On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, or general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
Do or Die
- The Browns sit at 6-6, and most fans would chalk the season up as being a bit disappointing so far. Surprisingly, it has been the offensive side of the ball that has not been able to get things together. Despite that, there is a clear path for Cleveland to having a shot at being atop the AFC North in two weeks, but it hinges upon this game against the Ravens.
- Prior to the bye week, Cleveland lost on the road 16-10 in Baltimore. There would be a pretty big level of embarrassment to say that your division rival defeated you in back-to-back games. Baltimore had a formula to beat the Browns’ offense the last time: they loaded the box and dared us to beat them with the passing game. Our receivers couldn’t win the match-ups. During the bye week, I assessed a handful of things that Cleveland needs to improve on offensively for these final fives games. Hopefully it starts against Baltimore, although this comment by DE Myles Garrett this past Friday wasn’t the most encouraging thing:
Updates on the Injury Front
- Both teams are dealing with a few personnel issues. Cleveland can’t use it as an excuse, because we all know the injuries the Ravens have dealt with all year. They suffered another blow this past week when their top cornerback, Marlon Humphrey, landed on IR. The Steelers were able to come back and beat the Ravens in part because of Humphrey’s injury. But keep in mind that slot corner Tavon Young also missed that game with an illness. He will be back again to face the Browns, so Cleveland can’t just automatically assume they’ll have a much easier time passing against Baltimore. Yes, it creates an advantage, but the Browns still need to execute at a much higher level.
- Let’s recap what’s different for Cleveland this week, starting with linebacker: Anthony Walker is out, and based on earlier this season, that means we’ll see Malcolm Smith get an uptick in playing time. Cleveland’s defense had two of their better defensive performances of the season with Smith starting. Second-year linebacker Jacob Phillips will make his season debut, but you can’t imagine he’ll play a lot of snaps.
- David Njoku and Harrison Bryant are both out, presenting a challenge at tight end. The three tight end set has been a consistent staple for this offense, and now only Austin Hooper remains from that bunch. Miller Forristall becomes the man of the hour now. He’s been on the team’s practice squad most of the season, but now there’s a legitimate chance he will be playing the majority of the game as both a blocker and receiver. It’s hard to say what to expect from him.
- Jamie Gillan is on the COVID-19 list, so the team signed 17-year veteran Dustin Colquitt to punt and hold this week. It’s great that he has all that experience, but still, you never know if there will be a subtle negative impact on the timing for the field goal unit.
- Kevin Stefanski has kept it a mystery regarding who their starting right tackle will be against Baltimore. One would venture to guess that it won’t be Blake Hance, but the only two other options are James Hudson III and Michael Dunn. Dunn had a nice spot start at guard last year, but thrusting him in at right tackle would be a new challenge.
- JaMarcus Bradley was waived on Saturday, with JoJo Natson being elevated from the practice squad to take his place. I hope that means significant playing time for Rashard Higgins this week. If it does, it’s still puzzling how, against the same team two weeks ago, the staff opted to make Higgins a healthy scratch in favor of Bradley. It could also be due to the tight end situation, and a sign that we’ll see more three-receiver sets this week.
- According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 3-point favorites against the Ravens on Sunday.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “Can our defense deliver a second consecutive strong performance against Lamar Jackson? Don’t you just get the feeling that as soon as Cleveland’s offense starts to click, the opposing offense will catch fire as well? The Browns were 4-0 after their bye week last year, and I’m really hoping the coaching staff got the chance to re-evaluate what has been going wrong. What changed this offense from being one that could score a touchdown every series to one that struggles to get it in the end zone once per game? Give us something to cheer for, please.” Browns 23, Ravens 17
rufio: “We got a glimpse of what Joe Woods imagines this defense to be, and it is smart/gutsy enough to stop Lamar Jackson–or at least slow him down. I don’t think that the last game was that much of an anomaly, though I don’t expect Lamar to throw 4 INTs in this one. The reason to expect a similar result on this side of the ball is that we finally are playing in sync on defense, and that our gameplan exploited the ravens’ weaknesses: Lamar is not good at precise, accurate, boring passes over a large volume. We seem to understand that.
The offense has been rather disappointing of late, but last season we were able to really do some work over the bye and ended up going on a streak. I expect the same this year. The reason to expect a different outcome on this side of the ball is that our offensive gameplan was really poor to start the game last time around, and we had damn well better know what to expect this time. Offensively we let the ravens exploit our weak spots (WR speed, RT in pass protection) instead of going after theirs. Once we figured things out, we threw the ball at Demetric Felton’s chest and David Njoku’s facemask and neither guy could secure the passes. After the experience of playing them once, and after two full weeks to prepare, anyone should be able to come up with a gameplan to hang 30 points on Baltimore, especially with no Marlon Humphrey. They are going to play press man. Just run pick routes, screens, and draws. Mix in runs and play action. Send help to Blake Hance on dropback passes.” Browns 28, Ravens 17
Barry Shuck: “I am not sure which is more significant: betting against Lamar or betting for the Browns to win. Cleveland’s offense is a roller coaster and cannot be trusted. As Thomas Moore pointed out this week, the right tackle position is a tragedy. Blake Hance is a decent guard, but a poor tackle. He cannot handle a defensive end who has a great first step. This means a tight end must be positioned with him or leave the running back in to chip. This basically means playing 10 on 11.
The wide receiver group is in shambles. Where is Rashard Higgins and Anthony Schwartz? The defense seems to be on the field forever which means come fourth quarter they are pretty spent. How do the Browns perform against good teams? Horrible. With the exception of the win over Cincinnati, they lose against anyone who has a winning record. Mr. Dependable Chase McLaughlin now has missed a field goal in consecutive games. Please find that roster that suited up against the Bengals because that squad played a complete game.” Ravens 27, Browns 10
Ezweav: “I agree with Barry: everything is doomed and happiness is dead. Whatever your opinion is of Odell Beckham his presence represented the possibility of a deep threat option, even if that never materialized. Without him, there really is no reason for teams to do anything other than stack the hell out of the box and constrict the coverage on every play. Also the fact that we have five tight ends on the field 80% of time (and yet still manage not to run the ball) isn’t helping that situation either.
The defense has actually been pretty good - good enough for us to have achieved everything we came into this season with high hopes for. Unfortunately, none of that has been realized due to the lackluster performance of the offense.
Perhaps that changes this week and if it does, I like our chances since the D just put up our best effort against Lamar, ever. Alas, we’ll hold, false-start and drop-pass our way into squandering every offensive possession (again) because we can never have nice things.” Ravens 3, Browns 2
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.