Previewing Week 15: Ravens at Browns
The Ravens managed to let a very winnable game slip through their fingers last Sunday night in an incredibly frustrating loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. And while it is difficult to feel confident about a football team after they let their hated rivals rack up close to 600 yards of offense against a defense that is supposed to be one of the best in the league, I’m going to make a brief case as to why Ravens fans should feel better than ever about their team’s chances. We knew going into the game that the Ravens didn’t have to win this game to make the playoffs. It would certainly have helped their chances, but it was far from a must-win game. While the Ravens no longer control their own destiny due to the NFL tiebreak rules, they still have the easiest path to earning the 2nd AFC Wild Card among any contending teams. I’m not going to go into more detail about the different scenarios that can play out, but for more discussion on the topic you can check out Ken McKusick’s work over at Russell Street Report or some talk on our message board.
I want to talk about the Ravens offense that has come alive in the past several weeks. Not too long ago the Ravens had what could have been considered the worst offense in the league. They were struggling to win games even with a defense that dominated teams. Somewhere along the line something really cool happened; the offensive line started playing much better and the Ravens started giving Alex Collins the ball. Danny Kelly wrote a more in depth article on the emergence of the Ravens offense behind Collins over at the Ringer, and it doesn’t feel like an aberration anymore. The Ravens have averaged over 31 points/game since Alex Collins racked up 113 yards against a top ranked Miami run defense with just 20 touches. He has since been given 14, 24, 18, 17 and 20 touches in the ensuing games and he has found the endzone 5 different times. Collins is averaging an astonishing 5.1 YPC and has a great shot at passing the 1,000 yard mark on the season even though he has only been the feature running back in 6 games thus far. He really is a great offensive weapon, something the Ravens have not had since Ray Rice.
Joe Flacco has also seemingly improved over this stretch of games, completing 65% of his passes for 1,224 yards, while tossing 8 TDs to 4 INTs and taking only 7 sacks. They aren’t amazing numbers, but compared to how the season started, they are numbers that are good enough for an offense that has a very efficient rushing attack. This improvement could be due to improved health as Marty Mornhinweg alluded to this past week, but having an effective run game has always made Joe Flacco better, and I have little doubt that the emergence of Collins is a big factor as well.
But what about the defense? It’s been wildly overrated all season, right? The Ravens hadn’t played a real QB until this past week, right? Well, there is certainly some truth to this, although a lot of QBs and offenses the Ravens have played have fared much better against other teams they have played, which is why Football Outsiders’ DVOA, a stat that adjusts for level of competition, still rates the Ravens as the top defense in the NFL. There really is no way to sugarcoat how badly the defense played this past week against the Steelers, but there also aren’t many (or any) teams in the NFL that have the same talent on offense that the Steelers possess. To finish off the year, the Ravens play 3 of the worst offenses in the NFL and should be heavy favorites in each of the match-ups which finally brings us to the upcoming game this Sunday in Cleveland against the winless Browns.
This game has all the makings of a trap game for the Ravens; on the road versus a divisional opponent, the week after a difficult and emotional loss and perhaps worst of all, the Browns have nothing to lose. That being said, the Ravens do have a lot to lose and I think they will come out firing on all cylinders against a Browns team that just isn’t very good.
It’s hard to see the Browns having much success in any facet of this game against the Ravens. They do have Josh Gordon back after a 2 year hiatus, and he has played well in his first 2 weeks back, but the Ravens even without Jimmy Smith are talented enough in the secondary to limit him, and more importantly the QB throwing him the ball is DeShone Kizer. Kizer has not had a good season as a rookie QB. He has turned the ball over at a staggering rate, and is completing slightly greater than 50% of his passes. The Ravens held him to a 48% completion rate with 3 INTs the first time the teams met, and there is no reason to think he will be much better in this match-up.
It’s unlikely the Browns will find much success running the ball either, as the Ravens defense has really clamped down on opposing RBs since Brandon Williams has returned to the Ravens starting lineup. The defense is letting up 3.9 YPC on the season, but since Williams has come back that number is closer to 3 YPC. The improved run defense has made opposing teams completely one dimensional, and when their QB is DeShone Kizer that is a very good thing for the defense. They will have to guard against the deep throw as Kizer likes to sling it downfield, but it’s hard to imagine the Browns offense having much success in this game.
For the Ravens offense, they just need to keep doing what they have been doing the past few weeks. Run the ball heavily with Alex Collins, and put Joe Flacco in position to make easy throws via play action and favorable down and distance. The last time these teams played, TE Ben Watson had a big game as the Browns LBs struggled in coverage and I could see a similar gameplan attacking the middle of the field with the RBs and TEs working well for the Ravens.
They may not score 30+ points in this game, but the Ravens shouldn’t need to in order to win this game handily. In the end, Baltimore is just a more talented and better coached team and should win by 2 scores, 27 – 13.