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By Tom Withers | Associated Press
CLEVELAND -- Joe Flacco squinted, did a double-take and rubbed his eyes.
As he prepared for this Sunday's game, the Ravens quarterback looked intently at video of Cleveland's young defense and wasn't sure who he was watching.
Most of the Browns he's beaten over the years are long gone.
"I don't recognize a lot of the guys over there, to be honest with you," he said. "So it is kind of funny that we are going in there and it seems like a pretty new group."
Back from a knee injury that cost him most of last season, Flacco will have his first encounter this week with the baby Browns, who have 17 rookies on their roster and are in the early stages of a massive makeover.
Flacco has owned Cleveland during his career, posting a 13-2 record while throwing 19 touchdown passes, his most against any opponent. But those came against a very different team than the fresh-faced squad he'll face in his first road game of 2016. At first glance, Flacco is impressed with Cleveland's new-look defense.
"They play hard and they play fast," said Flacco, who passed for 258 yards and a score in last week's win over Buffalo. "You can tell that they are really trying to teach these guys how to run after the ball and have a non-stop motor. They have a lot of good young guys that can get to the passer and do a good job in a lot of those things so it will be interesting.
"I recognize (cornerback) Joe Haden and there is not much more that you really are used to seeing over there, so it's kind of funny."
Nobody in Cleveland is amused.
The Browns (0-1) are already in scramble mode after losing quarterback Robert Griffin III for eight games -- any maybe more -- with a broken bone in his left shoulder. Josh McCown, who torched the Ravens for 457 yards in a win last season, has taken over Cleveland's offense, which sputtered and produced just 10 points in losing the opener.
McCown showed last season he's capable of big games and the Browns will likely need one to keep pace with Flacco, who could have a field day against Cleveland's raw secondary.
Browns coach Hue Jackson is hoping some of his pass rushers get close enough to introduce themselves to Flacco.
"I hope he gets to know some of the other guys here by Sunday, up close and personal possibly," he said.
Here are some other things to keep in mind as the Ravens look for their 15th win in 17 games against Cleveland:
HUE KIDDING ME?
Little has changed -- so far -- for the Browns under Jackson. The coach understands the frustration Cleveland fans feel for their beloved team, stuck in a cycle of misery for years. He's pledged change.
"The fans might not like me for a while, but they're going to love me here pretty soon," he said. "Eventually they will love me, I promise you that. Because I do plan on winning here. I know with every loss there's another dagger that drags you down another few feet deeper. I'm a fighter. We're going to get back up and we're going to keep swinging.
"We're going to win a championship here for the Cleveland Browns."
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs projects plenty of trickery from Jackson, Baltimore's quarterbacks coach in 2008-9.
"We're expecting Hue to throw the kitchen sink at us," Suggs said. "We're preparing for everything. Some wildcat, polecat, everything. Don't be surprised if they come out there with that 'Little Giants' formation or the Flying V. They've got something up their sleeve. We've just got to be able to prepare for it and react to it."
BACKUP BACKUP PLAN
Griffin's injury and McCown's return to the lineup leaves the Browns with rookie Cody Kessler as their new backup.
A third-round pick, Kessler struggled during the exhibition season when he appeared overwhelmed and overmatched. If McCown got hurt, Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, who starred at quarterback at Ohio State in his collegiate days, could be an option.
"We have a plan in place in case we needed a third quarterback," Jackson said without pinpointing Pryor, who started nine games at QB for Oakland in 2013. "I got a pretty good one on the roster. I just stashed him away a little bit. He is doing other things."
According to Elias, the Browns' streak of using at least two quarterbacks in 15 consecutive seasons is the league's longest since the 1970 merger.
Flacco connected with 10 receivers last week. The way coach John Harbaugh sees it, the more threats, the better.
"It's good to be able to spread the ball around," he said, noting that Steve Smith drew double coverage on Baltimore's only TD last week, a 66-yarder to Mike Wallace.