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Mike Preston

Mike Preston: For Ravens team lacking identity, game vs. Browns will be a true test of character | COMMENTARY

The Ravens are still searching for their identity on both offense and defense, but a defining moment of the 2022 season will come Sunday when they face the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium.

It’s a character game.

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A week ago, the Ravens (3-3) dominated the New York Giants for nearly four quarters, but they were penalized 10 times for 74 yards and committed two turnovers in the last six minutes in a 24-20 loss.

The defeat was embarrassing and humiliating, especially since the Ravens were beaten by much-maligned quarterback Daniel Jones.

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“Our attitude … we’re pissed off about losing — everyone is,” Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “Our fans are pissed off and all of us are pissed off, but at the same time, we can’t dwell on it. We’ve got to move on here and get focused on the Browns. And the young guys, they’re dialed in, as well. Everybody is focusing up. We’re just ready to go out there and put on a show, because we’re so mad — real talk.”

Every season has moments like this, when a team either shows grit and perseverance after a tough loss or the players shrink and curl into the fetal position. The Ravens need to show some resolve.

They are playing at home, where two weeks ago they ended a five-game losing streak at M&T Bank Stadium. They are playing an AFC North opponent, a team built in their own likeness with the league’s No. 1 rushing attack. The Browns (2-4) also trail the Ravens by a game in the division race.

“I think the only frustrations I sense is that we know how good we can be, and we know that a lot of these issues are self-inflicted,” Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley said. “When you are your own biggest enemy, I think that’s really something that can frustrate anyone. We know how much talent we have on this team, and we’re going to pull it together. That’s kind of the frustration everyone has.”

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson walks off the field after a 24-20 loss against the Giants last Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J. “Our attitude … we’re pissed off about losing — everyone is,” Jackson said.

This is a good time for such a test. After facing the Browns, the Ravens have a short week of preparation with basically one day of practice before travelling to Tampa Bay on Thursday night.

But after meeting the Buccaneers (3-3), the Ravens play at the New Orleans Saints (2-5) on “Monday Night Football,” have a bye week and then face a run of losing teams including the Carolina Panthers (1-5), Jacksonville Jaguars (2-4), Denver Broncos (2-4) and Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4). A win against Cleveland would give the Ravens some confidence before taking on future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, and then maybe they can halt their current pattern of win-loss, win-loss, win-loss ... which puts them near .500 at the end of the season.

That may or may not be good enough to get into the postseason, but the Ravens don’t want to sweat it. It all starts with a game against the Browns at a time when the Ravens are in search of their own identity.

In the previous three seasons under offensive coordinator Greg Roman, the Ravens were known as a running team, but they haven’t been as dominant on the ground this year. All teams strive for balance, but the good ones have a go-to strength in a time of need.

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Are the Ravens a running team (157 carries) or a passing one (181 attempts)? They signed speedy veteran receiver DeSean Jackson this week, which is amusing because the Ravens have a history of bringing in receivers past their prime. If Lamar Jackson had been more accurate in the last three games, Devin Duvernay would have three more touchdown catches and fellow wideout Tylan Wallace and tight end Mark Andrews would each have one, and there would be no need for the former Philadelphia Eagles star.

On defense, the Ravens are having a similar identity crisis. Under former defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, the Ravens were pressure oriented, which left their cornerbacks exposed in one-on-one matchups. In crunch time, Martindale would blitz from anywhere on the field.

It’s different with first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. He is mixing and matching but doesn’t seem to have a major strength, especially with so many injuries in the secondary. It’s hard to tell if the Ravens are playing more zone or more man-to-man coverage. They seem confused at times, which is why they have allowed three fourth-quarter comebacks this season, including four touchdowns in a Week 2 meltdown against the Miami Dolphins.

Browns running back Nick Chubb carries the ball while being chased by Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen during a game Dec. 12, 2021, in Cleveland. Chubb leads the league in rushing with 649 yards and has seven touchdowns on 110 carries.

The Ravens are prepared to move on and face Cleveland running back Nick Chubb, who leads the league in rushing with 649 yards and has seven touchdowns on 110 carries.

“The thing about Nick Chubb is his downhill [style] is just a combination of explosiveness and power,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You’re not going to throw an arm in there, you’re not going to throw a shoulder in there, an elbow or something like that, and knock him down. You have to bring everything you’ve got. You have to wrap him up, and then everyone else has to come too, because he’s going to be running and bringing it 100 miles an hour with a lot of power.”

The Browns also have a strong offensive line and are extremely athletic on the defensive front with ends Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. But Cleveland has lost three straight since starting 2-1, and quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been inconsistent. That’s usually a big deal, except the Ravens lost to Jones last week.

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But that’s all irrelevant to the Ravens now. They want to win. They need to win.

Their character is at stake.


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