A Tale of Two Seasons
- Let’s flash back to the Browns’ Week 1 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, where Cleveland lost by a final score of 38-6. Looking at the final score, it looks like the Browns were destroyed — and to an extent, we were. But it was also a game that had a couple of game-changing plays, and I kept saying afterward that Baltimore was probably the worst opponent that the Browns could have faced in a pandemic-shortened offseason.
- Can you guess the two plays that I am referring to? Down 7-0 after an interception by QB Baker Mayfield, Cleveland went three-and-out on their second offensive possession. On 4th-and-4, the Browns dialed up a fake punt with P Jamie Gillan keeping it. It didn’t go anywhere. Although the defense held Baltimore to a field goal, it still made it an easy two-possession lead for Baltimore. That failed fake punt was the first key play.
- The Browns scored a touchdown to make it 10-6, and then former kicker Austin Seibert missed an extra point. That’s not the key play, but it’s still worth pointing out. Also worth pointing out is that an offensive facemask penalty on Odell Beckham Jr. helped turn a likely scoring drive into a 3rd-and-41 situation and a punt.
- But the play I’m referring to is when the Browns were down 17-6 with under a minute left in the half. Facing a 3rd-and-2, Mayfield threw a quick pass to a wide open Beckham — and he dropped it. Then, Seibert missed the 41-yard field goal, and Baltimore got a touchdown to end the half. Instead of it being a 17-9 or 17-13 game at the half, it was 24-6. Game over.
- The Browns are 9-2 since that opening-day loss. The Ravens are 6-5 during that same stretch, and have lost four of their past six games.
- Make no mistake about it — the Ravens are still a very dangerous team. Lamar Jackson is still a dangerous quarterback. But more and more, we’re also seeing how the Ravens are flawed. We’ll get into some of the reasons for that below.
Key Factors This Time
- The biggest thing that stands out to me is the Ravens’ offensive line situation. They lost starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley to injury earlier this season. And while Orlando Brown Jr. has been moved to left tackle and does a good job there, it creates a trickle down effect — because now the right side of the line isn’t as strong. Patrick Mekari has also taken over at center for Matt Skura. That might not be a bad thing for Baltimore, but it adds to the fact that the chemistry factor on the line can’t be the same as it was a year ago, or even back in Week 1.
- Back in Week 1, the Browns’ defense actually held Baltimore’s rushing attack in check — it was the passing game that killed Cleveland, as Lamar Jackson hit big throw after big throw. I am not going to sit here and say that Cleveland’s defense will shut Jackson down; for as well as our defense has held things together, we all know there are a lot of weaknesses that teams can pick apart. But it’s all-the-more important that the Browns’ offense is clicking. That’s always been the best formula to stop Jackson — because you force the pressure on them to execute, and when they don’t, I think the pressure and frustration does creep into their heads a bit. You heard it earlier this season when Jackson said it felt like everyone was rooting against the Ravens this year.
- Baker Mayfield is back to his rookie days, where he has confidence throwing to any receiver on the team. He also has gone 23 straight quarters without throwing an interception. You can see how the offense is clicking right now and everything is so smart — the playaction fakes get Mayfield to the boundary where receivers are open. Throws are not having to be made in tight windows amidst triple coverage. Mayfield uses his arm to zip throws into tight one-on-one windows. His ball placement has been improving. He still needs to work on ball security when he runs with the ball, though.
- Cleveland had he benefit of facing a Jaguars and Titans team that featured no pass rush over the past two weeks. Baltimore isn’t elite in the pass-rushing department this year, but it has to be accounted for.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “The Browns have the luxury of a two-game lead over Baltimore, so I think that will help them play a little free and looser. Jarvis Landry said a few weeks ago that they’ve been circling this game on the schedule for wanting revenge. If the Browns’ first-half performance against the Titans last week is any indication of that, then look out. I doubt we’ll get the same defensive benefit we had last week (a fourth down stop and a forced fumble early on), so this will be a back-and-forth affair. The game could go either way, but the Browns impressed me so much offensively last week that I have to roll with Cleveland.” Browns 27, Ravens 23
Ezweav: “This team is good. There’s just no way around it at this point. I know any positive assessment of Baker seems like it needs to have the accompanying disclaimer that ‘unless he performs like a hall of famer versus elite competition every week none of this will have been worth it’ but the kid’s been playing really well for a strong minute now. With him playing the way he is there’s no reason not to be optimistic.
And yet, I feel obligated. We all acknowledge that Baltimore smashed a brick across our face for three hours in week one. On one hand, we’re a way different team than we were then, which was basically our first organized practice together going up against an all-world squad. On the other hand, we have only one example of this group getting a second shot at an opponent. In week 2 against the Bangles, Joe Burrow pretty well torched our defense the entire night. In the rematch a month later Burrow looked even better.
On the third hand, we really have turned some kind of corner and are about to make an even louder statement than the fairly emphatic one left in Nashville. If Ward plays and is 100% that would mean something, but that doesn’t seem likely. This would be the biggest win for us since the return in ‘99. I don’t think it happens for us quite yet.” Ravens 32, Browns 29
rufio: “The last point of comparison we have to the ravens was from our head to hear matchup in week 1. But we are an entirely different team than we were in week 1, and so are the ravens.
During the week 1 game our defense looked extremely vanilla, which is not surprising given the limited offseason, but was a horrible way to try to defend Lamar Jackson. Since, we’ve seen many teams provide a blueprint, and Joe Woods has gone into his bag of tricks to limit other great runners like Derrick Henry.
On the other side of the ball, we’re a whole lot more effective too. Joe Thomas often talks about his first season playing in Kyle Shannahan’s offense and how things “clicked” midway through the season. We’re seeing this team settle in in a similar fashion.
It looks like it will be windy Monday night, and I trust Baker to be able to deliver the ball more consistently than Lamar given the conditions (even moreso than on a calm day). Both running games should get it going, but in the end the Browns force a few turnovers and find a way to win.” Browns 23, Ravens 18
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.