- Is Joe Flacco experiencing a bit of a renaissance? The Ravens have gone with a more pass-heavy attack this year, and through 4 games, the veteran quarterback has 8 touchdowns to 2 interceptions. Map that out over a 16-game season, and he’s on pace to throw 32 touchdowns to 8 interceptions. He hasn’t thrown more than 27 touchdowns in a single season, and the past 3 years, he’s averaging 17 touchdown passes to 13 interceptions.
- Lamar Jackson is a bit of an X-factor the Ravens. They will use him in place of Flacco, but have not had him throw the ball as a temporary substitute. He has run the ball 13 times for 62 yards on the year. The utilization of Jackson has not been a game-changer per se, but you have to imagine they’ll have a pass play for him up their sleeves one of these weeks, so the defense must account for that.
- Baker Mayfield has been electric for the Browns, and for him to be doing what he’s done in just two games is awe-inspiring. Among the things he needs to improve a little: protecting the ball better when the rush gets to him (fumbles) and dropping the ball a little higher over defenders’ headers on passes over the middle. Flacco’s edge at quarterback strictly comes down to experience, much like the case was against Derek Carr a week ago. Give it a few more weeks of solid performances, and I will more fairly be able to stack Mayfield’s play against his peers.
- The Ravens’ starting running back is Alex Collins. He came under fire for his fumble in the red zone last week against the Steelers, his second of the season. He has 45 carries for 158 yards (3.5 YPC) and 2 touchdowns. Backup running back Javorius Allen has had less success on the ground with 26 carries for 62 yards (2.4 YPC), but he also has 3 touchdowns.
- The Browns have preached the fact that Nick Chubb must get more carries after his 3-carry, 105-yard, 2-touchdown game from a week ago. He is rolling whenever he touches the ball; obviously those stats will become a little more diluted with more action, but he deserves some more touches. I wouldn’t go too crazy, though. We’ve already seen in two instances where he has whiffed so badly in protection, leading to detrimental play.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- The Ravens completely re-tooled their receiver room this year with three veterans: John Brown, Michael Crabtree, and Willie Snead. The group has worked out very well for Baltimore so far. Brown has been a big-play receiver, leading the team with 15 catches for 338 yards (22.5 average) and 3 touchdowns. Crabtree has 18 catches for 184 yards. Snead, the slot man, has 18 catches for 198 yards.
- The Ravens often play in two tight end sets with both Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams. Together, they have combined to move the chains, each having around 10 catches for 110 yards on the year. First-round pick Hayden Hurst could make his debut this week, but it’s hard to imagine he would see a ton of snaps right off the bat.
- One can only hope that the knee injuries to Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway don’t slow them down too much — they’ll need all the precision route-running they can run against this secondary to get open, and hopefully another week of timing with Baker Mayfield helps in that regard too. The drops with Callaway have to stop soon, though. You see the great potential he has with his speed — far more than what a guy like Ricardo Louis had — but the drops are big-time concentration lapses and happening at a very high rate.
- Seth DeValve returns this week and has had some bigger catches against the Ravens the past two years.
- The Ravens’ starting offensive line includes LT Ronnie Stanley, LG Alex Lewis, C Matt Skura, RG Marshal Yanda, and RT James Hurst. Pass protection has not been the issue for this group — it has been their run blocking, where they have struggled to get a push all season. Lewis was a promising rookie in 2016, but a shoulder injury cost him all of 2017 and he has had a slow start to 2018. Stanley and Yanda are Baltimore’s best linemen, while Hurst can have some down performances at right tackle.
- The Browns’ offensive line has played well overall, but then you can’t have the major lapses from a week ago in two plays: one where Kevin Zeitler was blown up, leading to a sack+fumble, and one where J.C. Tretter thought he felt a touch from Mayfield to snap the ball, leading to a fumble. From left to right tackle, though, I still favor the Browns slightly in pass protection and run blocking over the Ravens.
- The Ravens run a 3-4 defense. Their defensive line includes DT Brandon Williams, NT Chris Wormley, and DE Brent Urban. Together, they won’t log a lot of tackles, but they have contributed in stopping the run very well. Baltimore ranks 4th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed at 82 yards per game.
- I think when some people watch Myles Garrett, they think he is struggling if he isn’t knocking the quarterback down every snap. But if you look at the number of impact plays he’s having, it’s been a great start to the year for him. I’ve been particularly impressed with his quick maturity as a run stopper, making him a complete player. With Larry Ogunjobi’s high play too, the Browns have a line that fairly stacks up to Baltimore’s. Interesting is that Cleveland promoted Brian Price to the 53-man roster this week — I wonder if they liked what they saw from him so much as a run stopper that they think he can contribute immediately as a rotational player over Carl Davis.
- The Ravens’ linebackers include RUSH linebacker Terrell Suggs, MLB C.J. Mosley, WLB Kenny Young, and SAM linebacker Za’Darius Smith. Suggs and Smith have combined for 4.5 sacks this year, but the amount of pressure they generate together is significant. Mosley made his return against the Steelers last week after missing one game and showed no ill effects.
- The Browns’ linebackers have always had a nightmare against Jared Cook, and last week was no different. Baltimore will have three tight ends on hand they can go to this week — Joe Schobert has improved, but I’m still looking for that lights out play from either of the team’s highly-paid outside linebackers (Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey).
- The Ravens’ two starting cornerbacks have been Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey, with Tavon Young covering the slot. However, this is a case where the rich will get richer this week. The Ravens rank 4th in the NFL in passing yards allowed, and now they are getting Jimmy Smith back, who served a four-game suspension. Baltimore’s starting safeties are Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, a tandem I still attest is the best in the NFL. Our receivers will have their work cut out for them on Sunday.
The Ravens coverage unit has been very good so far in 2018, but the return of Jimmy Smith can elevate them to the best group in the NFL.https://t.co/t2PRxrf89E— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 3, 2018
(via @PFF_Gordon) pic.twitter.com/jEW3KOongB
- The Browns will be without starting CB Terrance Mitchell for a significant amount of time, which is a real loss for this defense. Somewhat fortunately, the Browns don’t just have to rely on T.J. Carrie to replace him. Instead, E.J. Gaines will get the start after having a really solid 2017 campaign in Buffalo. Denzel Ward has been hotter at home, so hopefully this week is another good one for him. Damarious Randall has played at such a high level that I would actually put him up there with the Ravens’ safeties as far as game-changers go. Lastly, if I’m the Browns, I go back to Briean Boddy-Calhoun as the nickel corner over Carrie.
- Justin Tucker is the Ravens kicker and remains the best in the NFL in my opinion. He is 9-of-10 on field goals this year and has never missed an extra point in his career. Greg Joseph is now 4-of-4 on field goals and 3-of-3 on extra points. I don’t mind the Browns going for two three times last week, but part of me wonders if one reason for that was a lack of confidence in Joseph.
- Sam Koch is the Ravens’ punter. He is averaging 49.9 yards per punt with a net average of 40.1; the long punts are 3rd in the NFL, but the net is average. Britton Colquitt has had 166 punt return yards against him, second in the NFL.
- Tim White returns kickoffs and punts for the Ravens. I feel like I’ve lost all faith in our return team. Jabrill Peppers should not be on kick returns for his decision-making alone on bringing the ball out of the end zone when he shouldn’t. Punt returns haven’t been effective for him either.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “The Ravens have played very solid defensively for three games, but they also had a tough outing against the Bengals in Week 2. They are getting Jimmy Smith back at corner this week, and with Baltimore’s dangerous secondary to begin with, Baker Mayfield has to be careful where he throws the ball. If a fast pass is zipped off a receiver’s hands again, their defense will take it.
The advantage I see for Cleveland this week is on defense. A week after having some unfortunate luck against Oakland, I think they will stuff the Ravens’ running game on early downs and force some longer passing downs that sees Joe Flacco forcing a few balls unnecessarily as he falls into bad habits. The home flavor gets Cleveland a big division win.” Browns 23, Ravens 20.
Josh Finney: “Dose of reality for the Browns. I expect the Browns receivers to struggle to get open, and for Baker to test a few windows when he should have dumped it down. Turnover differential will end up being the difference. We’ll score, though.” Ravens 33, Browns 27.
Mike Hoag: “Which Joe Flacco shows up? Flacco has been inconsistent on the road over the years, but he hasn’t been horrible despite his teams’ struggles away from Baltimore. He also hasn’t had many problems recently in finding success at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Ravens’ offense was completely retooled this offense, and new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has them humming heading into Week 5.
Baker Mayfield should be able to find some success if rookie left tackle Desmond Harrison is able to continue his uptrend and limit Terrell Suggs some off the edge, but how much success depends on his teammates’ response to their nine drops last week. Unfortunately, they probably won’t be able to keep up with the Ravens’ scoring, and unless T.J. Carrie or a young guy like Denzel Rice is able to step in for Terrance Mitchell and provide some kind of competency opposite Denzel Ward.” Ravens 24, Browns 20.
Thomas Moore: “Even though they lost in overtime last week, the Browns offense had a different look with Baker Mayfield in at quarterback. They will be tested this week going against a Baltimore defense that is ranked No. 2 in overall defense, and No. 4 against in both passing defense and rushing defense. If the Browns are ever going to be taken seriously, they need to start winning games within the division. Unfortunately, the Hue Tax will have to be paid at some point during the game, and the Browns will once again be unable to overcome that this week.” Browns 21, Ravens 17.
Andrea Hangst: “‘m somewhat torn on this game. On the one hand, the Baltimore Ravens look as good as they have in the Joe Flacco-John Harbaugh era, and even when they’ve been less formidable the Ravens don’t much lose to the Browns (39 wins to nine losses). But on the other, Cleveland has an aggressive, takeaway-heavy defense—perhaps the best the Ravens have seen so far this season—plus home-field advantage and the potential to take Baltimore by surprise after their defeat of the Steelers in Week 4.
And that win in Pittsburgh wasn’t so pretty, with the Ravens settling for field goals in four of five red-zone appearances. Holding the Ravens to Justin Tucker three-point tries while Baker Mayfield takes advantage of his varied, talented cast of targets and Sunday can be an upset win for the Browns. But will Mayfield have enough opportunities against Baltimore’s defense, which is going to be ready and able to mess with a rookie passer? Hence, the torn feelings. I lean toward the home team.” Browns 23, Ravens 20.
Ezweav: “Baker Mayfield is a legit franchise QB, and this has angered The Curse. Thus, we got a taste of what life will be now with that ridiculous ballgame out at Dirt Stadium in Oakland last week. Next up are the Ravens, who are the personification of evil, and also having a good year. Like last week, Bake is going to do well but a combination of things will prevent us getting that elusive second victory. I also expect Ravens LT Ronnie Stanley to hold Myles Garrett on every play, and not have that penalty ever get called (which seems to be a weekly occurrence).
Trailing by five late in the contest, Baker will put together a 99 yard drive where he converts a bunch of fourth downs while overcoming every other pass being dropped. He’ll manage to score a TD with five seconds left. The Browns will go for 2, and try a triple-reverse option pass-back only it will get blownt up after a missed block by Nick Chubb (who will have rushed for 189 yards on two carries) and returned all the way for a winning score by Baltimore. The clock will run all the way down to zero on the attempt, which isn’t allowed, but there’ll be no explanation by the refs nor any interest from the dopey broadcasting crew. After the game Baker will take full blame.” Ravens 41, Browns 40.
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.