Every week, I hope to bring you a quick Q&A with someone who covers the Ravens’ opponent that week. On Sunday, the Ravens will take on the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland. So I reached out to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal to talk about this weekend’s game and how the Browns have changed since we last chatted.
MV: From afar, it seems that rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has progressed since the Ravens faced him. He threw a pair of touchdown passes in three of those games. What have you seen from him the past four weeks, and how is the team responding to him as one of the potential leaders of the team?
NU: I’ve seen significant growth. In the past four games, he has completed 75 of 132 passes (57 percent) for 915 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions for a passer rating of 83.9. In the first four games, he completed 90 of 167 passes (54 percent) for 997 yards and three touchdowns with seven interceptions for a passer rating of 60.4. For the most part, he continues to cut down on mistakes he made earlier this season. He hasn’t committed a turnover in the past two games. That includes the Browns’ 7-6 win over the San Diego Chargers in windy, rainy, cold weather Sunday in Cleveland. His teammates have responded extremely well to him. He’s just one of those guys who can get along with anyone. I believe his age, 29, and his down-to-earth personality have definitely helped him in the locker room. He’s a rookie, but he doesn’t act like one. The Browns have three seasonal captains -- middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, kicker Phil Dawson and left tackle Joe Thomas -- and they name a fourth captain for every game. Weeden was the selection for Week 8, so there’s concrete evidence he is viewed as a leader already.
MV: Joe Haden is back, and the defense has played much better since he returned. How much of a difference has he made, and are you surprised that Haden doesn't get more national recognition as a shutdown corner?
NU: In my mind, he’s the Browns’ undisputed defensive MVP. He’s made a huge difference, and I believe his suspension cost the Browns a win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2. He has proved time and again that he can limit elite receivers, and that kind of ability can change an entire defensive game plan. However, I’m not surprised at all that he doesn’t get more attention on a national level because he plays for one of the worst teams in the NFL. Dawson is one of the best kickers in the NFL, and he has yet to make a Pro Bowl in large part because the Browns have been so bad for so long. Once the Browns begin to win consistently, their best players will be recognized more.
MV: Rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon has four touchdown catches in the past four games. He was only targeted once when the Ravens and Browns played in Week 4. What does Gordon bring to the table, and can you see the Browns trying to exploit the Ravens deep with Gordon?
NU: He brings something to the table that the Browns have lacked for so long -- a legitimate deep threat. He’s 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, he can get behind defenders and he has good hands. When the Browns faced the Ravens in Week 4, Gordon had yet to break out. That happened the following week against the New York Giants, when he caught two passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns. Ever since, he has played well. Yes, he dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass last week against the Indianapolis Colts, but the good has definitely outweighed the bad. I’d be shocked if Weeden didn’t target Gordon on at least one long ball against the Ravens.
MV: Health-wise, how is Trent Richardson heading into Sunday? There was talk that he could be shut down to rest his ribs, but he responded with 100-plus rushing yards in the win over the San Diego Chargers.
NU: His rib cartilage injury has bothered him since he suffered it Oct. 14 against the Bengals, but he has been determined all along to play through it. A week ago, his eagerness to play hurt him as he had only eight yards on eight carries against the Colts before being benched in the second quarter. On Sunday, that same relentlessness paid off as he rushed for a career-high 122 yards on 24 carries. Coach Pat Shurmur said Monday that Richardson did not re-injure himself against the Chargers, so he’ll definitely face the Ravens, barring an unforeseen setback in the next handful of days.
MV: Though it wasn't as bad as our neighbors to the north, Baltimore got bombarded by Hurricane Sandy this week. Will the weather have an impact on Sunday's game, specifically the condition of the surface at Cleveland Browns Stadium?
NU: It’s tough to predict, but I don’t think it will be an issue. The Browns played in awful conditions Sunday and actually benefited them in a way because Shurmur was forced to commit to the run, and Richardson responded with the best game of his young career. So if the weather is nasty again, it might not be the worst news ever for the Browns, especially if Richardson can get into a groove again.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times