In their previous four seasons, the Ravens could count on three things when traveling to Cleveland to take on the Browns: unpleasant weather, opportunities to run the football and a victory over their AFC North rivals.
The Ravens, who haven’t lost to the Browns since John Harbaugh became head coach in 2008, have averaged 193 rushing yards per game in their last four trips to Cleveland Browns Stadium. Sure, that number is inflated a bit by their 290 rushing yards in a 24-10 win in Cleveland last December. But in the other three games, all of which took place in either November or December, the Ravens rushed for 193 yards, 128 yards and 161 yards.
Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice has rushed for more than 150 yards in a game five times in his career, and two of them happened in Cleveland, including his career-high 204 rushing yards on 29 carries last season.
In his four career games in Cleveland, Rice has carried the ball 95 times for 539 rushing yards -- an average of 5.7 yards per carry -- and has twice flexed in front of the Dawg Pound after touchdowns.
Asked about his success there, Rice tried to find an explanation.
“You just brought that to my attention,” Rice said Wednesday. “Last year we caught them in a rainy situation. I love playing on grass. It’s a little different surface. Obviously, when you’re cutting, you get better traction on the turf. Any running back will tell you on grass you can’t over pursue as much, because the cutting is different on that grass, and obviously, on a wet field it’s really a lot different.”
But the surface at Cleveland Browns Stadium should be dried out after Hurricane Sandy pounded the East Coast earlier this week, and the Sunday forecast from the Weather Channel calls for a partly cloudy afternoon with a slim chance of rain showers.
And Rice says he is expecting more resistance from a Browns defense currently ranked 24th in the NFL in run defense.
“We just went out there and ran the ball really well last year, but that’s last year,” Rice said. “Their defense is playing at a high level, and we’re going to have a challenge ahead of us. We know.”
I swear Rice wasn’t trying to hold back a smile as he said that.