J.D. Bagley, @jdbagley5
The red hot Baltimore Ravens travel to Cleveland this week looking to avenge their most recent loss, and more importantly, clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Browns went into Baltimore late in September, coming out with a 40-25 win. Looking back, this was the most complete game the Browns have played all season against better than average competition. If Cleveland wants to have even a slight chance in this one, they will have to stop the run a whole lot better than they did last week in Arizona, where they gave up 226 yards on the ground.
MVP candidate Lamar Jackson is having a type of season that we’ve never seen before. After breaking Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record last week, Jackson is on pace for 1,260 rushing yards, something that is truly mind-blowing in this so-called ‘pass-happy’ NFL. The Ravens have completely destroyed that narrative going for 2,830 yards on the ground this season, 772 yards more than the next closest team.
What makes this offense so tough to defend is Lamar Jackson’s improved passing efficiency.
2018: 58.2 completion percentage, 7.1 YPA, 46.3 QBR, 6:3 TD:INT ratio
2019: 66.2 completion percentage, 7.8 YPA, 80.2 QBR, 33:6 TD:INT ratio
Give credit to the Ravens front office. They did a marvelous job of collecting talent that fits what Jackson does best. Multiple tight ends, multiple running backs, and a downfield threat in Marquise Brown who missed a decent chunk of the season dealing with an ankle injury. But, none of that amounts to the improvement of Lamar Jackson himself. Such a coachable and humble player, Jackson understood what he needed to get better at over the course of the offseason, and exceeded all expectations.
The Browns defense has been horrible the last two weeks and it looks as if that will continue this week against Jackson and Co. Two of the worst teams in the league, Cincinnati and Arizona, totaled over 440 yards apiece against the Myles Garrett-less defense. At this point in the season, it feels like many Browns players have given up on the coaching staff. Kareem Hunt said last week, “I felt like there were some plays that everybody didn’t leave their 110% out there through the whole play, through the whistle…” That shows the lack of respect Browns players has for Freddie Kitchens.
Baker Mayfield looks to end the season on a good note against a Ravens defense he has had previous success against. Over 3 games in his career against Baltimore, Mayfield averages over 350 yards per game through the air and holds a 2-1 record in those games. The play calling may have to be aggressive this week if the Browns want to keep pace with the Ravens. Running the ball is what is best for this offense, but with Baltimore very likely to win the time of possession battle, Cleveland will need big plays to keep this one close.
Something I’m worried about heading into this game is how the home fans will react, if and when this game gets ugly. The season as a whole has been a massive disappointment and the last thing Browns fans want to see in the final home game of the year is a blowout, courtesy of the old Browns. Cleveland fans are very passionate about their teams and can go overboard with their emotions at times. It will be a terrible look for Cleveland if this game ends with objects being thrown on the field, fans getting ejected, etc. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all if that ends up being the case.
At this point, the Browns season is a wash and it will be tough to find positives heading into the offseason. I don’t like to say the Browns would be better off losing, but if that results in the firing of Freddie Kitchens, it will be the best thing for this franchise moving forward.