The Ravens (7-3) are coming off another wild finish in a 16-13 win over the Bears in Chicago. Backup Tyler Huntley led Baltimore to victory but starting quarterback Lamar Jackson is expected to be back under center for a key AFC North content against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday night. Here’s who has the edge in each phase:
Ravens passing game vs. Browns pass defense
Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley led the Ravens to a comeback victory over the Chicago Bears, but Lamar Jackson is expected to return from illness against the Browns. Jackson struggled with the Miami Dolphins’ relentless Cover-0 blitzes in his last start, but the Browns rank in the league’s bottom 10 in blitz rate, so this might not be the week for him to show how he has adjusted. The Ravens also played without their No. 1 wide receiver, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (thigh), against the Bears. Tight end Mark Andrews stepped in as Huntley’s chief target with eight catches, five of them for first downs. He’s on track for career highs in receptions and yards. Veteran wide receiver Sammy Watkins was sharper in his second game back from a hamstring injury, catching the pass that set up the Ravens’ game-winning touchdown. First-round pick Rashod Bateman has caught 21 passes for 270 yards in his first five games and has also drawn three interference penalties, a result of his clean, quick releases from the line of scrimmage. The Ravens rank 11th in the league in passing and 14th in yards per attempt.
The Browns feature some of the best front-line defensive talent in the league and rank eighth in pass defense (though just 24th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA). They have been torched by some of the better quarterbacks they’ve faced, most recently New England Patriots rookie Mac Jones in a 45-7 loss in Week 10. Myles Garrett is a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, with 13 sacks and 26 quarterback hits in 11 games. Jadeveon Clowney (neck/wrist/knee), who was limited Wednesday, has played well on the other side, with 3 ½ sacks and 12 quarterback hits in 10 games. Denzel Ward is again one of the league’s top cover cornerbacks after he struggled at times in his second and third seasons.
Browns passing game vs. Ravens pass defense
Quarterback Baker Mayfield (shoulder/foot/groin), who did not practice Wednesday, is dealing with a torn labrum and a fracture in his non-throwing shoulder, and he completed just 15 of 29 passes with two interceptions as the Browns scraped by the winless Detroit Lions in Week 11. Mayfield ranks 27th in ESPN’s QBR, a measure of all-around quarterback performance. He still does his best work in play-action but has taken 27 sacks in 10 games, a surprise given the quality of Cleveland’s offensive line. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry remains Mayfield’s most frequent target, but his efficiency has plummeted this season. Donovan Peoples-Jones is a vertical threat, averaging 20.6 yards per catch, but he missed the Lions game because of a groin injury. He missed practice on Wednesday. Kareem Hunt, the Browns’ top receiver out of the backfield, could return from a calf injury against the Ravens. That would be bad news for a defense that has struggled to limit yards after the catch.
The Ravens gave up a 60-yard touchdown off a wide-receiver screen against the Bears and also surrendered a 49-yard touchdown when they blitzed on fourth down late in the game. They rank first in the league in third-down defense, but explosive plays have been their undoing. They are relying on inexperienced players such as Chris Westry and Brandon Stephens in the secondary. Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser played the best game of his career in Chicago, with a strip-sack and another sack on the last play of the game. His partner on the edge, Justin Houston, leads the team with 15 quarterback hits.
Ravens running game vs. Browns run defense
Latavius Murray returned from an ankle injury against the Bears and carried 10 times compared to 16 for Devonta Freeman. They combined for 81 yards, just a 3.1 per-carry average. The Ravens rank third in the league in rushing and fifth in yards per carry, but they are heavily dependent on Jackson, who’s on pace for another 1,000-yard season. Tight end Nick Boyle, one of their key run blockers, returned against the Bears after a yearlong recovery from knee surgery.
The Browns hold opponents to 4.1 yards per carry, so this will not be an easy week for the Ravens to pound their way to victory. Clowney and Garrett set the edges, and Anthony Walker has played well as Cleveland’s busiest inside linebacker. The Browns’ run defense has moved in the wrong direction over the last two weeks, allowing a combined 352 yards against the Lions and Patriots.
Browns running game vs. Ravens run defense
The Browns lead the league in rushing and yards per attempt and could have their top two backs, Nick Chubb and Hunt, together for the first time since Week 5. Chubb, one of the league’s most devastating outside runners, has averaged 106.4 yards per game and 6 yards per carry. D’Ernest Johnson has played well as a third back, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. The efficiency of all three backs is a testament to their talent but also to Cleveland’s top-notch offensive line. Guards Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio rank among the finest run blockers in football. Despite their outstanding talent, the Browns have faced criticism for not always pressing their advantage in the run game; they have failed to reach 100 yards in three of their last six games, losing each time they fell short.
The Ravens rank second in the league in run defense and have held opponents to 4.2 yards per carry. Defensive end Calais Campbell is their standout on the interior, and they have played better on the second level since installing Josh Bynes at middle linebacker and moving Patrick Queen to the weak side. No opponent has run for more than 131 yards against them; the Browns average 156.8. Something will have to give.
Ravens special teams vs. Browns special teams
The Ravens have been sloppier than usual in coverage over the last few weeks but still rank second in special teams DVOA. Kicker Justin Tucker made three field-goal attempts, all of them essential, in difficult conditions in Chicago. He has made 20 of 22 on the season. Devin Duvernay is one of the league’s most dangerous returners, with a 15.6-yard average on punts and a 24.7-yard average on kickoffs.
The Browns rank 16th in special teams DVOA. Kicker Chase McLaughlin has made 13 of 16 field-goal attempts, with all of his misses coming between 40 and 49 yards. Demetric Felton has averaged 7.9 yards on 29 punt returns.
Ravens intangibles vs. Browns intangibles
The Ravens added another notch to their comeback-kings belt with their last-minute win in Chicago. They have not hit their stride as team but believe they will find a way to win more often than not. They would feel more confident against the Browns with Jackson at the helm. He delivered one of the most thrilling performances of his career the last time the teams met, emerging from the tunnel in Cleveland to lead the team to a 47-42 victory.
The Browns have been one of the league’s great Jekyll and Hyde teams, alternating wins and losses over the last six weeks. They seem to deal with perpetual drama around Mayfield, whose injuries and erratic play have led to questions about his long-term future in Cleveland. The Browns will fall to 6-6 if they lose, so they have every reason to play with urgency.
This is one of the most difficult matchups of the year to parse. The Browns could present serious problems with their league-best running game and elite defenders, but they have only played up to their potential a few times this season. They never know what they’re going to get from battered quarterback Mayfield. If the Ravens have a relatively healthy Jackson, they will pull out a win late. Ravens 27, Browns 23