This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, and general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
A Historic Defensive Rise
- I think there was a good level of intrigue about the Browns’ defense heading into the season, but there were still question marks — like how would the defensive tackle position besides Dalvin Tomlinson perform, would Cleveland’s linebackers be good enough, and would the Browns’ cornerbacks ever be able to play aggressive man coverage like they were drafted to?
- The results through three games have been historic and unprecedented, at least in my time as a Browns fan. It is at the point where I am way more excited when the opposing team is on the field, because I’m dying to see how the defense will shred them on that particular drive. We’re talking about a defense that won’t even allow first downs; or when they finally saw a team reach the red zone last week (one from an offensive turnover, and one due to an end-of-half drive), the defense responded by forcing three negative plays on the first instance, and with a half-ending sack in the second instance.
- The unit has been healthy. Greg Newsome comes back this week. Even when a couple of players have been dinged up (i.e. Za’Darius Smith) have been dinged up on a drive, they end up coming back in a short while later. Compare that to Baltimore and other teams, and Cleveland’s defense is poised to have another strong week against a Ravens’ offense that could be missing OL Ronnie Stanley and a couple of their wide receivers to injury.
- Cleveland’s pursuit and finishing of tackles has been great. That is often a challenge against Lamar Jackson, so it’ll be fun to see how that plays out this Sunday. I feel confident heading in, and why I shouldn’t I be?
The Browns defense had a dance party with their celebrations after all of the plays they made in Week 3 pic.twitter.com/uElfj4GJpD— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 25, 2023
And Then, There’s the Offense
- For as good as of a statistical effort that Deshaun Watson had last week, I still can’t help but feel pessimistic about the offense heading into a game. I guess you can call it the “wait-and-see” approach. It’s certainly not even close to the level of confidence that I have in the defense.
- Watson has been limited in practice all week with a shoulder injury. He is listed as questionable, but if there was a threat of him not playing, I think he would’ve been resting it during practice, and I think the Browns would have been maximizing DTR’s reps. Cleveland has a Bye in Week 5, so they’ll get to rest his shoulder then. I know full well how a shoulder can nag; I free-fell on my shoulder in basketball months ago, and every day, I can still function with it, but you “feel” the grind of trying to put a shirt on or take a shirt off in that arm. Translate that to the constant intensity of football, and I’m sure it’s not pleasant, but you can manage through it depending on the severity.
- The Ravens’ defense has some holes, but I wouldn’t call it to the degree where the Browns can easily expose it. You get the feeling that this could have the makings of a low-scoring game, which re-introduces the storyline that played out against the Steelers: the offense gave the game away. And this time, you have to factor Justin Tucker into the mix. With John Harbaugh knowing how good Cleveland’s defense is, if he has a shot with 55+ yarders with Tucker, I’d expect him to take them.
- Kareem Hunt had a definite impact on the Browns last week. Besides his play contributing positively, I think the attitude and presence he brings helped bridge some of the stress of losing Nick Chubb. Sort of like, “ok, we may not have Chubb, but that doesn’t mean we stop pushing.”
- Harrison Bryant taking two quarterback sneaks last week? I’m skeptical because of his ball security issues in the past. However, maybe with how tall he is, maybe his strength when he tucks the ball firmly into his body on those types of plays is too hard to pluck out. Just please don’t ask him to stretch the ball out!
- Denzel Ward is on fire when it comes to reading screen passes, delivering big hits, and using that hand to trail receivers and knock passes away. It is the type of style of play that we’ve seen from him early in his career, but then there would be season-long stretches in which we’d see a guy play completely unlike what Ward was capable of. It was always so weird to me. Hopefully, this version of Ward is here to stay.
- According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 1 point favorites against the Ravens.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “The over/under is 39 points this week. Imagine the type of scores that would fit the under — a 23-17 game would be the over. Can we imagine this game being 20-17 or less? I swear these oddmakers always make it tough on the over/under. Why am I discussing that? Because I expect Cleveland to win as a tribute to their defense again, but I can’t decide on the score. If Watson plays, I’ll take the Browns 23-13 and the under. If DTR plays, I might have to switch to the Ravens.” Browns 23, Ravens 13
Thomas Moore: “A week after crashing out in Pittsburgh, the Browns rollercoaster climbed back to the peak with a fun win against Tennessee. This week’s game is a step up in class, however, given that Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson has given the Browns fits over the years. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz laid out the plan this week, which is to treat Jackson like a running back and hit him at every possible opportunity until he decides that he has had enough. Cleveland’s defense should be up to the task, as Myles Garrett will be coming for Jackson and bringing hell with him.
Offensively, the Browns just need to avoid turning the ball over. If they can do that, they should be able to put together enough offense to send everyone into the bye week giddy with dreams of the first-place Browns making a run at the playoffs.” Browns 17, Ravens 10
Barry Shuck: “Difficult to assess how this game will play out. The strength of the Ravens is their QB, Lamar Jackson, and his ability to scramble and gobble up yardage. The Browns have a great counter: their defense. Right now, Cleveland is the Number 2 run defense with just 156 yards allowed and a single rushing touchdown. That is excellent when playing against Jackson. The Browns are Number 1 against the pass, so no matter how good Jackson plays, this Cleveland defense should be able to snuff him out which means other players must step up. They lost their starting RB already to injury and have an excellent receiving TE and capable receivers. Whoever has the ball last will win this game.” Browns 27, Ravens 24
Jared Mueller: “It is really hard to look at this game objectively, on both sides. After Week 3, the Browns should handle the Ravens at home. That said, after Week 1, Cleveland should have handled the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football but didn’t.
Both the Browns and Ravens are probably better than their counterpart fans believe at this point. Baltimore’s injuries and being on the road would be the difference if I didn’t think that Cleveland’s defensive line (and defense as a whole) weren’t the biggest non-QB game-changers in the NFL.” Browns 24, Ravens 20
Ezweav: “Just do not feel great about this one. I should intellectually, but I just got that feeling. Same type of feeling I had against Pittsburgh but I quashed it because the match ups were so good. Can’t ignore it this week.
Different reasons for sure, and it begins and ends with Lamar Jackson. I realize he hasn’t had the best year, and is not coming off a great game. But that guy is incredible, and the uniqueness of his ability can create some issues for us within the scope of Todd Monken’s offense versus Jim Schwartz’ defense.
By which I mean our rush will get there, but we have to maintain that gap integrity (as always) because of the scramble threat. That we play a good amount of man means that if we’re not disciplined, and let him through the first level while all the DB’s have their backs turned, it’s an issue. I’d love to think JOK or Delpit or even Myles could work in some spy action rotation, but this guy is one of the best open field runners in history so this isn’t going to be easy.
Offensively, we’re going to have the opportunity to hit some shots and I think we’ll get at least a few. But it’s also possible that Watson isn’t fully at the speed yet to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Ravens’ blitz heavy approach.
I hate it, but I feel like it’s going to be just frustrating enough.” Ravens 20, Browns 19
Curtiss Brown: “Divisional games are always the toughest games to predict. When you play a team twice, you pretty much know who they are and what they are gonna do. AFC North battles have not quite reached peak cinema yet but it’s getting there. For Baltimore, if it wasn’t for missed calls and sloppy play against Indianapolis, this team would be undefeated. For Cleveland, if it wasn’t for a complete disasterclass on offense on Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, this team would also be undefeated.Even banged up, Baltimore is my pick to win the division when healthy. Quarterback Lamar Jackson has improved, but the passing offense (like Cleveland’s) is a work in progress. Defensively, the secondary and pass rush are banged up but this is a well coached unit led by Mike MacDonald (a Jim Harbaugh disciple from Michigan). With Watson’s shoulder being sore, it is a question of how much the Browns will decide to let it rip. We saw Watson play well last week but he has to keep it up in order to prevent a specific group of Browns fans from talking nonsense (they know who they are.)
Defensively, I expect the defense to be ready for the challenge that presents them. If they continue to do what they are doing then they will be fine. It’s a talented unit with the right person in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz leading them.
If Cleveland loses, it won’t be the end of the world but it will be a blown opportunity to show people that this team is for real. Two top teams in their division. Two teams with Super Bowl ceilings. Someone’s gotta lose. Baltimore gets round 1.” Ravens 26, Browns 21
Matt Wood: “This is going to be a fun one. The Browns have historically done well against Lamar. This is the match-up that JOK shines. How will this play out with the new look Browns defense? I think the Browns will do even better. They can spy Lamar with JOK and let the DL collapse the pocket and if Lamar can somehow escape, they let #6 swoop in and clean up.
On the flip side the Ravens defense is banged up. Their LB’s are a mash unit and the secondary was a question mark entering the season. This defense has not faced a good offense yet (Stroud first ever start, a banged up Joe B and Minshew-mania last week). They were beaten on the ground last week and I think that continues this week as well as Ford continues to fill in as well as he can for Chubb.
And the last note may be the biggest... the Browns are at home. No one walks into Cleveland and scores TD’s.
Browns emerge as the top team in the AFC North as the defense once again dominates...” Browns 27, Ravens 6 (one FG is a 87 yard FG from Justin Tucker to end the first half because that knob always hits one monster kick against the Browns)
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.