Baltimore Ravens Week 14 Preview
The Baltimore Ravens (7-5) hit the road this week to face off with the Cleveland Browns (9-3) in a primetime AFC North showdown at 8:05 p.m. EST on ESPN. This divisional matchup is a crucial game for both teams but especially for the visiting Ravens who likely need to win out to make the postseason.
The Ravens are coming off their first win in nearly a month on Tuesday where they steamrolled the Dallas Cowboys 34-17 in primetime on Tuesday night. Their offense rushed for a season 294 yards and their defense bent at times but never broke or yielded any big plays.
The Browns are coming off their biggest win in recent franchise history and certainly over the last decade where they beat the Tennessee Titans on the road 41-35.
Cleveland and used an explosive first half where they got a career-best four-touchdown performance from third-year quarterback Baker Mayfield to jump out to an early insurmountable lead before Tennessee made the final result look more respectable than it actually was with 28 second half points but by that time it was too little too late.
Even though they noticeably lost the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball, Baltimore blew out the Browns 38-6 in the season opener. They used a near-perfect passing performance from reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson and three turnovers forced between the Ravens defense and special teams to secure the lopsided victory.
Here is a detailed breakdown of the matchup including potential X factors, injuries to monitor for each team, and a final outcome prediction.
What’s at stake:
While the Ravens are no longer in the running for the division crown after getting swept by the 11-1 Steelers, they are still vying for one of the wildcard playoff spots and can finish as high as second in the North if they complete the season sweep of the Browns and win out.
With a win, Baltimore would improve to 8-5 overall and improve to 5-5 in AFC conference play. They are still currently sit on the outside looking in on the current playoff picture, but they have a favorable schedule down the stretch and some of the other wild card contenders currently in front of them will play each other and/or more quality opponents going forward.
If the Browns win, they will split the season series with the Ravens, improve to 10-4 overall and 7-3 against conference opponents, and keep their hopes of catching the Steelers in the division race alive.
Cleveland hasn’t clinched their first playoff berth in over a decade yet but is well on their way to doing so and a victory over the two-time defending division champs on a national stage would firmly solidify their legitimacy as true championship contenders.
Injuries to monitor:
The majority of the players listed on the Ravens’ injury report are on the defensive side of the ball with the most notable being defensive end Calais Campbell (calf) and defensive backs Jimmy Smith (groin) and Tramon Williams (thigh).
Campbell made his highly anticipated return to action on Tuesday against the Cowboys from a calf strain he suffered early against Indianapolis in Week Nine. While he returned to the field, he didn’t exactly return to form and was clearly hobbled and struggled to move laterally and be his typical disruptive self.
Even though he didn’t practice all week, Campbell is still listed as questionable to play and not doubtful so there is still a solid chance he suits up on Monday.
Unfortunately, Williams is listed as doubtful after not practicing all week and is unlikely to play but fortunately, Smith will likely be back after missing last week with the groin injury he suffered early against the Steelers in Week 12. He missed Thursday’s practice but returned as a limited participant on Friday and Saturday.
Rookie defensive tackle Broderick Washington (concussion) returned to the practice field this week as a limited participant on Friday, a full participant on Saturday, and is listed as questionable to play.
He has been a regular member of the defensive lone rotation when he’s been active but might suit up if fellow rookie Justin Madubuike is active and if both Campbell and Brandon Williams are closer to 100 percent.
The only offensive player listed on the report with an injury is veteran tight end Luke Willson who sat out of Saturday’s practice with a hip and is listed as questionable but is expected to play.
Against the Cowboys, he hauled in his first catch of the season for 12 yards, played 27 offensive snaps, and drew a key defensive pass interference penalty on the Ravens’ final drive of the first half that moved the ball to midfield.
As for the Browns, ruled out starting cornerback Denzel Ward and backup wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge. Ward will be missing his third straight game with a calf injury an Hodge missed practice all week with a injured hamstring.
Starting tight end Austin Hooper is a game -time decision according to Head Coach Kevin Stefanski despite being listed as questionable with a neck injury that caused him to miss practice on Friday and Saturday.
Potential X factors:
TE Mark Andrews
The Ravens’ maligned passing attack has missed the presence of their Pro Bowl tight end in the last two games while he has been out with COVID-19. Andrews was activated from the reserve list on Wednesday, has returned to practice, and is expected to start and play on Monday night.
After breaking out last season, Andrews started his 2020 campaign off with a bang against the Browns in the season opener by hauling in five of his six targets for 58 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Cleveland’s defense has been among the worst in the league at defending tight ends which bodes well for the Ravens and sets the table for another big day for Andrews in a game that the Ravens can’t afford to lose.
NT Brandon Williams
The Ravens did a good job not getting gashed on the ground by the Cowboys like they were by the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans in back to back weeks and that was thanks in large part to the return of their Pro Bowl nose tackle.
This will be his second game since returning from an ankle injury that he suffered early against New England and kept him out of the remainder of that game as well as the team’s next two contests.
Williams was able to make his presence felt in the Cowboys game against both the pass and the run despite playing a season-low 37 percent of the snaps. He recorded two tackles and tipped a ball at the line of scrimmage that ended up being intercepted.
Baltimore will need him to build off that strong performance and go beyond against a potent Browns’ rushing attack that is averaging the second-most yards on the ground per game in the league at 157.8, only trailing his own team’s offense who averages 169.
In the season opener against Cleveland at home, Williams was a part of the tremendous effort that kept the dynamic running back duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to a combined 132 yards rushing which is impressive considering that they have racked up nearly 700 yards rushing since Chubb returned from injury in Week 10.
He will need to dominate as the anchor in the trenches again in order to help his team prevail and make the Browns one-dimensional on offense.
Cleveland’s passing game relies heavily on play-action which is set up by their ability to run the ball at a highly efficient rate and gives quarterback Baker Mayfield wide-open windows to throw into.
Recent history of the matchup:
The Ravens hold an overwhelming 32-11 lead in the all-time series between these two rivals and have won 21 of the 25 meetings since John Harbaugh as the head coach in 2008. Cleveland’s most recent win in the series came last season in Baltimore where they thumped the Ravens 40-25.
Even though the Ravens have historically dominated the Browns on the final box score in their victories, Cleveland never makes it easy and has always been a handful of plays away from making these games much more competitive.
Harbaugh always has the utmost respect for the Browns even when they were among the league’s worst teams and stresses the importance of having it and being prepared to his teams as well over the years.
The Browns have vastly improved since getting trounced in the season opener and have found their identity offense, so it won’t be the same cakewalk it was for the Ravens this time around.
However, I still believe that they can and will complete the season sweep by doing what the franchise has historically been known for which is playing great defense and sticking with the same simple formula on offense that they used to literally run the Cowboys out of town.
While the Browns are ranked in the top 10 at defending the run, with the exception of the Titans who were forced to abandon the run after falling behind by so much so early, they have struggled defending teams with good to above-average rushing attacks.
Cleveland surrendered 140 yards rushing to the Jacksonville Jaguars two weeks ago, a season-high 209 to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week Eight, and 129 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week Six which is a lot considering the Steelers rank 29th in the league in rushing yards per game and dead last in yards per attempt for the season.
I predict that the Ravens will use the top-ranked rushing attack that is first in both yards per game and yards per attempt to power them to victory and on defense, they will make Cleveland’s offense play one-dimensional by selling out to limit Hunt and Chubb which will make their potent play-action passing attack far less effective and unpredictable.
Final outcome: Ravens edge out Browns 27-24