With the Ravens aiming for their longest winning streak in more than two years when they host AFC North rival Cleveland on Sunday afternoon, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. Asked about the showdown between the NFL’s two best defenses, Patrick Queen paused a moment before saying, “It’s a lot of motivation. It’s a lot of talk right now, and we just want to talk with our pads.” Don’t think the Ravens aren’t looking to make another statement Sunday.
2. Baltimore’s defense leads the league in points allowed, yards per play allowed, touchdowns allowed, sacks, passer rating allowed, yards per pass allowed, and red-zone touchdown percentage. Cleveland is first in total defense, passing yards allowed, third-down defense, yards allowed per drive, and DVOA. The difference in offenses is another story.
3. Despite a few late-week additions to the injury report, the Ravens appear to be in relatively good shape entering Week 10 as the entire 53-man roster was at least present for Friday’s walk-through. They’ll still want to be cautious on the health front with a quick turnaround to play Cincinnati.
4. Meanwhile, the Browns are really banged up at offensive tackle with Week 1 starters Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin on injured reserve and rookie right tackle Dawand Jones out with shoulder and knee injuries. I’d say that’s less than ideal playing a defense leading the NFL in sacks.
5. Facing this kind of a high-quality defense for the second time this season is another good litmus test for the evolution of Todd Monken’s offense, but if the Ravens are able to score 30-plus points against another playoff contender, who exactly is slowing them down at this point?
6. Expectations should probably be conservative with Keaton Mitchell reappearing on Thursday’s injury report with a hamstring issue, but Todd Monken was most impressed with the speedy rookie’s physicality. “He showed good vision. There were runs that should’ve been four or five [yards, and] he got seven or eight.”
7. According to PFF, the Ravens lead the NFL with 42 run plays of at least 10 yards, but they entered Week 9 with their longest rush of the season being 27 yards before firing off three gains of 40-plus. Such home-run potential would make this offense even scarier to defend.
8. Much was made about Baltimore playing more zone coverage transitioning to Mike Macdonald from Wink Martindale last season, but Brandon Stephens currently ranks third in the NFL lining up 170 times in press coverage this season, per PFF. In other words, the Ravens are still asking plenty from their cornerbacks.
9. If someone had said a month ago that the Ravens would score a combined 68 points in Weeks 8 and 9, you probably wouldn’t have expected Zay Flowers to produce just 30 total receiving yards in those contests. I’d still like to see Flowers stressing defenses downfield more often.
10. I shudder to think what the reaction would be if Lamar Jackson’s contract was playing out anywhere close to as poorly as Deshaun Watson’s. Watson is clearly better than P.J. Walker and Dorian Thompson-Robinson, but that’s not exactly a bar worthy of $230 million fully guaranteed, is it?
11. Cleveland recently signed ex-Ravens Kenyan Drake and James Proche, so you wonder what insights they might have provided Kevin Stefanski and the Cleveland coaching staff. John Harbaugh downplayed that gamesmanship having much of an impact, but Marlon Humphrey hinted otherwise.
12. “It’s awful. It absolutely stinks. He’s got such natural ability, and he’s worked awfully hard to really drill down his pass-rush moves, and he’s relentless. You have to account wherever he’s at.” I wish Monken would tell us how he really feels about preparing for all-world edge rusher Myles Garrett.
Prediction: While Garrett wrecking the game in the pocket is probably Cleveland’s best chance of pulling off the upset, the Browns are 2-13 in Baltimore in the John Harbaugh era and don’t have enough offensive firepower to feel good about their ability to move the ball consistently enough against a Ravens defense playing its best football since the days of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. In contrast, Jackson and the offense will be facing their biggest challenge in recent weeks, but they’ve been playing too well to expect the Browns defense to keep them in check for 60 minutes. This game will resemble what we saw through the first three quarters at Arizona a couple weeks ago with the Ravens offense grinding its way to a few scores and the defense not allowing much of consequence in a workmanlike 23-10 win that never really feels in doubt.