The Cleveland Browns (1-2-1) are looking to rebound from last week’s overtime loss to Oakland as they host the AFC North leading Baltimore Ravens (3-1) today.
This will be Cleveland’s toughest test to date this season as Baltimore comes in with the 5th ranked offense and 3rd ranked defense in terms of points scored and allowed.
Baltimore is coming off an impressive double-digit victory last week against Pittsburgh and their defense has been one of the most dominant in the NFL through the first four weeks, not allowing a touchdown in the second half of each game.
All eyes will be once again on Baker Mayfield who will be making his first start at FirstEnergy Stadium, almost three weeks after his debut against the Jets where he led the Browns from a 14-point comeback to win 21-17.
Last week in his first career start, Mayfield showed why he was the first overall pick marching the Browns offense up and down the field en route to scoring 42 points but his four costly turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles) helped Oakland stay in the game and eventually win it.
Mayfield is going to have a huge test against this Baltimore defense including the secondary led by Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson and of course you always have to keep your eye on linebacker Terrell Suggs who has 100 career tackles, 18 sacks, 22 QB hits and an interception in 27 career games against Cleveland.
Suggs will likely be matched up against rookie left tackle Desmond Harrison who has been getting better each and every week throughout the season. Harrison told reporters earlier this week that he reached out to Joe Thomas on tips to try and contain Suggs.
If the Browns are going to be in this game and have a chance at winning, their best chance is to try and run the football and run it a lot. Baltimore does rank four in rushing yards allowed but they’re giving up close to four yards per carry. Todd Haley should use that to his advantage and find a way to split the carries between Carlos Hyde and rookie Nick Chubb.
Chubb broke out last week on two big runs and finished with 105 yards and two touchdowns on three carries, winning the NFL Rookie of the Week award. Head coach Hue Jackson said that Chubb would get the ball more and I think he needs to starting against this Ravens defense.
If the running game starts moving, then you go and let Mayfield rip it down the field.
One weakness to the Ravens passing defense has been against tight ends which could bring David Njoku into the equation. Baltimore has given up 5 catches and 53 yards per game to the tight end position and with Njoku’s size, he could be a mismatch for the Browns to exploit. It all depends on if Njoku can bring those targets in as he’s had an issue dropping the ball.
For the Ravens offense, Joe Flacco has been a thorn in Cleveland’s side since being drafted in 2008 with a record of 17-2 against the Browns. In those 19 career matchups, Flacco has completed 62.4% of his passes for 4,340 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He’s also rushed for four touchdowns.
This season he’s been good so far despite the lack of a running game to lean on. Flacco has completed 64.3% of his passes for 1,252 yards, 8 touchdowns and just two interceptions through four games. The Browns defense will have to find a way to get to Flacco but they have a solid offensive line including Ronnie Stanley and Marshall Yanda who is healthy after missing most of 2017.
Baltimore went out and got Flacco some help in the receiving game with the additions of Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John Brown along with the draft selection of Mark Andrews who was Mayfield’s teammate at Oklahoma. Those four receivers have combined for 839 yards and six touchdowns.
One guy Cleveland will need to keep their eye on is quarterback Lamar Jackson. While he is backing up Joe Flacco, the Ravens have a package for him and aren’t afraid to use him. He’s made 13 attempts running the football and has picked up 62 yards with his longest run being 16 yards. I won’t be surprised if we see him at times so Gregg Williams and the Browns defense better be ready for him.
If the Browns are going to win this game, they need to come out on fire early on both sides of the football. The Ravens seem to start out slow and then turn it up as the game progresses, specifically in the second half.
If the Browns can do that, they also need to keep it up for all four quarters. It seemed like last week once they went up two touchdowns against Oakland, they took their foot off the gas and it bit them as Oakland came back and eventually won.
Baltimore has been a dominant and one could say elite in the second half of games, if Cleveland is leading and decides to go conservative, the Ravens will feast on that.
Cleveland needs to run the football especially early on in the contest. Baltimore has given up 4.5 yards per carry and two touchdowns in the first quarter this season and a heavy dosage of Hyde and Chubb could make it a long day for the Ravens defense.
I expect the game to be close but ultimately like so many other times, the old Browns will conquer the new Browns.
Ravens 27 Browns 20