The Ravens made their case to be called the NFL’s best, dismantling the Seattle Seahawks, 37-3. The Browns smothered the Arizona Cardinals, 27-0. Who will have the advantage when these AFC North rivals meet for the second time this season?
Ravens passing game vs. Browns pass defense
Lamar Jackson didn’t complete a pass longer than 17 yards but performed efficiently against the Seahawks, completing 21 of 26 attempts for 187 yards while the Ravens’ ground game took center stage. Tight end Mark Andrews was his top target with nine catches on 10 targets for 80 yards. Andrews leads the team with six touchdown catches and 23 grabs for first downs. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. ran a nifty route to the corner of the end zone to catch his first Ravens touchdown from Jackson’s backup, Tyler Huntley, redeeming himself after a careless fumble just before halftime. Wide receiver Rashod Bateman broke free on a pair of deep routes in the first half, but Jackson overthrew him both times. The offensive line has delivered solid pass protection, though left tackle Ronnie Stanley allowed Seattle linebacker Boye Mafe to whip around him several times in the first half, with one of those losses resulting in a strip-sack.
Such lapses could prove far more consequential against the Browns, who feature the league’s top edge rusher in Myles Garrett (9 1/2 sacks, 18 quarterback hits) and a very good complement in former Raven Za’Darius Smith (two sacks, 19 quarterback hits). The Ravens won’t generally leave either of their tackles on an island against Garrett. They did a decent job against Cleveland’s superstar in their 28-3 win at the beginning of October, limiting him to one sack, two quarterback hits and a pair of hurries. The Browns also bring pressure from their middle thanks to defensive tackles Dalvin Tomlinson and Maurice Hurst. They blitz on 28.2% of dropbacks, the 11th-highest rate in the league, and rank first in DVOA against the pass. They present plenty of problems beyond their front, with safety Grant Delpit (team-high 53 tackles) and cornerback Denzel Ward (nine passes defended, two interceptions) ranking among the best players at their positions. Despite all that star power, Jackson completed 15 of 19 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns (both to Andrews) as the Ravens pulled away easily in Cleveland.
Browns passing game vs. Ravens pass defense
Quarterback Deshaun Watson missed the last matchup against the Ravens because of the shoulder injury that has limited him to five starts this season. He was back in the lineup against Arizona and completed 19 of 30 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns. Say what you will about Watson’s spotty form since he took over Cleveland’s offense late last season. The Browns are 4-1 in his starts this season, and he gives them a better chance than backups P.J. Walker or Dorian Thompson-Robinson (who had no hope against the Baltimore defense in October). Wide receiver Amari Cooper (17.6 yards per catch) is Watson’s clear top target, and the Ravens can’t count on holding him to one catch as they did in their previous meeting. No. 2 receiver Elijah Moore is averaging a disappointing 9.3 yards per catch. Tight end David Njoku (32 catches, 319 yards, two touchdowns) will be the Ravens’ greatest concern after Cooper, though he didn’t practice Wednesday because of a knee injury. Left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. is on injured reserve and rookie Dawand Jones is out with a knee and shoulder injuries, leaving 2021 fourth-round pick James Hudson III and practice squad call-up Geron Christian to fill in for an otherwise solid offensive line.
The Ravens, first in the league with 35 sacks, destroyed Cleveland with pressure in the previous meeting, but some of that was Thompson-Robinson’s fault. The rookie also threw three interceptions. No passing offense has gone off against coordinator Mike Macdonald’s defense, which holds opponents to a league-low 4.1 yards per attempt and seems to attack in a different mode each week. Outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy’s two sacks, the second forcing a fumble, prevented Seattle from building any hope going into halftime. Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike leads all interior linemen with 7 1/2 sacks and is on a six-game sack streak. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey played his best game of the season against the Seahawks, but he’s questionable with a hamstring injury that popped up Thursday. Safety Geno Stone made his league-leading sixth interception. Look for the Ravens to keep him on the field and use Kyle Hamilton as a big nickel if Marcus Williams returns from his hamstring injury this week. Everything is clicking for this defense.
Ravens running game vs. Browns run defense
The Ravens ran over the Seahawks with a variety of ball carriers and approaches, showing how devastating they can be handing off in coordinator Todd Monken’s more spread-out offense. Rookie Keaton Mitchell was the breakout star, carrying nine times for 138 yards and proving he can be just as elusive running inside as outside the tackles, but he’s questionable with a hamstring injury. Gus Edwards led another brutally efficient red-zone performance, scoring his sixth and seventh touchdowns of the season. Jackson also produced his best running game in several weeks, though he might be more conservative against Cleveland after he came up limping in the second half. Afterward, Seattle defenders admitted they had no idea where the next run was coming from. The Ravens moved to first in the league in rushing with their 298-yard masterpiece.
The Browns, meanwhile, held a solid Cardinals rushing attack to 41 yards and have limited opponents to 3.7 yards per carry. The Ravens ran for a modest 131 yards on 33 attempts in their previous matchup, with Justice Hill doing the most damage. Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is Cleveland’s top playmaker against the run. Tomlinson, Hurst and Shelby Harris present a solid interior wall.
Browns running game vs. Ravens run defense
The Browns miss running back Nick Chubb. Jerome Ford and Kareem Hunt have combined to average just 3.7 yards per carry. Third option Pierre Strong actually did the most damage against the Ravens, carrying five times for 49 yards, but he’s questionable with a hamstring injury. Watson isn’t a prolific runner but averages 5.8 yards per attempt. The Browns have not turned away from the run in Chubb’s absence. They rank first in attempts and third in yards per game.
The Ravens shut down Seattle’s ground attack, allowing 28 yards on 15 carries. Linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen led the way as usual, with outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney stifling Kenneth Walker III’s early attempts to get to the edge. The Ravens can be run on, as the Cardinals demonstrated with 129 yards the previous week. They have allowed 4 yards per carry, a relatively high number for a defense that has excelled in almost every way.
Ravens special teams vs. Browns special teams
The Ravens avoided special teams trouble against Seattle. Justin Tucker made all three of his field goal attempts, moving to 16-for-19 for the season, and Jordan Stout boomed a 66-yard punt to deny the Seahawks a short field. Devin Duvernay hasn’t done much with kickoffs but is still averaging an impressive 14.2 yards on punt returns.
Cleveland kicker Dustin Hopkins has made 20 of 23 field goal attempts overall and a stellar 7 of 7 from 50 yards or beyond. The Browns haven’t returned a punt more than 17 yards all season, and Corey Bojorquez has put just 33.3% of his punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line (Stout is at 45.9%).
Ravens intangibles vs. Browns intangibles
The Ravens couldn’t feel much better after they dismantled another NFC division leader at M&T Bank Stadium. They’re dealing with few significant injuries and will benefit from staying home to play two AFC North games in five days. Coach John Harbaugh seems unconcerned about complacency given that the other three teams in the division are on the Ravens’ heels, all in position to make the playoffs.
The Browns also have reason to feel confident after their defense annihilated the Cardinals. They’ll see this as a more honest shot at the Ravens with Watson back at quarterback. Two of their three losses this season have come on the road, but the Ravens have swept the season series just once since 2018. Coach Kevin Stefanski is 31-27 in four seasons.
The Ravens will see a more competitive version of the Browns with Watson at quarterback and a defense hungry to prove the 28-3 score of the previous meeting was misleading. But the Ravens are still the more balanced team, able to win in multiple ways on both sides of the ball with a higher offensive upside thanks to Jackson. The home crowd won’t enjoy another blowout but will help the Ravens through a slugfest. Ravens 23, Browns 17