This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
- Lamar Jackson is off to a great start to his sophomore year. I look at how innovative John Harbaugh has been in tailoring the offense to all of Jackson’s strengths, and in that regard, he blows Freddie Kitchens out of the water so much that it isn’t even funny.
- Through three games, Jackson has completed 63% of his passes for 863 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. He has taken 6 sacks, losing 33 yards on those plays (a little over 5 yards per sack). He has already run the ball 27 times for 172 yards and 1 touchdown. I was watching last year’s Week 17 game against the Browns, and was reminded how you can contain him for so long, but then make one mistake on an assignment, and Jackson will see that opening and take off for an easy 20+ yards.
- It is OK to acknowledge that Baker Mayfield is struggling, while also still believing 100% in him. Mayfield is down to completing 56.9% of his passes, and has thrown for 805 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. He has taken 11 sacks for 81 yards (about 7.5 yards lost per sack). One element missing from Mayfield’s game is the running aspect. He definitely won’t run a lot, but taking off for a few yards and sliding should be a part of his game. On the year, he has 1 carry for -1 yard.
- Baltimore gets the edge based on how the quarterbacks have played through three games; once Baker gets his mechanics and pocket presence back, it would be even.
- Mark Ingram is the new addition to the Ravens’ backfield this year as their starting back, and he’s been very effective. He’s run 43 times for 257 yards (6.0 YPC) and 5 touchdowns. He’s also caught 6 passes for 62 yards. Their backup running back is Gus Edwards, who has carried the ball 27 times for 120 yards (4.4 YPC).
- Nick Chubb has 58 carries for 233 yards (4.0 YPC) and 1 touchdown on the year, to go along with 11 catches for 81 yards. Chubb had season highs last week with 23 carries for 96 yards. His usage rate last week was at 97% of the plays; I would think that backup Dontrell Hilliard should get some more work this week. The Ravens are always a tough team to run against, and this year is no different -- they are 2nd in the NFL in allowing just 60.3 yards rushing per game.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- The Ravens’ top two receivers in terms of utilization are Marquise Brown and Willie Snead, but Seth Roberts and Miles Boykin also rotate in to see a fair amount of snaps each week. Statistically, Brown has been the biggest winner, leading the Ravens with 14 catches for 282 yards and 2 touchdowns and being a big deep ball threat. Snead, by comparison, has 6 catches for 93 yards; Roberts and Boykin have combined for 5 catches.
- The Ravens love to run the ball in creative fashion, go deep to Brown, and then throw a ton to their tight ends. The tight ends are Jackson’s favorite targets, with starter Mark Andrews catching 19 passes for 235 yards and 2 touchdowns. Off of the read option and all of the unique looks Baltimore does, Andrews will be the guy Jackson targets right up the seam. He’ll also look for Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst, who have combined for 14 catches for 154 yards and 1 touchdown.
- It looks like the Browns will be without Rashard Higgins again this week. Although he practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday, he did not practice Thursday or Friday. Damion Ratley will get one more game to show what he can do, because Antonio Callaway returns next week (and Higgins could be back too).
- With all the offensive struggles, the play of Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry can’t be questioned. Cleveland gets the positional edge due to what they bring to the table, but Baltimore made it close since their tight ends far edge out Cleveland’s right now. It’ll be curious to see if Ricky Seal-Jones gets any more looks this week.
- The Ravens’ starting offensive line includes LT Ronnie Stanley, LG Bradley Bozeman, C Matt Skura, RG Marshal Yanda, and RT Orlando Brown Jr. Stanley has been off to a great start to the season again, making it the second challenging matchup for Myles Garrett in as many weeks. Stanley and Yanda are the strength of the line, while Skura has been good so far too. Bozeman won a training camp competition at left guard and has played well too.
- The Browns’ offensive line has had their share of miscues, and last week were taken to task quite a bit by Aaron Donald. Overall, though, they aren’t the reason the Browns’ offense is struggling — they aren’t helping matters, but they aren’t the root cause. The thing to watch this week is whether Chris Hubbard, who was limited all week, returns from his foot injury, or if Justin McCray continues to fill in there.
Defensive Line / Linebacker
- The Ravens run a 3-4 defense. Their starting defensive line includes DT Brandon Williams, NT Michael Pierce, and DE Chris Wormley. The Ravens rank 2nd in the NFL in allowing 60.3 rushing yards per game, and 8th in allowing 3.77 yards per carry. The Chiefs did find some success on the grounf last week, with Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy having carries of 41 and 25 yards, respectively.
- The best thing I liked seeing last week was Myles Garrett lining up on the left side at times, over the right tackle instead of the left tackle. Cleveland should have him everywhere on the line, keeping the Ravens guessing on any given play. It’ll be curious to see if Garrett can bring Lamar Jackson down this week, or if his shifty nature will be able to dodge him.
- The Ravens’ starting linebackers include RUSH Pernell McPhee, MLB Patrick Onwuasor, WLB Kenny Young, and SAM Matthew Judon. Judon has 3 sacks, while McPhee has 2 sacks and has been good helping against the run. The weak spot here are the Ravens’ middle linebackers, who can be attacked in coverage. This is a week where you’d really like to have a David Njoku going against them.
- We might get the combination of Joe Schobert and Mack Wilson at linebacker the rest of the year for Cleveland. Schobert has played very well to begin the year, and Wilson showed a lot of promise in playing the entire game last week. He came oh-so-close to making a diving interception, and just seems to have a knack for that. Let’s see if he’s able to make an athletic play when Jackson throws a pass off of the read-option.
- The Ravens’ two starting cornerbacks are Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr, with Anthony Averett covering the slot. Baltimore has had injuries this year to Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young, forcing some of their younger players into action. Humphrey has done a fair job along with Carr, but they are not the same type of duo that Cleveland faced last week. Averett is the guy who Cleveland will try to take advantage of, as he had a rough time against the Chiefs last week.
- Baltimore’s starting safeties are and Tony Jefferson and Earl Thomas. Those are two of the biggest names in football at the safety position, with Thomas replacing Eric Weddle this offseason. Thomas has not gotten off to a notable start in Baltimore, but that doesn’t discredit what he’s capable of. Thomas also talked this week about how the team was sick of all the hype Cleveland got in the offseason.
- The big news for Cleveland’s secondary this week is that Damarious Randall will be back. We will see what Cleveland does at the other safety position; we are probably going to get a mix of Jermaine Whitehead and Eric Murray, but I’d like to see Juston Burris get some reps over Whitehead.
- At cornerback, Terrance Mitchell and T.J. Carrie figure to get the start again, as Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams did not practice all week (which is funny, because Williams was supposedly close to playing last week). The big key for both Mitchell and Carrie is to find a way to stay with the great speed that Brown has when he streaks downfield.
- Justin Tucker is the Ravens’ kicker. He is off to another reliable start, making all 5 of his kicks. We know he can hit from 55+ yards regularly too and has only missed one extra point in his entire career. Austin Seibert, besides one missed extra point, has been solid through three games, not missing a field goal to date.
- Sam Koch is the Ravens’ punter. He ranks in the upper third of the NFL with a 48.3 average, and a net average of 44.1 yards. Jamie Gillan’s numbers are lower, but that is because so many of his punts (a league-leading 11 of them) have been downed inside the 20. Koch has only had 9 punt return yards on him, and Gillan has only had 5 on him.
- Justice Hill is the Ravens’ kickoff returner, and Cyrus Jones is their punt returner. Jones is averaging 14.8 yards per return, with his longest being 25 yards. The Browns kick returner will either be Dontrell Hilliard or D’Ernest Johnson. Jarvis Landry is the Browns’ punt returner now it seems; he has 4 returns for 48 yards (12.0 yards per return).
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “I’ve been going back-and-forth with this one. The Ravens blew the doors off the Dolphins in Week 1, and I feel like the Browns equally had a matchup against a bad team in Week 2. The Ravens were picked apart defensively last week, but that was against the Chiefs, a team that has the best offense in football. I love the Ravens’ offensive playbook and how smart it is to tailor to the strengths of Lamar Jackson. The Browns’ defense has played very well for two weeks in a row, though. Even last week, minus their whole starting secondary, they kept Cleveland in the game against the defending NFC Champions.
The story of the season has been the slow start that Baker Mayfield and the Browns’ offense has gotten off to. Mayfield is falling into some bad habits, playcalls have been questionable at times, and the execution in general hasn’t been hitting on all cylinders. This isn’t a 16-game problem, though — and one of these weeks, things are going to click. What week will that be? It could happen this week; or it it could happen at midseason. The intriguing element here is how the Ravens’ secondary has some issues; it’s not the same units they faced against the Titans and Rams. If Cleveland can win some of those one-on-one battles at the receiver position, where they have their biggest edge, while continuing to manage the offensive mistakes, this could be Cleveland’s week to turn things around. My biggest concern this week is more so related to Jackson: because although I love our defense, I just keep having visions of him slipping a tackle and taking off for a big play. I was leaning Ravens most of the week, but I’m going with my wishful thinking this week.” Browns 24, Ravens 20.
Matt Wood: “The Ravens finally got to see a good team last week and were exposed. Now I’m not saying the Browns are the Chiefs, but they aren’t the Dolphins.
The Browns have some issues on offense and Baker doesn’t look right, but this Ravens defense can be exposed against the deep pass and no one is running more deep passes than the Browns it seems (not that this is a good thing). I think the Browns pop some big plays downfield and the blueprint for keeping Jackson in the pocket continues. Remember, Wilks and the Cardinals did an awesome job last year against Russell Wilson holding him to less than 170 YPG in the two match-ups. I expect the Browns to employ many of the same tactics against a somewhat similar mobile QB.
Browns start off hot and get some momentum and get the win.” Browns 27, Ravens 20.
Mike Hoag: “Waiting for the Browns offense to show up has been frustrating. They are rightfully taking a lot of heat, and Freddie’s blunders aren’t helping things trend in the right direction despite him showing signs he is getting things figured out. Another 13-point performance and this game is a sure loss.” Ravens 20, Browns 17.
Tom Moore: “The Browns are struggling on offense (are we allowed to admit that yet?) but each week the players and coaches claim that they are “almost there” when it comes to putting it all together. This could be the week that happens. Despite the presence of Earl ‘I’m here to take away the big plays’ Thomas, the Ravens pass defense is near the bottom of the league rankings, which means that big plays should be available come Sunday.
If the defense can keep its wits about them when Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson starts to move around, and the offense can finally find itself, a win is there for the taking.” Browns 17, Ravens 10.
Jon Stinchcomb: “I think the Browns can win this one, which the superstitious part of my brain tells me is the death knell. I picture this one coming down to one or two knuckleheaded penalties deciding it. But if Kitchens has finally gotten this team to get out of their own way, the division is there for the taking.” Ravens 24, Browns 20.
Ezweav: “We are doomed. The season to this point has been disappointing, but all of it can be made right with a win against this bastard franchise on Sunday, which means it absolutely can’t happen. Moreover, their offense looked rather pedestrian last week against a KC defense that probably isn’t as good as ours. Speaking of our defense, with basically half the unit out they put up a heroic performance against the Yams last week. Thus, looks like our defense should be able to matchup well with their offense, so naturally Baltimore will pile on the yards and points and make it look easy along the way. Conversely, our offensive will continue to look sluggish and uninspired while facing (another) very good defensive unit. It’s not going to go well.” Ravens 40, Browns 13.
rufio: “Baker and Freddie finally get things rolling on offense, getting the ball out quick and limiting the vertical routes from spread sets. Steve Wilks is quietly doing a fantastic job, and he’ll have a gameplan-specific adjustment to the Ravens’ option running game.
The Browns stop the run and pass to get ahead in the game, which turns Lamar Jackson into a passer. He can’t thrive in that role (at least not yet), and though he breaks a few big plays he can’t bring the Ravens back in the game.” Browns 31, Ravens 27.
Josh Finney: “Ravens always play the Browns tough, and the Browns offense is an absolute mess. Until I see Mayfield start to hang in the pocket and step up and into throws, rather than moonwalking out of the back, I will continue to expect the offense to perform poorly.
Browns defense looked good against LA, but LA also played like booty. Sharps have this one right.” Ravens 28, Browns 16.
Barry Shuck: “An interesting fact is that the Ravens are 1-0 at home while the Browns are 1-0 on the road. A harsh fact is the Ravens are the NFL’s best offensive team averaging 511.7 total yards a game. They are also the number one rushing team. Cleveland against the run ranks 14th, so the Browns will have their hands full and the Ravens will have to earn every yard they can muster. Getting back safety Damarious Randall will help the Browns greatly as the defensive backfield has been decimated. Kicker Austin Seibert is having an excellent season, but that means the Browns’ offense is scoring threes instead of touchdowns, which is worrisome. Home field advantage should prevail with these two clubs.” Ravens 37, Browns 16.
BigTownBrown: “No flipping flapping chance we beat the Ravens. This is gonna be a blood bath. The Ravens high powered offense lead by Lamar Jackson will be on full display Sunday. They rank at near the top for a reason and we will be forced to eat a full dose of it.
The Browns still haven’t found an identity (which is dumbfounded to me because we had one preseason). Mistakes will be made all day by Baker and Kitchens. Sorry not sorry, the Browns are not ready to be contenders just yet... on to San Francisco.” Ravens 40, Browns 0.
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.