BEREA: Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has often been criticized for his inconsistent play. Unfortunately for the Browns, Flacco has consistently been lights out against them.
“The guy’s an awesome quarterback,” Browns linebacker Kaluka Maiava said. “He just takes charge of the offense, and he makes all these crazy throws. He’s real confident in the way he plays, and he’s a threat on the field that we have to get ready for.”
Flacco will look to improve his record against the Browns to 7-0 when he and the Ravens visit Cleveland today. He’ll encounter the Browns’ No. 1-ranked pass defense (174.7 yards allowed per game) while trying to achieve his goal.
Flacco, though, doesn’t seem to be intimidated. The Browns’ defense is ranked 29th against the run (138.6 yards allowed per game), and Flacco suggested its numbers against the pass have been inflated as a result of teams doing significant damage on the ground.
“The bottom line is people have had success running the ball on them for whatever reason,” said Flacco, who has completed 102-of-151 passes (67.5 percent) for 1,238 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions and a passer rating of 101.9 against the Browns. “Obviously, they’ve been good in the pass defense. Some of that is the fact that teams have just chose to run the ball on them because they haven’t been able to have success [stopping the run].”
Changing that trend won’t be easy for the Browns (4-7). If they place an extra safety in the box to provide support against Ravens standout running back Ray Rice, Flacco would become even more likely to make them pay with the long ball. He has thrown seven touchdown passes of at least 20 yards this season.
“Once they get the running game going well, obviously, the quarterback’s gonna be effective,” Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown said. “The main thing is keeping [Flacco] in the pocket and not allowing him to have the time to throw the ball deep down the field because I think that’s his best asset.”
The Ravens (8-3) have surrounded Flacco with playmakers who help his cause. Not only is Rice an elite runner — 179 carries for 722 yards (4.0 average) and eight touchdowns — but he also has a team-high 54 catches. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin has 48 catches for a team-high 747 yards and three touchdowns, and tight end Ed Dickson has 43 catches for 392 yards and three touchdowns.
Then there’s rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith, who the Ravens picked in the second round (58th overall) of this year’s draft, one slot before the Browns took wide receiver Greg Little. Smith has 31 catches for 613 yards and five touchdowns, including scores of 74, 41, 38 and 26 yards.
“He’s given them another dimension to their offense — the deep threat,” Browns middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said of Smith. “You’ve always gotta play over top with a guy like that.
“With Joe, he needs someone that can stretch the field and he can throw that ball a mile. If you give him time, he can make every throw on the field. Torrey, he stretches the defense.”
This season, Flacco has completed 230-of-411 passes (56 percent) for 2,737 yards and 13 touchdowns with eight interceptions. His passer rating is 79.7. Flacco’s stats are far from superb, though he’s been solid while helping the Ravens win their past two games.
“We’ve been a young offense, and we’ve had to deal a little bit with being inconsistent at times,” Flacco said. “But I think I’ve played smart football, good football and have really just progressed as the year has gone on.”
Regardless of how Flacco has performed against other opponents, the Browns know they must brace for his ability to make big, backbreaking plays.
“He has a big arm, very strong arm,” Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. “He always has the threat to stretch the field. They have the speed to run under a ball, and he can throw it a long way.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. 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.