Flying with the Flock: Ravens vs. Browns Preview
FLYING WITH THE FLOCK: RAVENS VS. BROWNS PREVIEW — The Baltimore Ravens dismantled a proud Browns defense in week four. There’s no doubt Myles Garrett and company will be gunning for revenge on Sunday.
Lamar Jackson was magnificent in the first matchup between these two teams. He threw the ball in rhythm with near-perfect accuracy. But it was the degree of difficulty of many of his passes that was astonishing.
I’m sure well-positioned Browns defenders were dumbfounded as Jackson’s passes lofted perfectly beyond their fingertips with infuriating consistency. But they can also take solace in the unlikeliness of such a repeat performance. As dazzling as Lamar was, perfection seems unsustainable.
Elite Browns Secondary
Cornerback Denzel Ward may be the only household name in Cleveland’s secondary, but Martin Emerson and Greg Newsome II are excellent complementary pieces. It takes a special group to hold up running man coverage a league-high 46.5% of the time (7.3% higher than the No. 2 Giants).
Cleveland’s defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, is as brash as it gets. The way he sees it, if he loses because the opposing quarterback and receiver beat man coverage, so be it. But I think he’d rather take a road trip with Jim Harbaugh than die a slow death in soft zone coverage. As much as I don’t care for the Browns, it’s refreshing to see a coordinator who blatantly gives so few effs.
After getting off to a somewhat shaky start to the year, Baltimore’s offensive line has been exceptional over the past few weeks. They shut down Detroit’s pass rush in week seven and bullied Seattle in the run game in week nine.
Their recent success has earned them PFF’s number two spot on their weekly offensive line rankings. But none of the Ravens’ past few opponents has anyone like Myles Garett. The DPOY favorite has been incredible this year. His week eight performance against the Colts was one of the best individual efforts I’ve seen from a defensive player.
He completely took over, totaling two sacks, two forced fumbles, a pass breakup, and the freakiest kick block you’ll ever see. He’s 270 pounds, by the way. Ronnie Stanley hasn’t quite played up to his standards this year and odds are, a matchup with Garett won’t be the turning point.
Zay Flowers has cooled a bit since his red-hot start to the season. Given his speed, I’d love to see him utilized more in the deep portion of the field. We haven’t seen him get a shot on many go-balls this year, but maybe against such an aggressive Browns’ defense, they’ll give the rookie a chance.
The entire receiving corps will need to step up and win against the Browns’ sticky corners. Establishing the run game would be a great way to open up the field for these playmakers.
The Ravens have been among the league’s best at doing just that this season, ranking third in yards per rush. But the Browns are no slouches defending the run, holding opponents to 3.7 yards per carry, good for eighth in the league. The Ravens have dominated the line of scrimmage recently, and Cleveland will need to buck that trend to pull off the upset.
Elementary, My Dear Watson
The Ravens benefitted from facing Dorian Thompson-Robinson at quarterback in round one. This time they’ll face Deshaun Watson, Cleveland’s $230 million enigma. Watson hasn’t been bad, but he’s been nowhere near the MVP-level player the Browns thought they were trading for.
With an elite defense, Watson doesn’t need to be special for the team to be formidable. Watson has never been known for taking care of the football and his seven turnovers in five games this year aren’t exactly flipping the narrative. How Watson handles a Ravens pass rush that leads the league in sacks will determine whether Cleveland can stay in this game.
With back-to-back division games at home, Baltimore has a chance to put some distance between itself and the buzzsaw known as the AFC North.
The Ravens are riding high at 7-2, but they’ve blown similar starts each of the past two seasons. Injuries were a major part of the team’s collapses, and a third consecutive letdown would be devastating. Baltimore won’t let the opportunity to sweep Cleveland pass them by.