With the Ravens trying to get back on track and remain in first place in the AFC North against Cleveland on Sunday afternoon, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. We’re aware of the Ravens’ late-game struggles, but the Browns have held fourth-quarter leads in three of their four losses. You’ve always been able to count on Baltimore enjoying a major edge in intangibles over Cleveland, but even that feels a little less certain right now.
2. According to Sharp Football, Lamar Jackson has 17 carries of 10 or more yards, trailing only Nick Chubb’s 21 this season. The catalysts are different, but NFL rushing attacks don’t get much more explosive than these two. That said, Cleveland ranks 30th in run defense efficiency.
3. Though J.K. Dobbins’ Week 7 status is unclear, Gus Edwards continues looking better in practice, Justice Hill is back to being a full participant, and Kenyan Drake is coming off his first 100-yard rushing performance in nearly two years. The running back position is moving in the right direction.
4. The Ravens have held Chubb under 4.0 yards per carry in four of his seven career starts against them, including both meetings last season. After answering the bell against Saquon Barkley last week, this run defense has the opportunity to put those early-season concerns in the rear-view mirror.
5. After shredding the blitz early on, Jackson has gone 22-for-44 and averaged 4.8 yards per pass attempt with two touchdowns and two interceptions against blitzes over the last three games, per Sharp Football. Cleveland ranks 17th in blitz rate, but Jadeveon Clowney’s health could impact the approach.
6. Assuming Ronnie Stanley is back to being an every-down player now, his matchup with Myles Garrett should be a great test in determining how close he is to pre-injury form. His strong performance against the Giants was one of the bright spots in an otherwise frustrating day.
7. It’s no secret the Baltimore pass defense has underperformed relative to the extensive resources pumped into the secondary, but the Browns secondary has also struggled compared to expectations and will likely be without cornerback Denzel Ward. Jackson and this passing game should have some big-play opportunities this week.
8. Though coming off a poor Week 6, Jacoby Brissett has good talent around him and is capable of making some plays with his arm if the Ravens don’t generate pressure against a strong offensive line. The difference between a clean pocket and a hazardous one for Brissett has been striking.
9. According to Football Outsiders, the Ravens rank 21st in coverage efficiency against tight ends while Cleveland is 15th. Mark Andrews is a strong bet to go off against anyone, of course, but Browns tight end David Njoku is off to the best start of his career.
10. Beyond Jackson and Andrews, there may not be a player more important to Baltimore’s offensive identity than Patrick Ricard, who still wasn’t practicing as of Thursday because of a knee injury. If Ricard can’t play, does Nick Boyle finally take on a larger blocking role Sunday? If not now, then when?
11. Odafe Oweh played a season-low 37 snaps against a run-first opponent and garnered little attention beyond his critical unsportsmanlike conduct penalty last week. The pending returns of Justin Houston and Tyus Bowser should ease Oweh’s responsibilities, but the Ravens need to start getting more from the 2021 first-round pick.
12. Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders rank Baltimore’s remaining schedule among the easiest in the league. Several notable players are nearing returns from injury. There are reasons for optimism despite the current uneasiness, but if the Ravens fall to the Browns at home? That would be ugly.