In a rematch between struggling AFC North rivals, the Ravens will try to repeat their successes at stopping the run and protecting Lamar Jackson against the Cleveland Browns. Here’s who has the edge in each phase of the game:
Ravens passing game vs. Browns pass defense
Lamar Jackson played poorly in the Ravens’ 16-10 win over the Browns two weeks ago, throwing four interceptions despite the fact his offensive line gave him ample time. He was off his game again for most of the team’s 20-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 13, throwing another interception and taking seven sacks. With five games to go, Jackson has blown past his career highs in interceptions (13) and sacks (37). His sloppy play has made it impossible for the Ravens to build rhythm on offense. They have averaged 15.3 points over their past four games after averaging 26.4 over their first eight. Tight end Mark Andrews (64 catches on 98 targets, 811 yards) and wide receiver Marquise Brown (65 catches on 99 targets, 825 yards) remain the team’s top pass catchers. Jackson raised eyebrows by targeting first-round pick Rashod Bateman just once against the Steelers, but he did make good use of his backfield, finding Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray seven times on 10 targets for 79 yards.
Tackles Alejandro Villanueva and Tyre Phillips struggled mightily to protect Jackson in Pittsburgh, and they will face another of the league’s most menacing edge rushers in Myles Garrett (14 sacks, 28 quarterback hits). Jadeveon Clowney (3½ sacks, 13 quarterback hits) is a complementary problem on the other side. Cornerback Denzel Ward has played at a Pro Bowl level as the brightest light in the Cleveland secondary. That said, the Browns rank 21st in Football Outsiders’ DVOA against the pass, and quarterbacks such as Mac Jones, Justin Herbert and Kyler Murray have played outstanding games against them. If Jackson isn’t mauled in the pocket, he will have chances to turn his season around.
Browns passing game vs. Ravens pass defense
The Ravens gave quarterback Baker Mayfield fits in Week 12, holding him to 18 completions on 37 attempts for 247 yards as the Browns scored just one touchdown. Mayfield has struggled with a variety of injuries this season, most notably the torn labrum and fracture in his nonthrowing shoulder. He’s 26th in ESPN’s QBR statistic for all-around efficiency, and he has faced loud criticism in Cleveland, where some fans believe the team would be better off with Case Keenum at quarterback. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry caught six passes for 111 yards against the Ravens, his best game in a down season. Donovan Peoples-Jones (18.9 yards per catch) is Cleveland’s top deep threat, but Mayfield has not maintained consistent connections with any of his pass catchers this season. He could be without tight end David Njoku, who has played well against the Ravens but went on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday. Tight end Harrison Bryant, who caught three passes for 50 yards in Week 12, is expected to miss the game because of an ankle injury.
The Ravens, meanwhile, will be without their best cornerback in Marlon Humphrey, who tore a pectoral muscle against the Steelers. They will call on Anthony Averett and some combination of Chris Westry, Jimmy Smith and Kevon Seymour to limit the damage. Outside linebackers Tyus Bowser, Justin Houston and Odafe Oweh played a terrific collective game against the Browns in Week 12. Bowser was particularly impressive with a sack, three quarterback hits and excellent coverage. The Ravens played without defensive end Calais Campbell in that game, but he returned to post a sack against the Steelers.
Ravens running game vs. Browns run defense
The Ravens ran 43 times and controlled the clock against the Browns in Week 12, but they averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, continuing a season-long trend of low efficiency from their running backs. Freeman was the team’s dominant ball carrier against the Steelers, playing 51 snaps compared with 14 for Murray and rushing for 52 yards on 14 attempts. Jackson struggled to find space as a runner against the Browns but rebounded with 55 yards on eight carries in Pittsburgh. He’s easily the team’s top running threat, with 762 yards and a 5.8 per-carry average in 11 games.
The Ravens rank third in the league in rushing, indicating their continued commitment to the ground game despite their relative lack of explosiveness. The Browns have allowed opponents to average just 4 yards per carry, sixth best in the league. Safety Ronnie Harrison and rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, both excellent run defenders, were their top tacklers against the Ravens in Week 12.
Browns running game vs. Ravens run defense
The Browns are tied with the Ravens for third in the league in rushing, but coach Kevin Stefanski has faced criticism for not riding star running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt more regularly. The pair combined for just 36 yards on 15 carries in Week 12, despite the absence of Campbell, the Ravens’ top interior run defender. Chubb cleared 100 yards in four of his previous five games before the loss to the Ravens, and he remains one of the greatest outside running threats in football.
The Ravens set the edge effectively in the previous matchup, and they will have to do it again to keep him from going off. Nose tackle Brandon Williams has lifted his game since returning from a shoulder injury in Week 12. He led the team with 11 tackles in Pittsburgh, though the Ravens’ defensive front appeared to wear down on the Steelers’ final, go-ahead drive. The Ravens lead the league in rushing defense, so this is a strength vs. strength matchup.
Ravens special teams vs. Browns special teams
Baltimore Ravens Insider
The Ravens still rank first in Football Outsiders’ special teams DVOA. Justin Tucker has made 25 of 27 field-goal attempts and has not missed an extra point. He did a good job baiting the Steelers into inefficient kickoff returns. Devin Duvernay is one of the league’s most dangerous returners, with a 14.4-yard average on punts and a 25.5-yard average on kickoffs.
The Browns rank 19th in special teams DVOA, and punter Jamie Gillan was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday. Chase McLaughlin missed a field-goal attempt against the Ravens and has made just 14 of 18 overall. The Browns have averaged a mediocre 7.6 yards on punt returns and 20.5 yards on kickoff returns.
Ravens intangibles vs. Browns intangibles
The Ravens have beaten the Browns four times in a row, with two of those coming in Cleveland. They lead the Browns by two games in the race for the AFC North. That’s the good news from their point of view. The bad news is that they have not played well on offense for more than a month, and their injury luck somehow got worse with Humphrey’s season-ender.
The Browns aren’t exactly riding a wave of positivity either after Mayfield and their offense sputtered in Baltimore. At least they got Week 13 off to think about how they would turn the tables on the Ravens. They are 4-2 at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Ravens shut down Cleveland’s running game and protected Lamar Jackson in their Week 12 victory over the Browns. If they do those things again, they will have a good chance. But their task will be harder without Marlon Humphrey and with their offensive line down a starting tackle. Both teams are struggling on offense and both need a win. Give a slight nod to the Ravens based on their greater track record of resourcefulness. Ravens 23, Browns 20.