Here’s who has the edge on offense, defense and special teams in Sunday’s Week 4 game between the Ravens and Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium:
RAVENS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Lamar Jackson missed too many throws in a Week 3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, completing just 22 of 43 passes overall and failing to get his wide receivers involved until a desperate rally in the fourth quarter. In three games, Jackson has completed 63% of his passes with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Tight end Mark Andrews has been his most efficient receiver, but he was slowed by a foot injury against the Chiefs and caught just three passes on seven targets for 15 yards. Rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown also struggled against swarming downfield coverage, catching two passes on nine targets. It was a better day for veterans as tight end Nick Boyle posted his best receiving game of the season (four catches, 58 yards) and wide receivers Willie Snead IV and Seth Roberts both made important contested catches in the second half.
BROWNS PASSING GAME: Some analysts viewed second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield as a Most Valuable Player candidate, but he’s taken a step back from his rookie production, completing just 56.9% of his passes and throwing five interceptions in three games. The Browns rank 18th in passing despite the addition of wondrous wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham remains a threat to score on any play, as he reminded us with an 89-yard touchdown in Week 2 against the New York Jets, and has 288 receiving yards in three games. Cleveland’s other top receiver, Jarvis Landry, has been less efficient, with 10 catches on 23 targets. But Landry gave the Ravens trouble last year with 171 receiving yards in two meetings. The Browns lost their top tight end, David Njoku, to a broken wrist. But Mayfield has used running back Nick Chubb (11 catches) as a frequent dump-off target.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: The Ravens added to their league-leading rushing total with 203 yards against the Chiefs. Their top running back, Mark Ingram II, exceeded 100 yards for the second time in three games and is averaging 6 yards per carry. He’s also shown off his gifts as a red-zone runner (and fantasy football star) with five touchdowns in three games. Gus Edwards had his best game of the season in Kansas City, carrying seven times for 53 yards and looking like the power runner who broke out in the second half of last season. Jackson remains an unmatched threat as a running quarterback, with 172 yards on 27 carries through three games. Right guard Marshal Yanda still grades as the team’s best run blocker, according to the scouting website Pro Football Focus. Left guard Bradley Bozeman has also earned solid grades in his first season as a starter.
BROWNS RUNNING GAME: The Browns rank 25th in the league in rushing but have averaged a decent 4.1 yards per carry. Chubb, their second-year running back, has carried almost the entire load, with 58 of the team’s 65 carries. Despite the modest production, center J.C. Tretter and left guard Joel Bitonio have graded as excellent run blockers, according to Pro Football Focus.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens still rank third in the league against the run but gave up 140 yards in a disappointing performance against the Chiefs. Middle linebacker Patrick Onwuasor leads the team with 18 tackles, but none of the Ravens’ three inside linebackers (a group that includes Kenny Young and Chris Board) have graded well or lived up to coaches’ expectations. Defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams have been better, delivering their usual solid work against the run. Veteran outside linebacker Pernell McPhee has been the team’s best edge-setter.
BROWNS RUSH DEFENSE: The Browns have been above-average here, holding opponents to 4 yards per carry. Linebacker Joe Schobert leads them with 27 tackles and grades as an excellent run defender, according to Pro Football Focus. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson has bolstered Cleveland’s run defense with 13 tackles through three games, impressive production for an interior lineman. Safety Morgan Burnett has also played well against the run, though he missed the team’s 20-13 loss to the Los Angeles Rams because of a quadriceps injury.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The secondary struggled for a second straight week, giving up 363 passing yards to the Chiefs and reigning league MVP Patrick Mahomes. That included an 83-yard touchdown on a blown coverage. Safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Anthony Averett (filling in for the injured Jimmy Smith) have received ugly coverage grades from Pro Football Focus, and even the team’s most gifted pass defender, Marlon Humphrey, has played below the standard he set last season. The Ravens’ linebackers have also struggled to defend screens and swing passes. McPhee and fellow outside linebacker Matthew Judon have been productive, with five combined sacks. But coach John Harbaugh recently expressed disappointment in the team’s young pass rushers, Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser.
BROWNS PASS DEFENSE: The Browns have been above-average against the pass as well, holding opponents to 6.2 yards per attempt, 12th-best in the league. They played without their two most talented cornerbacks, Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, in their Sunday night loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Both could return from hamstring injuries to face the Ravens, though neither practiced Wednesday. Ward was a menace in the one game he played against the Ravens last season but was off to a slow start before he hurt his hamstring. Defensive end Myles Garrett ranks as one of the NFL’s most devastating pass rushers with six sacks through three games. Olivier Vernon has been a solid partner on the other end, though he’s yet to post a sack for the Browns.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Justin Tucker has made all five of his field-goal attempts this season. Sam Koch has punted just seven times but has dropped five of those inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. The Ravens have allowed opponents to average just 3 yards per punt return and 16.9 yards per kick return under new special teams coach Chris Horton.
BROWNS SPECIAL TEAMS: Austin Seibert has made all five of his field-goal attempts but did miss an extra-point try. Jamie Gillan ranks 10th in the league in net punting average and has put 64.7% of his punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. The Browns have excelled on punts in general, holding opponents to 1.7 yards per return while averaging 13.2 yards on their own returns. They’ve also maintained a positive differential on kickoffs.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens have dominated the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium, losing just four home games in the history of the series. They could establish early command over the AFC North with a victory and seem eager to play against a Browns team that bathed in offseason hype.
BROWNS INTANGIBLES: After all the offseason accolades the Browns received, they’ve gotten off to a disappointing 1-2 start under Freddie Kitchens. The first-year head coach faced questions about his play-calling after Sunday’s loss to the Rams. Mayfield has also received plenty of negative attention for his early struggles. Urgency should not be a problem for the Browns, who will treat their trip to Baltimore as something close to a must-win.
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PREDICTION: The Browns have too much talent to be taken for granted. But the Ravens are hosting them at the right time as they try to sort out offensive difficulties under Kitchens. Look for Lamar Jackson and Co. to build an early lead and then hold on through some tense moments in the second half. Ravens 27, Browns 21.