BALTIMORE (AP) — In his NFL debut, Cleveland quarterback DeShone Kizer went up against the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose reputation for playing rugged defense began long before the Browns rookie was born.
Having survived that test, Kizer on Sunday will face the Baltimore Ravens, whose similarly renowned defense opened the season by forcing five turnovers in a 20-0 rout of Cincinnati.
“Welcome to the NFL. Welcome to the AFC North,” Kizer said with a chuckle.
“This is what we signed up for when Cleveland decided to bring me in here. Going against Baltimore and Pittsburgh, I will learn quickly what it takes to win in this conference.”
Winning in this division has never been easy for the Browns, who have seemingly made the cellar their permanent residence in the AFC North — in part because of their struggle at quarterback.
Cleveland can only hope Kizer will make a difference for a team that went 1-15 last season and hasn’t won a road game since 2015 (in Baltimore).
Kizer, a star at Notre Dame, held up well last week in a 21-18 defeat . He completed 20 of 30 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for a score.
Now, the kid hits the road for the first time against a defense that last week harassed veteran Andy Dalton from start to finish.
“He’s going to face a very hostile crowd and a really good defense. That’s what I’ve told him,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “The Baltimore Ravens are one of the flagship organizations and have done a great job with coach (John) Harbaugh.”
If Kizer ever gets to play on a team with a defense as good as Baltimore’s, he will learn that winning isn’t always dependent upon the quarterback’s performance. Coming off a back injury that forced him to miss the entire preseason, Ravens starter Joe Flacco didn’t complete a pass in the second half last week because, well, he didn’t have to.
“It was obviously one of those games where we weren’t going to go crazy and throw for 600 yards,” Flacco said. “It doesn’t really matter to me. I just want to win.”
Some things to know about the Browns-Ravens matchup:
STRONG DEBUT: The Ravens put their retooled secondary on display last week, and the results were even better than anticipated. Free agent pickups Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson contributed heavily: Carr picked off a pass and Jefferson had nine tackles and a sack. “That was a dream come true. I never pitched a shutout in the NFL,” Jefferson said.
“To come here and do it with the group we did it with, and how hard we worked in the summer, that outcome was great.”
NO SECOND CHANCES: Though Cleveland’s Jeremy Crowell was limited to 33 yards on 17 carries last week, he moved past Bobby Mitchell into ninth place on the team career list with 2,298 yards.
He also peeled off an 85-yard touchdown run against Baltimore last season. “He’s definitely a big-play guy,” Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “He can break tackles, so we have to make sure to gang-tackle.”
THE TEACHER: Jackson was Baltimore’s quarterbacks coach during Flacco’s first two seasons, and he’s looking to tutor Kizer in much the same fashion.
“Here’s a young guy who’s trying to acquire some of the things Joe has had happen for him in his career. The blueprint for me of bringing Joe along, there are some things there I might use for DeShone. I’ll use what works for DeShone the best. But I will take some things that I used with Joe.”
ENCORE REQUIRED: The Ravens’ defense has no intention of letting last week’s gem influence their play in this game. Terrell Suggs, who contributed two sacks and a forced fumble in Cincinnati, said, “You kind of have to have a short memory. Because this is the NFL, your fate can change in a week. We are acting like last week was just a dream. We lived in the moment, but we kind of moved on.”
RESPECT FOR THOMAS: Browns left tackle Joe Thomas hasn’t missed a game — or an offensive play — since joining the Browns as the third overall pick in 2007. The 10-time Pro Bowler has streak of 9,996 successive snaps and will break 10,000 early in the first quarter. “That is legit,” Suggs said. “That is pretty amazing, especially in this league. It is a physical league for his position. That is a pretty awesome milestone and accomplishment.”