Oli Tyler – Baltimore Ravens Writer
The Cleveland Browns are starting to warm-up. In the loss to the Rams last week they were only a play or two (and some dodgy coaching decisions) away from winning. They are beginning to look more like the side that finished last season strongly rather than the one that has started this year slowly. They are starting to hit their stride, as Baker Mayfield would say they are “feeling dangerous”.
Freddie Kitchens’ team has a lot of weapons to fear but is a side in a state of upheaval: there are a lot of new faces across the roster and there it was always likely that it would take some time for them all to bed in. When the Browns and Baltimore Ravens face up again in week 17 the Browns will be fully in stride. The Ravens need to make the most of the current upheaval and come away with a win; they have to find some momentum after a tough loss last week and some tough upcoming fixtures.
Where the game will be won
The Browns have a fundamental flaw in their Offensive Line. They have to get the ball out quickly or Mayfield will get sacked all day long. What was a less-than-average unit has got even worse as injuries have set in. Mayfield has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long and looks for the deeper ball rather than chain-movers, this makes things worse for his Offensive Line.
In Week 1 Mayfield was frequently confused by the Tennessee Titans’ coverage packages, which incorporate many Ravens principles, learnt from the former Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees. The Ravens will need to take advantage of these flaws on Sunday. The Ravens arguably have a stronger secondary than the Titans and will look to exploit this weakness further. Matthew Judon, the Ravens linebacker who has recorded a sack in each game so far, will be relied upon to continue his strong start to the season, being the main pass rush threat to put pressure on Mayfield.
They are vulnerable on the other side of the ball too. In the defeat by the Rams last week, Cooper Kupp found space and exploited that with two Touchdowns. Sean McVay schemed the Wide Receiver into Linebacker coverage zones, taking advantage of the Browns’ LBs, Joe Schobert and Mack Wilson, who are more downhill thumpers than sideline-to-sideline coverage backs. This week Greg Roman, the Ravens Offensive Coordinator, needs to do something similar, using his three dangerous Tight Ends to exploit these coverage softer spots. The Ravens Tight End room has been a real star all season, leading the league in receptions, yards and Touchdowns, and this should be another favourable match-up.
Expect the Ravens offence to continue its hot streak. The offence have stacked up yards through three games – their total of 1,535 leads the league and is second only to the 2011 New England offence, which managed 1,621 in the first three weeks. Another stat that has gone under the radar is that Jackson has thrown 221 consecutive passes without an interception, the longest active streak in the NFL. The Browns haven’t stopped much so far, but expect them to slow the Ravens running game. This will mean more yards through the air and expect yards from Tight Ends, in particular Mark Andrews who has 112 yards on 8 targets at home, but the speed of Marquise Brown should pose plenty of deep threat to exploit with Lamaar Jackson’s arm, which has been lively so far this season.
Expect a tight finish
This should be a great match-up, the Ravens have started the season hot, and the Browns are warming up. The Browns have the stronger receiving corps and a more talented defensive line but the Ravens don’t have a weakness to the scale of the Browns’ Offensive Line, which is really holding the team back. This will be a tight game but the Ravens will just edge it at home. Expect a low-scoring first half with the Ravens’ offense coming to life in the 3rd quarter and holding on for the win in a tight finish.
It may be early in the season, but this games feels like it could be decisive in the battle for the AFC North. I think the game’s winner will go on to take the division.
Prediction Browns 17 Ravens 28
(Feature Photo – Credit: David Eulitt/Getty Images)