The desire for revenge is a motivator like no other. In week seventeen of last season, the Baltimore Ravens met with the Cleveland Browns on the gladiator field that would decide the fate of both teams. The Ravens were fighting for the AFC North crown, and the Browns were fighting to reverse their fate, as a win would have given the team its first winning record since 2007. The high stakes matchup lived up to the pre-game hype. Both teams exchanged blows, and it was unclear who would leave M&T Bank Stadium victorious. The tide changed on the final drive of the game when Baltimore’s defense stood the Browns up on three consecutive plays and sealed a win with an interception by C.J. Mosley.
The idea of revenge is on the Browns’ mind, and this is a major opportunity for Cleveland to take a step towards the playoffs. A win is crucial for both teams in that respect.
The Ravens are seven-point Las Vegas favorites. To prevent an upset, they will need to win three key battles and see strong performances by three key individuals.
Browns Prolific Receivers vs Ravens Bruised Secondary
Baltimore’s main concern lies with its banged-up and underperforming secondary. On paper, this secondary should sit among the best units in the league. The combination of Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, and Tavon Young is something one would only expect to see in a Madden game. The amount of elite performers in the secondary is amazing, but the exceptional group on paper has hardly been impressive on the real field. Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young both remain out with injuries, and the secondary is suffering because of it. The relievers, Anthony Averett, and Maurice Canady are, to be blunt, bad. Marlon Humphrey is dealing with an injury as well, and on top of the health issues, Earl Thomas’ presence seems nonexistent. Against Cleveland’s prolific wideouts, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, the Ravens secondary will need to bounce out of the slump and perform at a much higher level, with tighter coverage, and less avoidable mistakes.
Browns Strong Rushing Attack vs Ravens Stout Front 7
A stable running game will be the crux of the Cleveland offense. Yes, the Browns have elite receivers, but quarterback Baker Mayfield is stuck in an apparent sophomore slump, rendering the pass game near-useless until he can get it together. Freddie Kitchens and the Browns coaching staff realize this, and in order to maximize the offense’s output, they will likely center the strategy around Nick Chubb and the ground game. The Browns may find trouble with this scheme, though as the Ravens have a stout defensive line, and good enough linebackers to make an impact at the point of attack. As shown in Kansas City, however, if the opposing offensive line can push hard and be effective with blocking schemes, a running back can penetrate the Ravens defensive line and gain a substantial amount of yards on a consistent basis. Baltimore will need to prevent this, and force Baker Mayfield into carrying the offense on his shoulders, which he should struggle to do.
Ravens Quick Pass Rush vs Browns Recovering Offensive Line
Baker Mayfield’s start to the 2019 season is nothing like the fairytale beginning to his tenure as the Browns franchise quarterback that unfolded last year. Mayfield has struggled to pass, even throwing more interceptions than touchdowns three weeks into the season. With Mayfield completing just 56.9% of his pass attempts, the Browns have scored 20 or more points just once this season. Their average is 16.33 points per game. Baker Mayfield may wake up feeling dangerous on Sunday, but he still will need to deal with the Ravens pass rush. Baltimore’s main objective in this realm should be to hurry Mayfield and constantly push him out of the pocket. Based on his performance this season, an improvising Mayfield is more likely to make mistakes than a Mayfield with a clean pocket. Baltimore can tremendously help the banged-up secondary by taking advantage of a banged-up offensive line as well. Two of Cleveland’s starters on the line, guard, Joel Bitonio, and tackle, Chris Hubbard were recovering from injuries this week. Baltimore must be aggressive in their assault on the opposing line. This battle may prove to be the absolute key to the game.
Marlon Humphrey is going to be an extremely important component of the game on Sunday. The secondary is already in trouble and would be in a dire situation without Humphrey on the field. Humphrey is coming off of a hip injury and is officially questionable for the game. He needs to play to give the Ravens the edge, but he must also be fully functional on the field in ability.
It is obvious that Lamar Jackson will be key to Baltimore’s success, but it is important that the second-year quarterback gets off on the right foot on Sunday. Early in Kansas City, Jackson looked uncomfortable, and the offense struggled as a result. He needs to complete passes to his favorite targets against a weak secondary, early and often, and build the confidence he needs to lead the Ravens to victory later in the game.
No, he’s not a player, but John Harbaugh will need to have a good game this Sunday. The coach made many bonehead mistakes in Kansas City that continually undermined the Ravens. These mistakes are unacceptable. The Ravens win on strategy, and Harbaugh needs to stop listening to the analytics people and stick with his gut. If he does this, the Ravens will fare much better in week four than in week three.
In a hotly contested, close game throughout, the Ravens will barely edge the Browns in overtime. Baltimore will have the advantage on their pass rush, which will ultimately seal the game in a similar fashion as to last year’s week seventeen matchup.