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Getting Even with Cleveland

Lamar Jackson goes into the end zone as a Browns defender chases.
Baltimore Ravens/Phil Hoffmann
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Reading Time: 7 minutes

Offense

Get to Schobert

The Cleveland Browns have the league’s 27th-ranked run defense. Despite that well below-average ranking, the Browns held the Ravens to their fourth worst rushing performance of the season. In terms of rushing yards, Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards had performances that were roughly average. Lamar Jackson, on the other hand, was held to just 66 yards on nine carries. The below-average day was certainly due in part to the flow of the game and playing from behind, but the Browns defense played a part.

Browns LB Joe Schobert was a major reason that the Browns were able to limit the Ravens running game in Week 4. Schobert, a fourth-year LB out of the University of Wisconsin, made plays all over the field and finished the day with 16 tackles and one sack. Much of Schobert’s success against the Ravens can be at least partially attributed to the fact that Cleveland’s defensive line kept him “clean” for much of the game. Keeping a linebacker clean means that he is kept free of blocks from offensive lineman because the defensive linemen in front of them draw the full attention of the opponent’s offensive line. Free to run around and make plays, Schobert popped up all over the field, got in front of Jackson and limited the entire Ravens rushing attack.

To prevent Schobert from having a similarly disruptive game in Week 16, the Ravens need to reach him with their run blocks. The first step to getting to Schobert is the Ravens offensive line to not allowing the Browns defensive linemen to occupy their full attention. The line needs to work together on their double teams before one of the lineman releases as soon as possible to get to the next level. The Ravens also have the option to send a pulling guard or Pat Ricard to take care of Schobert and any other Browns linebacker.

Getting to Joe Schobert and not allowing him free reign of the second level will ensure that the Ravens will have a better game rushing the ball on Sunday than they did against the Browns earlier in the season.

Protect the Football

It seems unnecessary to state the brutally obvious, but Lamar Jackson has had a fantastic season. On his way to leading the Ravens to an AFC North title during his rookie season, Jackson struggled with mechanical inconsistencies and accuracy issues. Well aware of his own need to improve as a passer, Jackson spent his offseason working hard with Ravens WRs and a personal QB coach. As a result of his dedication, Jackson has seen wholesale improvements as a passer that are almost unprecedented. His improvements as a passer and his record-breaking numbers as a runner have Jackson in pole position to be named the NFL MVP at the conclusion of the season.

Unsurprisingly, the Ravens’ only two losses of the season have been accompanied by two of Jackson’s worst performances of the year. Against the Chiefs, Jackson completed only 51.2% of his passes on his way to his third worst passer rating of the year. In the Ravens’ first meeting against the Browns, Jackson posted a below-average passer rating and recorded two of the six interceptions that he’s thrown in 2019.

If the Ravens are going to change their fortunes and beat the Browns this time around, Lamar Jackson has to protect the football.

If Jackson and the Ravens can avoid mistakes and not give the Browns free possessions, it will be hard for Cleveland to have much of a chance against a Ravens team that is much improved from the last time they played.

Share the Snaps

At this point in the 2019 season, it’s difficult for Ravens fans not to get ahead of themselves. The Ravens lead the NFL in wins and occupy the top spot in every set of NFL Power Rankings that exists. With a win over the Browns this weekend or over the Steelers in Week 17, Baltimore will have earned the AFC’s number one seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. While the primary goal against the Browns is coming away with a win, beginning to prepare the team for the playoffs has to be on the mind of Ravens players and coaches.

Part of preparation for the playoffs is making sure that the team is ready for any situation that they might face. That could include trying out a few new plays on offense or testing out different ways to match up against different formations on defense. It also means making sure that every player on the roster is prepared to contribute in the postseason. Whether it’s due to injury or some other situation, players who’ve spent most of the season on the bench could be asked to play a major role at a moment’s notice. Giving extra snaps to someone like Gus Edwards this week could give him the game reps he needs to feel comfortable about getting crunch time rushes in January.

As a bonus, giving as many snaps as possible to reserves can limit unnecessary injuries at this point in the season. If the Ravens are in the position to do so on Sunday, they need to rotate as many players into the game as possible as they prepare for the playoffs.

Jimmy Smith cradles an interception to his shoulder as a Browns player looks on.
Baltimore Ravens/Shawn Hubbard

Defense

Commit to Stopping Chubb

The Ravens have the most rushing yards of any team in the NFL. Lamar Jackson (8), Mark Ingram (11) and Gus Edwards (33) all rank among the top 35 in the league in rushing yards. The 49ers have the second-most rushing yards of any team in the NFL. Raheem Mostert (25), Matt Breida (26) and Tevin Coleman (35) all rank among the top 35 in the league in rushing yards. Cleveland comes into Week 16 with the NFL’s 10th-ranked rushing attack. But unlike the Ravens and the 49ers, the Browns rushing attack is a one-man show.

With 1408 yards, Browns RB Nick Chubb leads the NFL in rushing. The Browns’ second most productive runner, Kareem Hunt, has only 167 rushing yards this year. Hunt, who ranks 82nd in the league in rush yards, has only played six games so far this season. Chubb, a versatile back who has the second most carries in the NFL, is the only player in the league averaging at least 100 yards rushing per game. The Browns lean on him as much on any player in the NFL.

Against the Browns on Sunday, the Ravens should commit extra resources to stopping Chubb. The Ravens have relied heavily on nickel and dime defensive sets, but heavy boxes with “base” personnel will be used more than usual against Cleveland. Josh Bynes, L.J. Fort and Chris Board should see elevated snap counts as the Ravens clog up the box and commit to stopping the Browns running game. It would have seemed insane just three months ago, but making Baker Mayfield win the game by throwing to Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry is preferable to being gashed by Chubb.

If the Ravens can limit Chubb, they’ll have a hard time losing to the Browns.

Shut Beckham Down, Again

In March, the Browns acquired Beckham and defensive end Olivier Vernon from the New York Giants in exchange for 2017 1st round pick Jabrill Peppers, 2012 1st round pick Kevin Zeitler and their 1st and 3rd round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. Beckham’s arrival in Cleveland signaled the official start of the national media infatuation with the Browns that ended in widespread predictions of division and AFC Championships to follow. Since joining the team though, Beckham has been nothing if not a disappointment. In 14 games, he has registered 67 receptions for 910 yards and two touchdowns. He’s tied for 24th in receptions, has the 25th most receiving yards and is tied for 106th in the league in receiving touchdowns.

In Week 4 against the Ravens, Beckham was followed by Marlon Humphrey and held to just two receptions and 20 yards on the day. Late in the 3rd quarter of that game, Beckham had yet to make an appearance in the box score. It was the first time in Beckham’s career that he didn’t record a catch through three quarters of football. Then, during a running play in which the two were not involved, Beckham and Humphrey were involved in a scuffle that would land them at the center of the national sports media conversation for the week that followed. Beckham took a swing at Humphrey, the players ended up on the ground and articles about whether or not Humphrey put his hands around Beckham’s neck flooded the internet. Their after-the-whistle scuffle had fans of both teams circling the Week 16 divisional rematch on their calendars.

Well, the rematch is here and the Ravens should handle Beckham exactly the same way they did the first time around. Humphrey should travel with Beckham for the entire game. In 2019, Humphrey has proven that he is perfectly suited to cover the opponent’s best WR. Against Beckham, Humphrey has the strength to be physical at the line of scrimmage and the cover ability to stick with Beckham wherever he goes. Beckham has yet to play to his ability this season, but he is still the Browns’ most dangerous pass-catching weapon and shutting him down with Humphrey will seriously hurt Cleveland’s offense.

Bowser Bothering Baker

Tyus Bowser has had an up-and-down start to his Ravens career. Stuck towards the bottom of the pass rush depth chart and still developing, the 2017 2nd round pick out of Houston had just 3.5 sacks in his first two seasons in Baltimore. While he started the 2019 season behind Matt Judon and Pernell McPhee, Bowser has seen an increase in snaps since McPhee was lost for the year with a triceps injury. In the last five weeks, Bowser has recorded six QB hits and three sacks.

Against the Browns in Week 4, the Ravens only managed to sack Mayfield one time. After a Bowser sack that ended the Browns’ first drive, the Ravens were shut out for the rest of the afternoon. Bowser has made enormous strides as a pass rusher and deserves more snaps against the Browns. Working with increased confidence and ability, Bowser should be able to bother Mayfield and keep the Browns offense off schedule if Cleveland decides to double team Judon. Getting Bowser additional work against the Browns will also help him to prepare for the playoffs.

Success for Bowser on Sunday will help the Ravens secure the top seed in the AFC playoffs and send him into the playoffs playing as well as he ever has.

One-on-One Matchup to Watch

Browns WR Jarvis Landry versus Ravens CB Marcus Peters

Landing Marcus Peters in a midseason trade is one of the best moves of Eric DeCosta’s first year as the General Manager for the Ravens. In exchange for reserve ILB Kenny Young and a 5th round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, DeCosta acquired a CB to start opposite Marlon Humphrey and help to shore up the defense. In his eight games with the Ravens, Peters has three interceptions, two touchdowns, and has made an impact in every game. Peters has a number of crucial pass break ups and earned himself a spot on the AFC Pro Bowl roster. His arrival has helped to solidify the Ravens back end and has led in part to improvements all over the defensive side of the ball.

Without Peters to help stop him in Week 4, Browns Landry had a massive day. With Humphrey shadowing Beckham, Landry was covered by an assortment of backup Ravens corners, and hauled in eight catches for 167 yards on the afternoon. With the expectation that Humphrey will again trail Beckham all game, Peters may be the Ravens defensive back most often tasked with covering Landry. If Humphrey can lock down Beckham and Peters can lock down Landry, Mayfield won’t have many places to throw the ball.

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