The Ravens return home to face the Browns as both teams begin divisional play. The Ravens are 2-1 following a tough loss to the Kansas City Chiefs while the Browns come in 1-2 after falling to the Rams on Sunday Night Football. The Ravens and Browns split their two meetings in 2018. The Browns won the first meeting 12-9 in overtime and the Ravens rebounded to defeat the Browns in Week 17 by a score of 26-24.
In their most recent matchup, the Browns had the opportunity to take the lead on their final drive, but a Baker Mayfield pass was intercepted by C.J. Mosley to seal the win for the Ravens. The Ravens were dominant on the ground, posting nearly 300 rushing yards while the Browns were able to move the ball through the air, cashing in for 300 yards and three touchdowns.
The 2018 games will likely not provide the greatest measuring stick for the 2019 games as both teams have undergone some significant re-tooling. The Browns have a new head coach (Freddie Kitchens), offensive coordinator (Todd Monken), and defensive coordinator (Steve Wilks), and they added new pieces on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball with the likes of Odell Beckham, Jr. and Olivier Vernon. For the Ravens, they have a new offensive coordinator in Greg Roman and they underwent a massive overhaul by bringing in Mark Ingram and Earl Thomas to add star power to the roster.
Approaching the first of two matchups between the Ravens and Browns, the teams seem to be trending in opposite directions. Through three weeks, the Ravens look like one of the best offenses in the NFL. They have the most points scored in the NFL to go along with the most yards. While the Ravens have yet to play one of the NFL’s best defenses, they have shown that the offense can be multi-dimensional as opposed to the run-heavy system we saw in 2018. Lamar Jackson has made significant strides as a passer, and he is still dangerous with the ball in his hands. Mark Ingram and Jackson are gashing defenses for more than six yards per carry. While that number will likely dip throughout the season, it is a staggering tally through 70 combined carries.
For pass-catchers, Mark Andrews has been a star for the Ravens. Despite being hampered by a foot injury in Week 3, Andrews still paces the team with 19 catches. A fully healthy Andrews will likely garner 10 targets on Sunday. Marquise Brown has also been a tremendous asset for the Ravens’ offense as his robust 20.1 yards per catch is among the best in the NFL. Brown is the most frequently targeted player on the Ravens, and there is a decent chance he is targeted 10 times against the Browns, especially if the Browns still have issues with injuries in their secondary. Defensively, the Ravens have been less than stellar this season. The secondary was picked apart by both Kyler Murray and Patrick Mahomes, and the makeshift pass rush has been unable to create consistent pressure on the quarterback. The Ravens have failed to force a turnover in two consecutive weeks, but they still have playmakers in the back end of the defense.
For the Browns, they will rely on Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and the duo of Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry to move the ball on offense. The Browns’ offense has been underwhelming to this point in the season, only racking up 49 points across three games. Mayfield has looked shoddy, throwing five interceptions. On the ground, Chubb is on pace for a 1,000-yard season, but he has not lit the world on fire quite yet. Landry has only 11 touches on the season while Beckham picked up 31% of his yards on one 89-yard touchdown catch against the Jets.
The root of Cleveland’s offensive woes is the offensive line. Mayfield has been sacked 11 times in three weeks, nearly 10% of dropbacks. Couple Mayfield’s interception problem with a porous offensive line and you get the ingredients for a bottom 10 offense to this point.
Defensively, the Browns have played fairly well. They are in the top half of the league in scoring defense and yardage defense despite allowing 43 points to the Titans in Week 1. Myles Garrett has been unstoppable, forcing six sacks in three games.
It is amazing how three games can change the perspective of quarterbacks in the NFL. If I were writing this before Week 1, I would give the massive advantage to Baker Mayfield as he was coming off an explosive 2018 campaign in which he set a rookie record for touchdowns while Lamar Jackson had blatant flaws as a passer. Three weeks into 2019, Mayfield has fallen in love with interceptions while Jackson looks like a more poised passer who has dramatically improved his accuracy to all three levels of the field. Similar to the teams as a whole, Mayfield is trending down, and Jackson is trending up. For now, the advantage lies with Lamar Jackson.
Big Play Wide Receivers:
Marquise Brown and Odell Beckham, Jr. fit the role of “big-play receiver” as both have taken the top off of opposing defenses this season. Brown took a touchdown 83 yards in Week 1, and Beckham took one 89 yards in Week 2. Beckham is the better receiver, and he is one of the best five receivers in the whole league, but both players offer tremendous speed and game-wrecking capabilities. Beckham will likely draw a significant amount of attention from the Baltimore defense, diluting his potential for a huge day. However, Beckham had a career-day when he played the Ravens in 2016. Without Jimmy Smith to cover him, the Ravens let Beckham go for touchdowns of 75 yards and 66 yards in the second half. The situation is different for Brown as the Browns secondary has been ravaged by injuries. Brown will likely draw easier matchups than Beckham due to the drop-off in talent between Baltimore and Cleveland’s secondaries, but the Browns will still hope to contain Brown to only a handful of catches.
Without David Njoku, the Browns get massacred in this matchup. The Ravens arguably have the league’s best tight end trio with Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, and Hayden Hurst. Andrews and Hurst are effective weapons as receiving threats, and the pair of Boyle and Hurst are among the best blocking tight ends in the league. Demetrius Harris is not a bad tight end by any means, but he is simply not as good as any of the Ravens’ tight ends. Harris will likely not receive more than a handful of targets. On the other hand, the Ravens’ tight ends will probably account for 20 or more targets between the three of them. As of now, Andrews, Boyle, and Hurst are second, third, and tied for fourth respectively in terms of targets, so they will play a critical role in the Baltimore offense.
In the Trenches:
The Ravens have the superior offensive line with the likes of Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, and Orlando Brown. The Browns’ line has been atrocious, forcing Baker Mayfield to escape the pocket repeatedly, leading to poor throws and an incompetent offense. The Ravens’ line has been dominant in creating holes and running lanes for the rushing attack. On the defensive side, the Browns have the sole game-wrecker in Myles Garrett. The Browns have a quality defensive line group with Garrett being joined by Olivier Vernon and Larry Ogunjobi. For the Ravens, they have a strong pair of defensive tackles in Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams. In terms of pass rushers, Matt Judon and Pernell McPhee have combined for five sacks through three weeks. Judon and McPhee should have productive weeks against the questionable Cleveland offensive line.
As with any divisional game, this will likely be close. Despite the struggles of Baker Mayfield and the Browns’ offense, they should not be underestimated. While I think the Ravens will prevail, it should come down to the final seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime before a team comes out with a victory. The Ravens should control the time of possession which could prohibit a high scoring game, but the Ravens likely escape with their third win of the season.
Score: Ravens 23, Browns 17 F/OT
Spread pick: Ravens (-5.5)
Over/Under: Under 45.5 points