RAVENS PASSING GAME: The Ravens are averaging 31.3 points over the past six games, the second most in the league during that span, and that is partially because of improvements in the passing game. Joe Flacco has thrown for two touchdowns in consecutive games for the first time all season. He has more touchdown passes than interceptions for the first time since Week 2. With Jeremy Maclin struggling, the Ravens need a secondary target to emerge. Flacco has been sacked twice over the past three games.
BROWNS PASSING GAME: Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer has shown flashes of promise, but they’re often marred by crippling mistakes. He had career bests in touchdown passes (three) and quarterback rating (99.4) last week against the Green Bay Packers, but an overtime interception cost Cleveland. He has a league-high 17 interceptions. The Browns have gotten little from their receivers, but Josh Gordon has added a new dimension. Tight ends Seth DeValve and David Njoku are very active in the passing game.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: First-year starter Alex Collins is showing no signs of buckling under a bigger workload. He had career highs of 120 rushing yards and 46 receiving yards last week, and he got 95 of those rushing yards after initial contact, according to Pro Football Focus. Collins has touchdowns in four straight games and he’s 175 rushing yards away from 1,000 this season. His backup, Buck Allen, leads the team with six total touchdowns. The Ravens already have more rushing yards than they did in 2016.
BROWNS RUNNING GAME: Cleveland doesn’t run the ball a whole lot — only eight teams have fewer rushing attempts — but it has been moderately successful on the ground when it has. Since Week 8, the Browns are averaging 4.97 yards per carry, third best in the league during that span. Overall, they rank tied for seventh with an average of 4.42 yards. Isaiah Crowell is their lead back, and he’s coming off a 121-yard game on the ground. Kizer has five rushing touchdowns. The offensive line is very strong in the interior.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens have given up five rushing touchdowns over the past three weeks and 11 for the season, one more than they permitted in all of 2016. Otherwise, they continue to distance themselves from their rocky start in stopping the run. Ranked 32nd in the league against the run after Week 7, they now are 13th in rushing yards allowed per game (108.5) and tied for seventh in yards allowed per carry (3.9). They gave up 93 rushing yards to the Browns in Week 2.
BROWNS RUSH DEFENSE: This group, which ranked 31st in the NFL last season, is much improved. The Browns are allowing only 96 rushing yards per game, which ranks sixth in the NFL, and 3.3 yards per carry, which is tied for the fewest in the league. Linebackers Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey rank second and sixth in the NFL in tackles, respectively, and they’ve played every defensive snap. Danny Shelton is a load inside. The Ravens’ 136 rushing yards in Week 2 are the third most the Browns have allowed this season.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: In its first game of the season without top cornerback Jimmy Smith, the secondary was taken apart by Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers for 506 passing yards. Don’t be surprised if rookie Marlon Humphrey shadows Gordon after Brandon Carr struggled mightily last week. The front four needs to get more pressure and the linebackers and safeties have to do a far better job covering tight ends. The Ravens had four interceptions against the Browns in the first meeting.
BROWNS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens didn’t have to deal with top overall draft pick Myles Garrett in Week 2, but he’ll be out there Sunday posing a significant challenge for Ronnie Stanley. Garrett has five sacks in eight games this season. Gregg Williams’ defense has caused some problems for teams, but the Browns haven’t been able to consistently force turnovers and get to the quarterback. They’ve also been very poor in the red zone, allowing touchdowns on 68.4 percent of opponents’ trips.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Justin Tucker hasn’t missed a field goal since Week 8 and his array of kickoffs, designed to force returns, have given opponents some trouble in recent weeks. The Ravens are allowing the fewest yards per kick return in the league. Sam Koch continues to limit punt returners, dropping a league-best 33 punts inside the 20-yard line. The Ravens are first in the league in kick-return average and second in punt-return average.
BROWNS SPECIAL TEAMS: Rookie kicker Zane Gonzalez has been shaky at times this season, converting on 12 of 17 field-goal attempts. Four of those five misses are inside 50 yards. Britton Colquitt averages 48.5 yards per punt, which ranks fifth in the NFL. Rookie running back Matthew Dayes has two kickoff returns of 50 yards or more this season and is dangerous in space. The Browns have been solid in kickoff coverage, but defending punt returns has been a struggle at times.
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RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens insist they’re over the deflating loss to the Steelers, but this game will test that pledge. The pressure is all on John Harbaugh’s team, which needs to stay in playoff position and avoid an embarrassing loss to a winless team. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are 17-2 against the Browns and 8-1 in Cleveland. However, the past four games at FirstEnergy Stadium between the teams have been decided by six points or fewer.
BROWNS INTANGIBLES: You’d be hard-pressed to watch the 0-13 Browns and conclude that they’ve quit. If nothing else, second-year head coach Hue Jackson has them playing hard and fast. They’ve just been too mistake-prone for it to matter. They are minus-21 in turnover ratio. The next-worse team heading into this week’s games was the Denver Broncos at minus-14. Cleveland led the Packers by 14 points in the fourth quarter last week and found a way to lose. It will be interesting to see whether that collapse affects their psyche.
PREDICTION: Previous matchups alone should tell you that this isn’t going to be a walk in the park for the Ravens. Throw in that the Browns have been mostly competitive, the return of Gordon has energized the offense and Jackson’s team wants nothing more than to derail a division rival’s playoff hopes and you should fully expect there to be some anxious moments for the Ravens. However, the Ravens are playing much better offensively and their defense has preyed on spotty quarterback play. If the Ravens can’t win Sunday, they don’t belong in the playoff discussion.