BEREA, Ohio - The Ravens are feasting on quarterbacks this season. Colt McCoy's the next entrée on their menu.
Baltimore's band of bullies, led by perennial Pro Bowlers Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed, lead the NFL with 38 sacks and they'll be well-rested going into Sunday's game in Cleveland after 10 days off. The Browns (4-7) have struggled to protect McCoy, who has been sacked 26 times, taken more hits (64) than any QB in the league and already has a sore elbow and shoulder.
He might want to make sure the insurance premium has been paid this month.
When the Ravens (8-3) go after the quarterback with unpleasant intentions, they usually get their man.
On Thanksgiving night, they tied a franchise record by sacking San Francisco's Alex Smith nine times -- and Lewis didn't even play.
"They're good," said Browns Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas, who will be matched up against Suggs. "They know how to get home. If you get in a known passing situation, watch out, because they're going to pin their ears back and do everything they can to get home.
"Every year, when we play them, they're going to give us our best challenge because they put some impressive specimens out on the field."
McCoy's first encounter with the Ravens ended the way it does for most rookie QBs -- poorly and with a loss. He avoided being sacked, but McCoy threw three interceptions, two were picked off by Reed, and finished with a 27.0 rating, his lowest mark in 19 career starts.
McCoy seemed reluctant to discuss what he remembers from that 20-10 loss on Dec. 26. Maybe it's best that he just forget most of what happened.
"It seems like an eternity since then," McCoy said before jarring his own memory. "Two things -- their front seven is really good. They just are. They rotate in and out. They're fresh. They're playing really well. They have a lot of sacks. They had nine sacks last week. And, you have to know where Ed Reed is. He's a playmaker. He's a ball hawk. He can be here one time and there the next."
McCoy said similar things about Reed before his first encounter with Baltimore's defense last season, and the seven-time Pro Bowl safety and future Hall of Famer got him anyway.
"He's gotten every quarterback in this league a couple times," McCoy said. "He's a very good player. He's having a great year this year. You just have to know where he is and play off that."
It will be crucial for the Browns to give McCoy time to throw, and equally vital for Cleveland to establish a running game.
The 49ers went in with that same plan two weeks ago, but the Ravens shut them down, holding running back Frank Gore to 39 yards on 14 carries. Without the threat of a run, Baltimore loaded as many as nine players within "the box" near the line of scrimmage and dared Smith to throw.
He managed to get off 15 passes, but Smith was hurried on numerous attempts and absorbed the nine sacks, three by Suggs, whose nine sacks are second-most in the AFC.
No player has been a bigger pain or problem for Cleveland quarterbacks than Suggs, who has recorded 12 career sacks against the Browns, the most by any player. Four of those sacks have come in his eight matchups against Thomas, who regards Baltimore's speedy rusher as one of the game's best.
"He's pretty good," Thomas said with a knowing chuckle. "It's the same thing every year when we play `em. He's been doing it as well as anybody since before I got in the league, so it's always a good challenge. He's a guy that always plays hard. I don't think he plays extra hard against us."
Thomas will be protecting McCoy's back, which for Suggs will have a target drawn between the Nos. 1 and 2 in the middle of the QB's jersey.
Suggs is a renowned trash talker, but he had nothing but good things to say about Thomas on Wednesday.
"He is definitely a top-three left tackle in the league now," Suggs said. "It was an era where it was the Walter Joneses, the Willie Roafs, and of course the greatest ever, Jonathan Ogden. Now it's the Jake Longs, the Joe Thomases. Those two are definitely two stout left tackles in our league, and they don't get much better than that. We always have battles when we go up against each other.
"When it comes to Joe, he is one of the best there is."
The Browns have done a better job in recent weeks of protecting McCoy, who is 0-6 against AFC North opponents. He's been sacked twice in each of the past three games, a major improvement after he was sacked 12 times in the three previous weeks.
The second-year QB's trust has grown with his offensive line.
"I'm feeling more and more comfortable each week as far as in the pocket, when is the right time to leave, when your back has to block and you don't have him as a check down," he said. "I'm starting to really feel comfortable back there."
That may not be the case for long Sunday.
Notes: The release of long snapper Ryan Pontbriand was especially tough on Browns K Phil Dawson,
who was sorry to see his teammate of nearly nine years released. "No one has contributed on the field more to my career than him," Dawson said of Pontbriand, whose two errant snaps in recent weeks cost the Browns possible wins. "It was a little strange today to be out there without him, but it's how this business goes and it's time to move forward." Dawson wouldn't say if he thought the move was unfair. "It doesn't matter what I think and don't read into that," Dawson said. "We all know the business we're in. My time's coming at some point down the road, hopefully way down the road." ... RB Montario Hardesty did not practice as he recovers from a calf injury. Coach Pat Shurmur expects Hardesty to practice this week, but doesn't know if he'll play after missing four straight games. Hardesty was prepared to start Sunday in Cincinnati, but his muscle tightened up in warmups.