CLEVELAND -- After five straight trips to the postseason and six in a seven-year stretch, including a run to the Super Bowl XLVII championship, the Baltimore Ravens had quite the run of success under first-time head coach John Harbaugh, but that was far from the case during an injury-ravaged 2015 season.
The Ravens finished 2015 with an uncharacteristic 5-11 record, but through all of the struggles, Harbaugh felt the team never lost the swagger which it has carried with them since moving from Cleveland to Baltimore ahead of the 1996 season. And they will undoubtedly carry that edge with them into Sunday’s matchup with the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“I don’t feel like we ever lost our Ravens team,” Harbaugh said. “You just have to deal with adversity. It comes in different shapes and sizes. That is what tests you and refines you and all those kind of things. I think all of our guys went through that and continue to. We are happy to have good players back, and we still have some players to get back. That is a good thing.”
One of the reasons the Ravens have their swagger back is the presence of quarterback Joe Flacco, who missed six games last year because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
In 15 career starts against the Browns since the Ravens selected him in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of the University of Delaware, Flacco has posted a 13-2 record. He has completed 272 of his 444 attempts (61.3 percent) for 3,237 yards and 19 touchdowns against seven interceptions with a 91.2 quarterback rating
Flacco’s 19 touchdowns passes against the Browns are his most against any other opponent, and he has thrown for at least one touchdown in eight straight games versus Cleveland.
Flacco’s .867 winning percentage against the Browns is the third-best active success rate in the NFL. Only Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger against the Browns (19-2, .905) and Tom Brady against the Buffalo Bills (25-3, .892) have better winning percentages against a single opponent than Flacco.
“Hopefully, (he is) even better,” Harbaugh said. “It is just a joy to be around him. He is the ultimate pro, and he is really talented. He loves football. He’s a great leader and all of those things. We have been together for a long time now, so I feel like I’m talking about a brother. Just really, really excited to have him back and go into games with Joe and everybody else.”
Although Flacco and several other Ravens are healthy, they take on a completely rebuilt Browns defense, and they are taking that challenge seriously.
“It does impose challenges because we do not have a very thick book on their team, new scheme, new coaches as well,” Flacco said. “You have to go back and look at what the coaches have done in the past. They are well-known because they have been successful on both sides of the ball.
“We have great respect for the schemes. The players, we knew these players in the draft and they also have another nine second-year guys. I think one player on defense has more than four years in Joe Haden. It is a young group. They play really hard, a lot of speed and a lot of talent.”