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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 28 September 2019 by Luke Jones

There are always a few pivotal games that stand out in any season with Sunday’s tilt between the Ravens and Cleveland certainly shaping up to be one.

A win gives Baltimore a full two-game lead over every other AFC North team and drops the Browns to 1-3 with the accompanying “same old story” thoughts. However, a Ravens loss would pull Cleveland even in the division and put the winner of Monday’s Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game just one game behind.

With two more division games to immediately follow for the Ravens, Week 4 could help put them on a path to win the AFC North going away or provide a major jolt for the Browns.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Browns face off for the 41st time in the regular season with Baltimore holding a lopsided 30-10 advantage and a 19-3 mark under John Harbaugh. However, 10 of the last 15 meetings have been decided by a single possession, including both halves of last year’s split between the division foes.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens will commit their first turnover of the season. Only six teams have forced fewer turnovers than Baltimore, but Harbaugh’s team is the only one in the NFL without a giveaway, which reflects Lamar Jackson’s growth in his first full year as a starter. Of course, some luck has been involved as well with the Ravens recovering both of their fumbles this season and Jackson getting away with a few passes that could have been intercepted last week. The law of averages will finally catch up to them.

2. Odell Beckham Jr. will catch a touchdown and Marlon Humphrey will register an interception matched up against each other. With Jimmy Smith out with a knee injury, Humphrey traveled with Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins for much of last week’s game, a strategy that should continue against the talented Beckham. Baker Mayfield has targeted his star wideout 30 times in three games and will continue throwing his way, which will give Humphrey chances to get his hands on passes. It’s worth noting the third-year corner was limited with a hip issue this week, however.

3. Jackson will throw touchdown passes to Nick Boyle and Seth Roberts. The Browns will try to copy Kansas City’s plan to take away deep shots to Marquise Brown, which should create underneath chances for others. That reality coupled with Mark Andrews’ lingering foot issue will make it important for Jackson to look beyond his top two pass-catching targets. Boyle’s first career touchdown is long overdue, and Roberts’ playing time is trending up with Miles Boykin struggling early. Cleveland is likely to be without three starters in its secondary, which sets up for Jackson to have a good game.

4. Myles Garrett will register multiple sacks for the third time in four weeks. Harbaugh admitted his offensive line hasn’t yet seen a defensive front this talented, which will set up some intriguing battles. Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. will have their hands full with Garrett and Olivier Vernon on the edges, but defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi could also create some problems against the run and pass. Even more play-action and run-pass options than usual are in order to keep the Cleveland rush in check, but Garrett will continue his monster start to 2019.

5. Some strong running from Mark Ingram in the fourth quarter will help the Ravens preserve a tight 26-20 win. The body of work for each team so far and the home-field advantage suggest a Baltimore win, but the 1-2 Browns are already feeling pretty desperate with three more games against winning teams immediately following Sunday’s contest. The talent is still there for Cleveland and Mayfield is a better quarterback than he’s shown to be so far this season, but the likely absences of Browns cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams will keep the Ravens offense a step ahead. Baltimore will start 3-1 for the third time in the last four years and eighth time in the Harbaugh era.

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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 16 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The task is clear for the Ravens after last Sunday’s heartbreaking loss in Pittsburgh.

Three wins will very likely assure them of their first trip to the playoffs since 2014. Anything less leaves them at the mercy of how other AFC playoff contenders such as Buffalo, Tennessee, Kansas City, and Los Angeles will fare. Their focus must remain on beating a Cleveland team desperate for its first win, but the Ravens will naturally be taking a peek at the out-of-town scoreboard on Sunday.

“I always look. It is always interesting to see what the scores are,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I’m sure we’ll be interested in that, but really, it doesn’t matter. We need to win. We need to win. We don’t need to be [dealing with] any tiebreakers or anything like that. We just need to win.”

Regardless of what other teams do, there are no excuses for the Ravens the rest of the way with such a reasonable schedule. Losing to the winless Browns, the Luck-less Colts, or the listless Bengals could send shock waves through the organization after Steve Bisciotti exercised much patience the previous two offseasons. Blowing a fourth-quarter lead at Heinz Field for the second straight year didn’t sit well with the owner last week, so you can only imagine how he’d react if the Ravens were to drop the ball at any point before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens meet Cleveland for the 38th time in the all-time series and hold a 28-9 advantage after their 24-10 win at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 2. Despite the overall perception, the last four contests played at FirstEnergy Stadium have been decided by one possession.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Browns rookie edge rusher Myles Garrett will collect 1 1/2 sacks in the first of many encounters with Ronnie Stanley. The first overall pick of this year’s draft has missed five games due to injuries, but he has five sacks and has consistently caused problems in the pocket. Meanwhile, Stanley has had a solid season, but the 2016 first-round pick hasn’t yet taken his game to the next level from his encouraging rookie campaign. This is a matchup that will be worth watching over the next few years, but you’d expect Ravens tight ends to help out by chipping the talented 272-pound defensive end on Sunday.

2. Alex Collins will eclipse 75 rushing yards while finding the end zone for the fifth straight game. The Browns have allowed an NFL-best 3.3 yards per carry and will present a tough challenge for a running game that’s been terrific over the last two weeks. Collins continues to pick up plenty of yardage after contact and will need to do that once again against a tough front. Joe Flacco and the passing game has been much better recently, but much of that stems from play-action calls and Collins will have plenty of opportunities to control the tempo of the game, especially with a lead.

3. Marlon Humphrey will match up with Josh Gordon and allow a touchdown reception in an otherwise strong performance. Much has been made about Dean Pees’ play-calling in the Pittsburgh game, but the biggest takeaway was Brandon Carr struggling much more in coverage than the coaching staff anticipated. The Ravens have rarely even used Jimmy Smith to travel with a specific wide receiver over the years, but Humphrey could earn that very assignment against the supremely-talented Gordon, who’s shown little rust in his first action in three years. This will be a fun matchup to watch.

4. Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer will commit two turnovers in Baltimore territory. According to ESPN, the rookie is the NFL’s lowest-rated passer inside the red zone, the main reason why his team is 26th in red-zone offense. Cleveland has also had predictable problems with pass protection since left tackle Joe Thomas was lost for the season, so that should open the door for Terrell Suggs to put heat on Kizer and force him into rushing throws. A plus-13 turnover difference has left the 7-6 Ravens in the playoff race while a league-worst minus-21 turnover ratio largely explains why the Browns are 0-13.

5. The Ravens will overcome a lethargic start to prevail in a 23-13 final. A slow beginning wouldn’t be a shock after an emotionally-draining loss to the Steelers while the Browns should be energized and motivated playing in their last home game. Cleveland would like nothing more than to put Baltimore’s playoff hopes in jeopardy, but there’s a reason why this team hasn’t won a game all season and the Ravens have won three of their last four and have been better on the road than in recent campaigns. It won’t be the kind of win that will improve the eyeball test for Harbaugh’s team, but a steady performance is all that’s needed for the first of three wins to help wrap up a postseason berth.

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