- The Baltimore Ravens have invested heavily in QB Joe Flacco through the 2021 season. It's not a contract they can get out of any time soon -- his dead cap in 2017 would be at $47.3 million, and then $28.75 million the following year.
- Why am I even mentioning contract concerns for Flacco? Because injuries and productivity are an issue for the second year in a row. Through eight games, he’s thrown for 6 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. His completion percentage has dipped to 61.4%. He has the Ravens at 4-4 and stunningly atop the AFC North right now, but it’s the defense that is carrying the Ravens right now, not the quarterback position.
- Cody Kessler will play his first prime time game, and I think Hue Jackson is going to try to challenge the offense this week to be more aggressive. It’s clear the defense isn’t going to stop very many teams, but that’s also true for the New Orleans Saints, a club that is 4-4. Will Kessler be up to the task of guiding a shootout? In order to do so, he’ll have to improve his downfield game, something that continues to be his biggest weakness.
- Justin Forsett was the Ravens' top back when these two teams last met. Forsett had 14 carries for 37 yards (2.6 YPC) in that game. He was released a few weeks later, allowing former Browns Terrance West to become the starter.
- West had 11 carries for 42 yards (3.8 YPC) against the Browns in Week 2. He had a really hot three-game stretch in which he had 55 carries for 295 yards (5.36 YPC). Over the past two games, though, he has 23 carries for 31 yards (1.35 YPC). Our Ravens affiliate blames offensive line injuries, and the team trying to work backup Kenneth Dixon into the game to a point where it’s forced. Dixon has 15 carries for 23 yards (1.4 YPC) on the season.
- Isaiah Crowell and the Browns' running game has had a big dropoff too. He's still averaging 4.7 YPC on the season, but over the last five games, he has just 51 carries for 134 yards (2.63 YPC). It’s remarkable how Crowell hasn’t gotten to 20 carries once this season.
- Crowell did have 18 carries for 133 yards and 1 TD the last time these two teams met, but a big reason for those pretty stats was an 85-yard touchdown run. Flashforward to now, and through eight games, the Ravens are 2nd in the NFL against the run. Once again, it looks like Crowell and Duke Johnson will have to try doing their damage in the passing game.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- I underestimated the impact that Mike Wallace would have for the Ravens, but he's been a saving grace for their offense. He leads the team in production with 614 yards and 4 touchdowns on 39 catches. He’s a home run threat who used his speed to extend plays in Week 2 for the tune of two touchdowns.
- The Ravens' other two contributing receivers are Steve Smith and Dennis Pitta. Smith, returning from injury last week, has 31 catches for 357 yards and 1 touchdown on the season. Pitta burned the Browns for 9 catches and 102 yards back in Week 2, but his next best stat line this year went for only 59 yards. I have little faith that Cleveland will be able to stop him unless Jamie Collins blankets him throughout the evening.
- The Browns’ best asset right now is their combination of Corey Coleman, Terrelle Pryor, Andrew Hawkins, and Gary Barnidge. That is a receiving group that I think more than a handful of teams in the NFL would take over what they currently have. Coleman didn’t look too rusty last week and should have fresh legs despite the short week. He had two touchdowns the last time these two teams met, so he will be a big part of this week’s gameplan.
- The Ravens' starting offensive line includes LT Ronnie Stanley, LG Alex Lewis, C Jeremy Zuttah, RG Marshal Yanda, and RT Rick Wagner. This is a group that is average at best when they are healthy, and they don’t block very well in the run game. Yanda, who is by far their best player, is listed as doubtful with a shoulder injury.
- When are the Browns going to have some continuity on the offensive line? We know the tackles will be anchored fine — LT Joe Thomas has never missed a snap, and quietly, RT Austin Pasztor has been pretty stable. OL John Greco is having a great season, but has been forced to shift between right guard and center because of C Cameron Erving being either injured or ejected. Erving will be back at center this week, but I wonder if the club will evaluate his future during the mini bye week.
- The Ravens' defensive line consists of DT Timmy Jernigan, NT Brandon Williams, and DE Lawrence Guy. Those three guys will see the bulk of the work, with NT Michael Pierce and DE Brent Urban getting a little bit of substitution work. Williams is one of the best run-stopping nose tackles in the NFL. Jernigan is the team’s second best pass-rushing threat with 4 sacks and 8 quarterback hits on the season.
- NT Danny Shelton did enough to be recognized on PFF’s midseason All-Pro team. The Browns are now officially listing rookie second round pick Emmanuel Ogbah as a defensive end on the depth chart, and it’s where he’ll continue to see the most action as Jamie Collins takes on the primary outside linebacker role. They key now is finding a way to turn Carl Nassib’s hustle into actual pressure.
- The Ravens' starting linebackers typically include OLB Terrell Suggs, ILB C.J. Mosley, ILB Zachary Orr, and OLB Albert McClellan. Orr has received major accolades for his work in coverage, making him a good compliment to Mosley. Suggs is the team’s best pass-rusher with 5 sacks and 8 quarterback hits on the season. McClellan has been playing because veteran pass rusher Elvis Dumervil has pretty much missed all season.
- I thought the Browns would let OLB Jamie Collins play a lot of snaps in his debut, and I wasn’t wrong: he didn’t miss a snap. I tried paying attention to him on a lot of plays, and although he wasn’t perfect, I could see the physical traits that stood out compared to other players on the roster. With him at outside linebacker, that means Demario Davis will continue to play a big role on defense alongside inside ILB Christian Kirksey.
- The Ravens' will be without one of their starting cornerbacks (Shareece Wright) this week, which means the combination of Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young will start. Young, a fourth-round pick, is coming off of a great game when he matched up against the Steelers’ Antonio Brown, so his confidence couldn’t be higher right now. Veteran Jerraud Powers will see action in three-receiver sets.
- The Ravens’ starting safeties are still Eric Weddle and Ladarius Webb. Our Ravens affiliate credits Weddle for taking Baltimore’s defense to the next level this season, and he’s exactly the type of player who could single-handedly change Cleveland’s defense if he were one of our safeties. Weddle had an interception when these teams met in Week 2.
- With cornerback Jamar Taylor ruled out, either Tramon Williams or Briean Boddy-Calhoun will start in his place. Joe Haden will start at the other spot. Cleveland has been burned by either Steve Smith or Mike Wallace over the past two seasons, but Joe Flacco is also prone to just tossing up balls to be picked off. Haden had two interceptions back in Week 2, and some feel he could’ve had two more.
- The Browns will never get the advantage in the secondary this season with the group of safeties they have.
- Baltimore’s kicker and punter are Justin Tucker and Sam Koch, respectively. Tucker is a perfect 20-for-20 this season, including 4-of-4 from beyond 50 yards and a couple of late-game clutch kicks. Koch has a punting average of 46.9 (9th in the NFL) and a net average of 39.6 (22nd in the NFL).
- Cody Parkey boinked another field goal off the left upright last week. Britton Colquitt finally got a punt to roll down to the one yard line (saved by Ricardo Louis). Still, despite his rankings -- 45.8 average (15th in the NFL) and 41.0 net average (12th in the NFL), I remain less-than-satisfied with his punts inside the 10.
- Devin Hester is the Ravens’ kick and punt returner still. It’s remarkable how he’s still going at it at age 34. The Browns continue to use Ricardo Louis on kickoffs and Duke Johnson on punt returns. Baltimore has had some issues covering punts.
- One big element of Baltimore’s special teams is their ability to block kicks. They blocked a game-winning field goal attempt by the Browns last year on Thursday Night Football, and took it the distance for a touchdown. They blocked the extra point in Week 2, leading to the rare two-point play. They blocked a punt against Pittsburgh last week that proved to be the difference maker.
This year, we are listing predictions for multiple staff members here at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “The Ravens’ defense is good, but Baltimore’s offense isn’t clicking too often and I think QB Joe Flacco takes liberty to freelance to give his guys some one-on-one shots downfield that our cornerbacks can come away with, like CB Joe Haden did back in Week 2. The last time these two teams met, Dennis Pitta caught pass after pass for first downs on third down. If OLB Jamie Collins is assigned to him for much of the game, that could be a big difference maker. Overall, the poor play of the Browns’ safeties will eventually catch up to them as they wilt away in the second half again.” Ravens 27, Browns 20.
Matt Wood: “Scared this is the week where we take a full on ass whipping on national TV. Terrence West has his "F-U" game and Flacco connects on deep bombs past our horrid safeties.” Ratbirds 37, Browns 13.
Jon Stinchcomb: “Thursday Night Football is becoming synonymous with "bad game," and there's no reason to believe it will stop with this one. The Browns blew a big lead last time and the Ravens got some help from the stripes. This time, the Browns would be lucky to get within striking distance and it will be even uglier.” Ravens 23, Browns 6.
Zach Miller: “This will continue the trend of awful TNF games. I've been optimistic the Browns will get that evasive victory here soon, but my optimism is dwindling, fast.” Ravens 41, Browns 16.
Josh Finney: “I'm actually thinking this one might be an upset. Thursday games are sloppy and the Ravens are beat up. think Kessler finally connects on a deep ball and Hue upends the back of tricks.
Browns 27, Raven....
Actually, no, I can't do it.” Ravens 27, Browns 17.
Dan Lalich: “Each team forgets they're playing until late Thursday afternoon. The lack of real practice time or game planning leads to sloppy play from both teams.” Browns 11, Ravens 5.
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below!