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Ravens vs. Browns: NFL Week 12 Preview and Prediction

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, the Cleveland Browns (2-8) take on the Baltimore Ravens (3-7) in Week 12 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.


Position-by-Position Evaluation

Pos Advantage Reason
QB With the Ravens losing Joe Flacco to a torn ACL during last Sunday's game against the Rams, they now turn to a different quarterback for the first time since 2007 when Kyle Boller was running the ship. Veteran Matt Schaub gets the call this week, as he'll start his first game since 2013 when he was still a member of the Texans. Schaub was on the downside of his career when he left Houston, and it'll be tough for him to build chemistry with inexperienced players on offense in just one week.

We thought Johnny Manziel would be starting this game, but he decided to party it up during the bye week and then outright lie about it to the team. It's an unprecedented type of situation in the NFL, but it sounds like Mike Pettine handled it as best as a coach could. Josh McCown is back in the saddle, but performance was not the reason he lost the job. He shredded the Ravens for the most passing yards (457) in a regular season game by a Browns quarterback earlier this year, so he has the clear advantage over Schaub this week.

RB - The Ravens lost Justin Forsett to a broken arm against the Rams last week, which means that Javorius Allen, a fourth-round pick in this year's draft, will get the start. Allen has 64 carries for 249 yards (3.9 YPC) this season to go along with 13 catches for 106 yards. His best game of the season came against Cleveland, where he busted off a 44-yard run and finished the day with 8 carries for 58 yards (7.3 YPC). The Ravens' backup running back will be Terrance West, meaning he will carry the ball for three different teams in FirstEnergy Stadium this year (Cleveland, Tennessee, and Baltimore).

It's a shame that, even with the Ravens' shortcomings at the running back position, I feel greedy about giving Cleveland the edge at the position. The only reason the Browns are getting the edge this week is because in terms of the depth chart, Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson have been in this position with their club all season, whereas Allen is getting his first start and West's only claim to fame is fumbling against Cleveland as a member of Tennessee. Cleveland must find a way to keep the running game in the gameplan in the second half, while also ensuring Johnson's disappearing act in terms of reps does not continue.

WR
TE
Cleveland will be without Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel this week, as both players are still recovering from their concussions prior to the bye week. Travis Benjamin and Brian Hartline will get the start, and we should expect to see Marlon Moore as the third receiver again with Dwayne Bowe being mixed in for some reps. Moore never gets targeted as the third receiver, and just for the sake of, "what the hell, why not," I'd still like to see Bowe get some work in. After all, he is under contract for one more year, so the club should take a look to see if there is anything salvageable with him. Gary Barnidge should be pleased that Josh McCown is back under center, since he is McCown's favorite weapon.

The Ravens' receiving corp has been depleted due to injury, so they are likely to stick to a three-man rotation with heavier use of the tight end position. Kamar Aiken will be the team's top receiver, followed by Chris Givens and Jeremy Butler. Aiken had 4 catches for 78 yards the last time these teams met, with him having beat cornerback Tramon Williams on a tightly-contested pass for 48 yards. Givens has been a deep-threat receiver during his career. Cleveland will end up seeing plenty of tight ends Crockett Gilmore, Maxx Williams, and Kyle Juszczyk. Juszczyk in particular has been a Browns-killer over the past two seasons.
OL The Ravens are expected to be without starting left tackle Eugene Monroe and starting left guard Kelechi Osemele. Besides right guard Marshal Yanda, those three players are the team's best offensive linemen, which will pose some serious depth chart issues for Baltimore on Monday. James Hurst will start his fifth game this year at left tackle, and Ryan Jensen will start his second straight game in place of Osemele. The team already has a substitute center in (John Urschel), so it should be expected that Cleveland could take advantage.

For Cleveland, the left guard situation is still up-in-the-air as the team sees whether Joel Bitonio is ready to return from his ankle injury. If he can't go, then rookie Cameron Erving would make his second straight start. Regardless of who plays, Cleveland's offensive line needs to stop playing like a group of talented individuals and instead improve their communication to be a solid collective unit.
DL The Browns will be without defensive end Randy Starks, who suffered a knee injury prior to the bye week. Before the bye week, we saw glimpses of the run defense playing a bit more sound -- can that continue, and will Danny Shelton be a notable reason why?

The Ravens' defensive line rotation remains the same as the last time these teams met. Nose tackle Brandon Williams is solid against the run and will play a high volume of snaps -- much more than we'd see Shelton play. Timmy Jernigan plays a pass-rushing role from the middle. Chris Canty and Lawrence Guy are the team's other defensive lineman in the rotation as Carl Davis, the team's third-round pick, has seen less of a role.
LB The Ravens' starting outside linebackers are Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw, with Za'Darius Smith getting some work in too. Dumervil remains the team's best pass-rushing threat, but Mitchell Schwartz handled him earlier this season. Dumervil has 4.5 sacks on the year, with 2 of them having come two weeks ago. At inside linebacker, the Ravens' starters are Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley.

Outside linebacker Nate Orchard came down with a groin injury late in the week and is questionable. The team is slowly handing more responsibility over to him and he's had a couple of positive plays, but nothing exceptional yet. Hopefully Paul Kruger did some of his own film study during the bye week to improve his pass-rushing productivity. Kruger, Karlos Dansby, and Craig Robertson will be very busy trying to cover the Ravens' tight ends and fullback.

DB - The Browns will be without Joe Haden again, leaving them in a bind as to who will start on the outside. That spot opposite of Tramon Williams has been a liability this year, whether it be with Haden, Pierre Desir, Charles Gaines, Johnson Bademosi, or Justin Gilbert. Haden's replacement will be based on who had the "best week of practice." Strong safety Donte Whitner returns from a concussion to resume his starting role.

The Ravens' starting cornerbacks are Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb, but the team might be looking for help at the nickelback position due to injury. Will Hill and Kendrick Lewis are the Ravens' starting safeties. The secondary was obviously torched by McCown earlier this year, and although they've had some stronger play over the past couple of weeks, it's not going to be night-and-day from the last meeting. PFF grades Will Hill grades as the 6th best safety in the NFL, and they say that Smith has been among the league's worst cornerbacks this year.
ST Justin Tucker has hit some game-winning field goals, but overall has missed more than fans are accustom to. He is 22-of-28 on the year, including two misses from 51 yards last week. Tucker will still boom a bunch of kickoffs for touchbacks, negating kick return opportunities for Cleveland. Travis Coons is a perfect 16-of-16 on field goals, but has missed two extra points.

Sam Koch and Andy Lee are among the top two punters in the NFL this year, so there isn't a distinct advantage for either side. If both offenses struggle, though, whichever punter brings their A-game on punts inside the 10 could help change the game. One factor to consider too is that Baltimore has blocked four kicks in their past four games, an incredibly high amount.

Running back Raheem Mostert will be the Ravens' kick returner, and Kaelin Clay has been called upon to return punts. Lardarius Webb will be the team's fair catch specialist (alas Jim Leonhard for the Browns in 2014). Travis Benjamin won't have many punt return opportunities with Koch's punting. The Browns could roll with either Duke Johnson or Marlon Moore on kickoffs, but again, their opportunities will be limited due to Tucker.


Prediction

Fans who are thinking about draft position will be sorely disappointed after this one. The Ravens have sustained a lot of injuries this year, but the only thing keeping them somewhat of a competitive team was QB Joe Flacco. Without him, the offense is going to be crippled with no chemistry, regardless of what defense they are going up against. With Ravens drives stalling left and right, QB Josh McCown will have an average day en route to a prime time win.

Cleveland Browns 24, Baltimore Ravens 10

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