The Ravens beat the Browns, 38-6, in Week 1, but Cleveland has come a long way since and will present several problems in a Monday night rematch. Here’s who has the edge in each phase of the game:
RAVENS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Lamar Jackson missed several open throws in Tuesday night’s 34-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys, finishing 12-for-17 with two touchdowns and an interception. He posted his best passing game of the season (20-for-25, 275 yards, three touchdowns) in the Ravens’ previous matchup with the Browns. With the expected returns of tight end Mark Andrews and wide receiver Willie Snead IV, the Ravens should be equipped to reopen their aerial game after two weeks of heavy emphasis on the run. Marquise Brown caught touchdown passes in both games missed by Andrews and Snead to put his season back on track. The Ravens rank last in the league in passing offense and 24th in yards per attempt.
BROWNS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Baker Mayfield played his best game of the season (25 of 33, 334 yards, four touchdowns) in last Sunday’s 41-35 win over the Tennessee Titans. He’s reduced his mistakes, throwing no interceptions in the past five games after he threw seven in the first seven (including one against the Ravens). The Browns rank third in the league in play-action passing yards, a concern for the Ravens, who struggled to defend play action against the New England Patriots and Titans. The Browns have also done a good job protecting Mayfield, who’s taken just six sacks over the past six games. With Odell Beckham Jr. out for the season, the Browns aren’t overflowing with big-play receivers, but Jarvis Landry (54 catches on 78 targets for 676 yards) remains productive from the slot and Rashard Higgins has blossomed as a downfield target, averaging 16 yards per catch. The Browns also throw to Kareem Hunt, who has four touchdown catches out of the backfield.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: The Ravens ran for a season-high 294 yards against the Cowboys to regain their perch as the league’s top rushing team. Gus Edwards and rookie J.K. Dobbins combined for 172 yards on 18 carries, while Jackson returned from the reserve/COVID-19 list with a stellar performance that included a designed 37-yard touchdown run and several brilliant scrambles. The Browns defended the run well in the Week 1 matchup, holding the Ravens to 111 yards on 30 carries.
BROWNS RUNNING GAME: The Browns rank second in rushing and feature the most talented pair of running backs in the league. Nick Chubb missed four games with a knee injury but has returned with a vengeance, averaging 116 yards over his last four. His combination of speed and power has always given the Ravens trouble. Both he and Hunt (72 yards on 13 carries in Week 1) could surpass 1,000 yards on the season. Mayfield hasn’t been much of a running threat with just 81 yards on 36 carries.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: Nose tackle Brandon Williams and defensive end Calais Campbell returned against the Cowboys, though Campbell still looked to be bothered by the calf injury he suffered in Week 9. Defensive end Derek Wolfe has emerged as the team’s top interior run defender, with a top-five grade at his position, according to Pro Football Focus. Linebacker L.J. Fort has also excelled in more limited duty, belying his modest tackle numbers. The Ravens rank 13th in run defense and 18th in opponent yards per carry.
BROWNS RUSH DEFENSE: Cleveland has limited opponents to 4.1 yards per carry after struggling against the run in 2019. The Browns held the Titans and Derrick Henry to 62 rushing yards, in part because they built a big first-half lead. Olivier Vernon and Myles Garrett have done excellent work setting the edges, while linebacker B.J. Goodson leads the team with 81 tackles.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens struggled to get to Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton and have just six sacks over their past six games. They’re no longer blitzing more than every team in the league but have not generated consistent pressure rushing four. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue has just one sack and one quarterback hit in six games, well short of the impact the Ravens hoped for when they acquired him from the Minnesota Vikings. They’ve also missed Campbell, who was their most productive pass rusher before he hurt his calf. The Ravens remain thin in the secondary, with cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Tramon Williams battling injuries and starters Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters forced to be iron men. Despite all this, they’ve held opposing quarterbacks to 5.6 yards per attempt, third best in the league.
BROWNS PASS DEFENSE: This is Cleveland’s weakness despite the presence of an elite pass rusher in Garrett and a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback in Denzel Ward (who will miss Monday’s game with a calf injury). The Browns rank 23rd in pass defense and have allowed opposing quarterbacks to average 6.4 yards per attempt. They had little luck covering Brown, Andrews and Snead in Week 1. Safeties Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph have been particularly vulnerable.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: The Ravens suffered a rare bad day against the Cowboys. Kicker Justin Tucker missed from inside 40 yards for the first time in 70 attempts, and they allowed a 66-yard kickoff return that set up a short touchdown drive. Tucker has made 21 of 23 attempts on the season, with his other miss coming from 61 yards. Punter Sam Koch ranks sixth in the league with a net average of 43 yards and has put 20 of 45 inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Rookie Devin Duvernay has consistently produced as a kickoff returner, averaging 29.3 yards on 16 runbacks.
BROWNS SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Cody Parkey has made 17 of 19 field-goal attempts and has missed just one extra-point try. Second-year punter Jamie Gillan has struggled, ranking near the bottom of the league in net average and putting just 11 of his 37 kicks inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. The Browns have surrendered 960 return yards while accumulating just 640 of their own.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens are on the upswing coming off a steadying win over the Cowboys. Jackson seemed elated to be back after a 10-day quarantine, and more starters will come off the reserve/COVID-19 list to face the Browns. They know they probably need to win out to guarantee a playoff spot. They also probably believe they’re superior to the 9-3 Browns based on that 38-6 blowout to start the season.
BROWNS INTANGIBLES: The Browns have won four straight and won over many skeptics with their victory against the Titans. They have a legitimately good coach in Kevin Stefanski. They’ve figured out how to minimize Mayfield’s mistakes. They’re 5-1 at home. They’ll feel motivated to sink the Ravens’ playoff hopes after years of subservience to their AFC North rival. What could go wrong? Well, the Browns are just 2-3 against winning teams with blowout losses to the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.
PREDICTION: Some fans seemed startled when the Ravens opened as a slight road favorite against the 9-3 Browns. But here’s a reality check: The Ravens have outscored opponents by 85 points while the Browns have been outscored by 15. That’s not the end of the story, but it suggests the teams’ respective records are misleading. Expect a tense battle here, with the Browns trying to show they’re for real and the Ravens fighting for their season. The Ravens’ turnover-hungry pass defense will make the final difference against Mayfield. Ravens 27, Browns 23.