Connect with us

Analysis

Browns-Ravens Preview: 3 things to watch, 3 key numbers, the prediction

THREE-POINT STANCE  

(Three points of interest in Sunday’s game)  

IT’S BEEN AWHILE

The Browns avoided Ravens receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on Oct. 1 because he was inactive with an ankle injury. They’ll get the full OBJ experience this time. Whatever that entails.

Advertisement

Beckham, who spent 2½ unfulfilling seasons with the Browns, signed a one-year, $15 million contract with the Ravens in the offseason after not playing in 2022 as he recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained in the Rams’ Super Bowl victory. He turned 31 last Sunday and may not have the same electricity as when he was the most famous person in the league, but he caught five passes for 56 yards in the win over the Seahawks, including his first touchdown since the aforementioned Super Bowl. In seven games this year he has 19 catches for 218 yards and an 11.5 average.

Myles Garrett in ‘sweet spot’ of career, plans to keep pushing his peak higher and higher

Cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. didn’t play with Beckham in Cleveland but has heard all the stories. He’s excited for the opportunity to cover Beckham for the first time.

“Yeah, fact,” Emerson said. “A young guy, grew up on Odell really. Just step out of my body for a second. I was looking up to Odell when I was a kid. Great receiver, how he can change speeds, get out of breaks, great hands.”

Dual threat: Browns defense charged with stopping Lamar Jackson, keeping up with Ravens’ stingy defense

Emerson was asked how much Beckham has left in his 10th season and after numerous lower-body injuries.

“He’s a fighter, man,” Emerson said. “Honestly, I feel like he’s not explosive as he once was in his career. Still great receiver, don’t get me wrong, but he got that fight in him and he know what he can do and confident it himself. So he’s a threat.”

The Ravens have Rashod Bateman, rookie Zay Flowers and Nelson Agholor alongside Beckham at receiver. The Browns counter with one of the league’s top cornerback groups in Emerson, Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome II, who’s questionable with a groin injury. Given Beckham’s history in the league and with the Browns — he forced his way out in 2021 — the focus will be on him.

“I made great bonds and memories with those guys over there,” Beckham told reporters in Baltimore. “Once you’re on a team, you build a brotherhood that lasts way longer than anything else. Not to be like, ‘Oh, it’s another game to me,’ but it will be fun to go against these guys who are friends and brothers of mine. But definitely no animosity on my end for sure. A lot of love and respect.”

Despite the messy ending in Cleveland, many of his former teammates remained loyal to Beckham.

“He’s a good dude,” safety Grant Delpit said. “He gets a bad rep sometimes, but that’s my dude. He’s a great person in the locker room. He’s a great teammate. So I’ve got nothing but respect for that dude. But we step between these white lines, it’s game on.”

PROTECTION IS PRIORITY

The fastest way for this matchup to get away from the Browns is multiple turnovers by quarterback Deshaun Watson. That’s most likely to happen if he’s under quick and constant duress, and the Ravens can make that happen, as evidenced by their league-leading 35 sacks. It’s up to the offensive line, and helpers, to keep Watson upright and from running for his life. The task was made tougher when left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. went on injured reserve Tuesday and right tackle Dawand Jones was ruled out Friday. Newcomer Geron Christian and James Hudson III are likely to start in their place.

Notes: Dawand Jones ruled out for Sunday vs. Ravens, leaving Browns without both starting tackles

“If you had the full, healthy O-line out there, it’s still a challenge,” coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. “That’s a good defense, and the edge rushers are special. So it’s always a challenge, and that’s part of football. We got to find a way to make it work.”

The coaches were charged all week with finding the best lineup combinations depending on availability. The next step was designing a game plan that gives the tackles enough help to have a chance against edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney, Kyle Van Noy and Odafe Oweh. It’s tough to assist both tackles at the same time, so Jones or Christian will likely be asked to win on an island at some point. The play calls will also be critical. Whether it’s runs, screens, quick passes or deep shots using max protection, coach Kevin Stefanski has to keep Watson and the ball out of harm’s way while creating enough opportunities for explosive plays.

The Ravens thrive on confusing the quarterback and can also collapse the pocket from the inside with tackle Justin Madubuike, who leads the team with 7.5 sacks. Watson must identify the pressure correctly and see the coverage clearly, because slowing down the pass rush will be a team effort.

“They’re trying to confuse whether it’s your protection or your coverage or your progression,” Stefanski said. “But they do a nice job in their pressure package. They do a nice job running their games and stunts, leading the league in sacks and with a bunch of different guys getting sacks. It requires that on offense you have really good communication, and then at the end of the day, all comes down to technique.”

LAYING THE GROUNDWORK

Despite the big names at quarterback and receiver on both teams, this game feels like it will be won in the trenches. Maybe that’s how it should be between AFC North rivals.

The Browns have overcome the loss of Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb and right tackle Jack Conklin, arguably the team’s best run blocker, to have the NFL’s No. 3 rushing offense at 144.1 yards a game. After a two-game struggle before the bye, including only 93 yards against the Ravens in Week 4, the Browns have averaged 144.5 in their last four games. The coaches tightened the scheme, the linemen executed more efficiently and the backfield committee of Jerome Ford, Kareem Hunt and Pierre Strong Jr. found its groove. The Ravens defense counters with a stout front seven and ranks eighth against the run at 91.9 yards. With the ferocious Ravens pass rush, the Browns will likely try to control the ball on the ground and reduce the stress on Watson. They’ll need whoever’s playing on the line to win their one-on-one battles.

“Ford, Kareem, Pierre have done a good job and found their niche running,” Bitonio said. “Guys are starting to understand where we want to hit the ball, where we want to find rush lanes and we want to keep those guys fresh.”

“It’ll be giving them all touches and then finding out who’s feeling it that day and maybe giving them a few more,” Van Pelt said.

Baltimore’s run game is even more impressive. It leads the league with 160.3 yards a game, went for 298 yards last week against the Seahawks and overcame the loss of starting running back J.K. Dobbins. The Ravens have gone to a trio of backs in Gus Edwards, Justice Hill and undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell, who burst on the scene last week with nine carries for 138 yards, a 15.3 average and a touchdown. The separator for the Ravens is quarterback Lamar Jackson. He has 440 yards and five touchdowns on the ground through a combination of designed runs and scrambles, and the defense must account for his legs at all times.

“Just dynamic from all phases,” Ward said of the run game. “They do a good job of scheming those guys up and getting guys running lanes.”

The Ravens rushed for 131 yards — Jackson carried nine times for 27 yards and two touchdowns — in Week 4 win, and the Browns, who rank tied for sixth against the run (89.8), blamed poor tackling and being distracted by motion and misdirection behind the line.

“He made some scramble plays and some quarterback run plays in the first game that we played, and we’ll have to do better on those,” coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “We did a lot of good things in the first game, too. Didn’t play a consistent game, didn’t finish the game well, but there’s a lot to build on from that game.”

NUMBERS GAME

2

Games in the NFL since 2005 in which a defense allowed fewer than the 58 net yards the Browns gave up to Arizona last week.

29

Minutes, out of 549, the Ravens have trailed this season.

+115

League-leading point differential for Baltimore, 239-124.

THE PICK

The defense gets at least one pivotal turnover, overcomes any deficiencies on offense. Browns 20, Ravens 19.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

Comments
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

More in Analysis