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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 12-9 overtime loss at Cleveland

Posted on 09 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling to 3-2 following the ugly 12-9 overtime loss to Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore has had past performances like Sunday’s at FirstEnergy Stadium, but the difference was you could always count on a lousy football team to “Brown” it up at the most critical moment. The Browns were far from perfect, but Baker Mayfield clearly makes them a better team.

2. You hate criticizing a group that surrendered only 12 points, but the two-minute defense left a lot to be desired, allowing a 78-yard touchdown drive at the end of the first half, a 38-yard drive in the final minute of regulation, and the 65-yard game-ending drive in overtime.

3. Had anyone heard of Derrick Willies before his 39-yard reception on third-and-8 in overtime? The rookie free agent caught a combined 40 passes in three collegiate seasons at Texas Tech and Iowa and hadn’t caught an NFL pass before the fourth quarter.

4. Arguably worse was Duke Johnson’s 15-yard run on the next play that put the Browns at the Baltimore 28. It was a less-than-stellar showing from Tyus Bowser and C.J. Mosley on that run since Cleveland kicker Greg Joseph wasn’t inspiring any confidence that he’d make a longer kick.

5. I’ve written extensively about the running game this week, but Lamar Jackson leads the team in yards per carry (min. 15 rushes), making it understandable why the Ravens want to keep him involved. Still, bringing him on the field for an inside rush on first-and-16 in overtime made little sense.

6. The defense recorded five sacks and a total of 27 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. The Ravens allowed Mayfield to escape the pocket a few times, but the pass rush bounced back from a quiet performance in Pittsburgh. Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith were particularly good in that area.

7. Joe Flacco was among those complaining about the illegal block in the back call on Chris Moore that wiped away Alex Collins’ 17-yard run in overtime, but it was avoidable just like Matt Judon’s that canceled out a touchdown against Denver. You have to see what you’re hitting.

8. Anthony Levine continues to play terrific football after recording three pass breakups for the second straight week. He’s a good example of how using creativity with sub packages can work to your advantage. Levine isn’t a pure safety, linebacker, or cornerback, but he’s a good football player.

9. John Harbaugh acknowledged not planning to use Willie Henry for 39 defensive snaps in his return from August hernia surgery, but he played well, registering a sack and another tackle. He provides another inside pass-rushing option to rotate with Smith and Brent Urban.

10. The Ravens lead the NFL in scoring defense and rank in the top five in a number of other categories, but they’ve recorded just six takeaways in their first five games after having 10 in the first two contests last year. I suspect that’s going to change sooner than later.

11. Browns cornerback Denzel Ward was responsible for taking as many as 10 points off the board from the Ravens with his goal-line interception and field goal block. He, Mayfield, and defensive end Myles Garrett sure look poised to make Cleveland an interesting team over the next few years.

12. Watching a 9-9 contest in the final seconds of overtime brought memories of the only tie in Ravens history, which came against Philadelphia at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 16, 1997. I recall leaving that day as fans from both teams argued over which team stunk more. Both finished 6-9-1.

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 06 October 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens aim for their first 4-1 start since 2012 when they travel to Cleveland for a Week 5 meeting with the Browns on Sunday afternoon.

That’s significant not only because it was the last time they won the Super Bowl, but the Ravens have made the playoffs and advanced to at least the divisional round every time they’ve won four of their first five games to begin a season, something they also did in 2000, 2006, 2010, and 2011. In contrast, a 3-1 start hasn’t always guaranteed January football as Baltimore missed the playoffs in 1997 and, most recently, two years ago. Coming off their biggest road victory in years in Pittsburgh last Sunday night, the Ravens have no room for complacency as they still play three of their next four away from M&T Bank Stadium — a stretch that includes three opponents that made the playoffs a year ago.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Browns meet for the 39th time in the regular season with Baltimore holding an overwhelming 29-9 edge and an 18-2 advantage in the John Harbaugh era. Cleveland hasn’t beaten the Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium since the 2013 season.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield will be intercepted twice in his first test against a top-tier defense. Mayfield’s arrival could mean the days of automatically chalking up two annual wins against the Browns are coming to an end, but Wink Martindale labeling Mayfield “this generation’s Brett Favre or John Elway” predictably drew mocking from even coaches in Cleveland. Mayfield will want to test the returning Jimmy Smith, who will rotate with outside corners Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr. That will lead to a pick for Smith, who will be playing for the first time since Week 13 of last season.

2. Willie Snead will stand out in another good performance from Joe Flacco. The Cleveland defense has given up plenty of yards, but the group leads the NFL with 13 takeaways and has more talent, meaning Flacco will need to play smart. The Brown lost starting corner Terrance Mitchell to injured reserve last week and have been vulnerable at the nickel with neither T.J. Carrie nor Briean Boddy-Calhoun holding up well. To offset the pass-rushing ability of Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, and surprising rookie Genard Avery, Flacco will lean on Snead and the tight ends over the middle.

3. Browns running backs Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson will each score a touchdown to keep it close. Carlos Hyde has the most carries in the league and is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry while the rookie Chubb ran for 105 yards on three carries last week. No matter how talented Mayfield is, Cleveland will try to borrow the formula Chicago used to beat Baltimore last year when the Bears ran for over 200 yards and kept the pressure off Mitchell Trubisky. It won’t be nearly that extreme, but Chubb’s explosiveness and Johnson’s receiving ability will help keep the Ravens defense off balance.

4. The Ravens special teams’ edge will shine through at a critical moment. The likes of Mayfield and Garrett may eventually lead Cleveland to prominence, but the special teams have remained on brand as Cleveland has had kicks blocked and surrendered long returns early in the season. Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric ranks the Browns last in the NFL in special teams. The Ravens have had their own hiccups, specifically with the punt team, but Justin Tucker and Sam Koch always give them an edge. The Browns will “Brown” in a crucial spot to help the Ravens maintain a lead.

5. Baltimore will grind its way to a 24-16 win. Four of the last five meetings in Cleveland have been decided by a single possession and each of the Browns’ two losses this season — both on the road — have come by one score, meaning the Ravens have no excuse to feel too confident in their second of three straight away from home. Mayfield will be making his first home start after coming off the bench two weeks ago to lead the Browns to their first win since 2016, meaning the Cleveland crowd will be fired up more than usual for a game against the team that once played there. The Ravens will be tested, but the composure displayed at Heinz Field last Sunday will show up again in a workmanlike win.

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 10 October 2015 by Luke Jones

Hosting Cleveland has been the Ravens’ closest experience to a homecoming game for more than 15 years.

Owning a 13-3 all-time mark over the Browns in Baltimore and winning 13 of the last 14 meetings overall, the Ravens have appeared to barely break a sweat if you only look at the win-loss record. But the narrative has changed ever so slightly with five of the last seven games being decided by one possession.

In the 2014 regular-season finale at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens trailed Cleveland in the fourth quarter before scoring 17 points to send them to victory and their sixth trip to the playoffs in seven years. Now, both teams are fighting for their 2015 lives with matching 1-3 records and plenty of question marks on both sides of the ball.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens try to overcome injuries to Steve Smith and Crockett Gillmore to improve their all-time record to 25-8 over the Browns and climb back into the early AFC playoff race.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look to win their first game in Baltimore this season …

1. Justin Forsett will eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark for the second consecutive week. There’s a danger here of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman trying to outsmart himself as one could argue that the Ravens should come out throwing while Cleveland stacks the box trying to stop the run with Smith out. But why mess around when the Browns ranked last in the NFL in run defense last year and are 31st so far in 2015? Baltimore will use play-action fakes and Flacco will take shots here and there, but the Browns need to prove they can stop the run first and the Ravens will pound the ball until that happens. The offensive line play will pick up where it left off in Pittsburgh last week.

2. Browns running back Duke Johnson and tight end Gary Barnidge will combine to make 10 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown. Cleveland has allowed 14 sacks in four games this year and will be focused on stopping Elvis Dumervil coming off the edge, leading to lots of chips by Barnidge before quarterback Josh McCown checks down to him with short passes. The rookie Johnson has also proven to be an effective target out of the backfield, which could create issues for C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith. With the Ravens devoting safety attention to the big-play capability of Travis Benjamin, Browns tight ends and running backs will have more success in the passing game.

3. Darren Waller will catch the first touchdown of his NFL career. Anyone telling you they have a good idea how the passing game is going to shake out on Sunday is only guessing as you just don’t remove a talent like Smith from the equation without major adjustments needing to be made. Kamar Aiken will receive opportunities as the No. 1 guy, but his performances against Denver (one catch for minus-1 yard) and Cincinnati (zero catches) make it difficult to trust him. After making his first NFL reception on the Ravens’ game-tying drive at the end of regulation a week ago, the 6-foot-6 Waller will catch his first touchdown as Flacco throws him a pretty fade inside the red zone in the first half.

4. Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan will each collect their first sack of the 2015 season. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try his best to move Dumervil away from Joe Thomas, but the Ravens need to continue to get inside pressure to minimize the glaring void left behind by Terrell Suggs. Za’Darius Smith provided the boost last week, but it will be Williams and Jernigan stepping up on Sunday. More of a run-stopping tackle, Williams has had a Pro Bowl-caliber season and has been the Ravens’ best defensive player in 2015. Meanwhile, Jernigan’s second season has been a disappointment so far as he’s fallen behind rookie Carl Davis and needs a strong performance against the Browns.

5. The better quarterback and the team with the home-field advantage will do enough to earn a 20-13 win. It’s unfair to expect too much from Joe Flacco when you look at the group of pass-catchers he’ll be throwing to on Sunday, but he needs to limit his mistakes, something he didn’t do in Pittsburgh last week. He won’t post gaudy numbers, but Flacco will play smarter football than McCown and the Baltimore defense will clamp down on a Cleveland offense short on playmakers in a sometimes-ugly, points-challenged contest. Neither team has shown many signs of being a good football team so far, but the Ravens own the edge playing at home in Week 5 and they’ll take advantage of it.

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