The Ravens aim for their best five-game start since 2012 and will do so with first-round rookie tight end Hayden Hurst making his NFL debut in Cleveland.
The 25th overall pick of the 2018 draft underwent surgery for a stress fracture in his foot on Aug. 24 and is active after missing the first four weeks of the regular season. Hurst returned to the practice field on Sept. 26 and is apparently ready to go despite still being listed as a limited participant all week. Hurst’s arrival further strengthens a tight ends group that surprisingly ranks fourth in the NFL in receiving yards (321) and second in receptions (31) through the first four weeks, according to Pro Football Focus.
After being activated on Saturday, cornerback Jimmy Smith will make his season debut after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Smith is also making his return from last year’s torn Achilles tendon and will see his first action since Dec. 3. With rookie cornerback Darious Williams being waived to make room for Smith and rookie Anthony Averett again out with a hamstring injury, the Ravens will have just four healthy cornerbacks against the Browns, but dime back Anthony Levine and reserve safety Chuck Clark are capable of playing the nickel in certain packages.
The bad news is the deactivation of defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who suffered a setback with a lingering foot issue late in the week and missed practice on Friday. Pierce sat out Week 3 with a foot injury before playing against Pittsburgh last Sunday night. His absence is not an encouraging development with the Browns ranking second in the NFL in rushing yards per game.
With Pierce out, defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) will make his season debut despite only returning to practice on a limited basis this week. Comments from coaches this week suggested the Ravens likely would have preferred holding him out one more game, but Pierce’s health certainly forced the issue.
Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (hamstring) is active after being listed as questionable on the injury report, but he didn’t appear to be 100 percent during Friday’s practice, which is something to monitor during Sunday’s game.
There were no surprises among the Cleveland inactives as reserve linebacker James Burgess (knee) was ruled out on Friday. Starting safety Damarious Randall (heel) and starting outside linebacker Christian Kirksey (illness) will play after being designated as questionable.
The referee for Sunday’s game is Clay Martin.
According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Cleveland calls for cloudy skies and temperatures near 70 degrees with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and a 20-percent chance of rain.
The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with white pants while Cleveland is donning its all-brown “Color Rush” look previously seen for Thursday Night Football in Week 3.
Sunday marks the 39th all-time meeting between these AFC North teams with Baltimore holding an overwhelming 29-9 advantage. The Ravens have won five straight meetings and are an overwhelming 18-2 against the Browns in the John Harbaugh era.
Below are Sunday’s inactives:
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
CB Anthony Averett
OLB Tim Williams
OL Hroniss Grasu
DL Zach Sieler
DL Michael Pierce
QB Drew Stanton
WR Damion Ratley
CB Denzel Rice
CB Tavierre Thomas
LB James Burgess
OL Earl Watford
DL Chad Thomas