Ravens, Browns meet again quickly in key division battle
Two struggling offenses will try to re-engage on Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens visit the Cleveland Browns in a critical AFC North battle.
The Ravens (8-4) lead the tightly packed AFC North, but the last-place Browns (6-6) remain within striking distance and on the fringes of a playoff spot.
Baltimore has split its last four games, including a 20-19 loss at Pittsburgh last week, as both standout quarterback Lamar Jackson and the offense in general have become mired in late-season misfires.
Jackson has just three touchdown passes and six interceptions, not to mention 13 sacks taken, in his last three games. The Ravens have scored just 61 points in their past four games (15.3 points per game).
“We’re still in control of our own destiny,” said Jackson, who has 16 touchdowns against 13 interceptions on the year. “We just have to grind it out and get Ws.”
Jackson was horrid, with four interceptions, but Baltimore scored a 16-10 win over visiting Cleveland two weeks ago. The Browns had a bye last week and now become the first NFL team in 30 years to play consecutive regular-season games against the same opponent. Seattle did it last in 1991.
The scheduling quirk has Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield feeling healthier as he battled shoulder, foot, and knee injuries most of the season. The extended prep time can only help the Browns, who have lost four in a row against their division rival.
Currently 11th in the AFC, the Browns will have to be nearly perfect down the stretch to nab a playoff berth.
“I feel confident with where I am, where we are and where we are headed,” Mayfield said. “Now, it’s crunch time. We need to have that singular focus, block out everything else and realize that we need to take care of business one day and one week at a time.”
Cleveland will have to find offense in the rematch, and that’s been a struggle for half the season. The Browns have scored more than 17 points just once in the last seven games. In the first game, Baltimore held the Browns to a season-low 40 rushing yards on 17 attempts.
With Nick Chubb (fourth in the NFL with 867 rushing yards) and a healthy Kareem Hunt available, that has to improve if Cleveland wants to beat the Ravens for the first time under second-year coach Kevin Stefanski.
“I think that is the expectation for all of us — coaches and players — of where we are in our season,” Stefanski said. “We all understand what’s at stake and those types of things.”
As teams, Cleveland and Baltimore are tied for third in the NFL with 147.1 rushing yards per game. The Ravens, however, give up the fewest rushing yards in the league at 84.3 per contest, tied with Tampa Bay.
That’s a reason why Baltimore coach John Harbaugh is confident his team can find a way to duplicate this season’s success against Cleveland despite mounting injury setbacks. The Ravens placed standout cornerback Marlon Humphrey on injured reserve Wednesday with a torn pectoral; he’s expected to miss the rest of the season.
“Our guys are going to handle adversity well … that’s something that’s proven,” Harbaugh said. “That’s established. We have enough guys to win the game.”
The Ravens had three other defensive regulars out of Wednesday’s practice with cornerback Anthony Averett (knee), defensive tackle Calais Campbell (illness), DB/LB Anthony Levine Sr. (knee) and FB/DT Patrick Ricard (back) sitting out. Also out were tight end Nick Boyle (illness/knee) and G/C Patrick Mekari (hand).
The Browns had four contributors out on Wednesday, despite the bye. receivers Jarvis Landry (knee) and Anthony Schwartz (concussion), TE Harrison Bryant (ankle) and DT Malik Jackson (knee) all were non-participants. Earlier this week, Cleveland placed tight end David Njoku on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
–Field Level Media