BEREA: The Browns’ offensive linemen seemed to spend less time in the locker room this past week.
They were presumably taking care of business elsewhere, lifting, meeting and scheming in preparation for their greatest test of the season — a clash with the Baltimore Ravens. They know anything less than their best collective performance could spell doom for quarterback Colt McCoy today when the Ravens visit Cleveland Browns Stadium.
“Every week, [the challenge] gets bigger and bigger and bigger,” right guard Shawn Lauvao said. “We’ve just gotta make sure we go out there and take care of business, communicate and play with good technique, intensity and emotion.”
The Ravens (8-3) are certainly expected to show their fire and bring the heat. Even though star linebacker Ray Lewis was sidelined with an injured toe, the Ravens tied a single-game franchise record with nine sacks in their 16-6 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Thanksgiving night. They lead the NFL with 38 sacks this season.
“They’re good,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “They know how to get home. If you get in a known passing situation, watch out because they’re going to pin their ears back and do everything they can to get home.”
Lewis did not practice this past week and is listed as questionable on the Ravens’ injury report. If he’s out for the third consecutive game, the Browns (4-7) will still have their hands full. The Ravens have 14 players who have at least a half sack this season. Four of them have at least four sacks: linebacker Terrell Suggs (nine), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (five), linebacker Paul Kruger (4.5) and defensive end Pernell McPhee (four).
“They use their talent well,” center Alex Mack said. “They have a lot of good pass rushers, and they put them all in the game at the same time. [They] try to do some games and some different looks, some overloads and play around with their 3-4 to 4-3 [schemes], kind of interchange the two up and keep you off balance a little bit.”
No other player has more sacks against the Browns than Suggs. He has 12, including four since the Browns drafted Thomas third overall in 2007. Suggs often moves to different spots on the field, so it will require a group effort from the offensive linemen and running backs to ensure he’s accounted for in pass protection.
“He’s a good player,” running back Montario Hardesty said. “We’ve got to always know where he’s at. That’s one of the matchups they try to get: Terrell Suggs on one of [the running backs because] that’s a favorable matchup for them.”
The 6-foot-4, 330-pound Ngata, another Pro Bowl defender, also presents a nightmare of a matchup. He usually slides into different positions on the defensive front and torments opposing centers and guards.
“You can see he’s enormous,” Mack said. “He’s a big guy with a lot of power and then he also moves well, which is a bad combo.”
Suggs, Ngata and the rest of the Ravens’ defenders are probably licking their chops. McCoy has taken 64 quarterback hits and 27 sacks this season. Only four teams have allowed more quarterback hits than the Browns, and 10 have given up more sacks.
“We have to be very technically sound,” right tackle Tony Pashos said. “You have to be on your assignment and play fast, give the guys around us the opportunity to make plays, and it’s going to come down to that.”
An efficient rushing attack wouldn’t hurt, either. Hardesty is confident he’ll return today from his calf injury, meaning he and starting running back Peyton Hillis are expected to be active together for the first time since Oct. 16.
Hillis faced the Ravens twice last season, rushing for 144 yards the first time but just 35 yards in the second meeting. The Browns will need solid production from their running backs if they want to prevent the Ravens from pass rushing at will.
When the Browns pass, McCoy must be alert and decisive. He can’t afford to hang on to the ball too long, but he also will need to resist forcing poor throws for the sake of getting rid of it. Remember, standout free safety Ed Reed has 10 interceptions against the Browns, including two last season in his lone game against McCoy.
“You have to trust your guys,” McCoy said. “You have to trust your running backs. You have to trust your offensive line to pick up the protection, and you have to trust your [receivers] to get open.
“This week, they are really good up front. At least [according to the] numbers coming into this game, they’ve pressured more than anybody we’ve seen. We’ve got a lot on our plate, a lot to handle. But we’re excited about the challenge.”
Boy, what a challenge it could be.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com. Follow the Browns on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ABJ_Browns and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/browns.abj.