Monroe in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars and sent their old left tackle, Bryant McKinnie, to the Miami Dolphins in a subsequent deal.
If Mingo wants to increase his total number of sacks, he must beat Monroe this time. In Week 2, Mingo beat McKinnie to record his first NFL sack.
“They’re different,” Mingo said. “McKinnie was huge. Monroe I think isn’t as big, but he’s more athletic. When you face those athletic guys, there’s always a challenge in that because they can make the same moves and can mirror you better than those bigger guys. [Browns Pro Bowler] Joe Thomas is a great example. He’s a physical guy, but he can also finesse these guys. [Monroe is] the same kind of way.”
Another new challenge
Ravens starting wide receiver Jacoby Jones sat out his team’s Sept. 15 win over the Browns with a sprained right knee. He returned to action Oct. 13 and has tallied six catches for 74 yards in the past two games.
“Jacoby Jones is an explosive receiver,” Browns starting cornerback Buster Skrine said. “He has a lot of speed. He’s just a good overall player. He’s a different challenge.”
Coach Rob Chudzinski said wide receivers Davone Bess and Armanti Edwards, who signed with the Browns on Tuesday, will be available to return punts Sunday. … The NFL fined Haden $7,875 for a late hit out of bounds during the first quarter against the Chiefs. … The Browns listed outside linebacker Quentin Groves (ankle) and defensive end Billy Winn (quadriceps) as questionable for Sunday. The Ravens ruled out starting left guard Kelechi Osemele (back/knee) and listed wide receiver Brandon Stokley (thigh) as questionable. … According to the Associated Press, a grand jury indicted former Browns linebacker Ausar Walcott on an aggravated assault charge, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison if he’s convicted, stemming from a June 23 attack on a man outside a northern New Jersey nightclub. Walcott was originally charged with attempted murder, which carries a prison term up to 20 years. The Browns cut Walcott, who was an undrafted rookie, after he was charged.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.