This contest will pit strength on strength when Baltimore’s 9th ranked rushing offense squares off against Cleveland’s 6th ranked run defense. The Ravens 14th ranked total defense should win more possessions than they lose against the Browns 23rd ranked total offense. But two below average units will likely determine the victor, when Cleveland’s 21st ranked pass defense meets Baltimore’s 30th ranked passing offense.
Five key matchups:
RB Alex Collins vs MLB Joe Schobert
Collins was unstoppable on outside runs against the shorthanded Steelers defense last week. With 166 total yards in Pittsburgh, Collins has legitimately earned Pro Bowl consideration. Collins debuted for the Ravens in Week 2 against Cleveland, averaging six yards per carry on seven attempts with a fumble. Collins has developed into the centerpiece of the offense as the season has progressed.
Schobert leads the Browns impressive run defense with 73 total tackles, three forced fumbles, 2.5 sacks and an interception. The second year linebacker is a hard nosed run stuffer who plays smart football. However, Ravens center Ryan Jensen blocked him well in week 2 and range is not Schobert’s forte. A few long runs from Collins would be helpful to keep the Browns from gaining momentum.
LT Ronnie Stanley vs DE Myles Garrett
A matchup between former lottery draft picks. Stanley has been dinged up this season and inconsistent with his pass blocking, but turned in some of his best games since the bye week. Overall, the Ravens patchwork offensive line has allowed just 24 sacks this season, seventh least in the NFL.
Garrett was thought to be a generational pass rusher before being picked first overall last April. A foot injury has caused him to miss five games this season, stunting his development. He has just five sacks on the year with only one since Week 7. Season ending injuries to complementary pass rushers Emmanuel Ogbah and Jamie Collins have allowed teams to slide protection Garrett’s way. Still, the Ravens need a strong showing from Stanley in order to exploit Cleveland’s vulnerable secondary.
DT Brandon Williams vs LG Joel Bitonio
The Ravens front office re-signed their stout defensive tackle precisely for this type of game. Williams was instrumental in limiting Pittsburgh’s defense to less than four yards per carry in Week 13. However, the Steelers nearly abandoned the run, only attempting 16 rushes all game, which diminished Brandon’s impact on the game. Cleveland does not have that same luxury due to their inexperience at quarterback.
On the season, Williams has accumulated 15 solo tackles, four tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits, one pass deflection and zero sacks in 365 snaps. He will have his hands full with the Browns inside blockers, who comprise one of the best interior units in the league. Bitonio is having a Pro-Bowl caliber season, while free agent acquisition Kevin Zeitler is also playing well at right guard. The Browns are averaging 4.4 yards per carry this season, a respectable 7th best in the league. In a game where time of possession will be a major factor, this trench battle looms large.
CB Brandon Carr vs WR Josh Gordon
Gordon has returned to the NFL with a vengeance. Following a string of suspensions that cost the wideout three full seasons, he has posted seven catches for 154 yards and a score since returning in Week 12. Gordon is one of the most physically talented players in the league and a matchup nightmare for most cornerbacks.
Carr was roasted by Antonio Brown last Sunday night while filling in as the top corner for the injured Jimmy Smith. Due to Gordon’s size and style of play, as well as the threat of Corey Coleman on the other side, it would behoove the Ravens to stick their impressive rookie Marlon Humphrey in solo coverage on Coleman. That would leave Carr to mark Gordon, with consistent help from Eric Weddle over the top. Keeping Gordon out of the end zone and limiting his chunk plays should be the goal.
SS Tony Jefferson vs TE David Njoku
Tight ends have found success against Baltimore’s defense all season. C.J. Mosley, in particular, has not defended the pass well. Assigning Jefferson to the athletic Njoku may give the Ravens their best chance to limit the damage. Jefferson has been beaten too often in coverage this year, but the Ravens have little choice but to ask their expensive free agent safety signing to step up his play.
Njoku caught a 23-yard touchdown in Week 2 against Baltimore. He posted his best game of the season two weeks ago against the Chargers, with 74 yards and a score. Still a raw rookie, Njoku is an athletic specimen who is growing into a matchup advantage. It will require a team effort to stifle the Browns’ budding pass catchers. Picking off DeShone Kizer, who leads the NFL with 17 interceptions, could be the difference between winning and losing on the road.
Week 15 presents a tough divisional contest for the Ravens, as they are coming off a difficult loss against the Steelers and have won only seven of their last 22 road games. The Browns usually play them close and have some favorable matchups to utilize. Baltimore must start fast to avoid giving Cleveland confidence at home.
John Harbaugh gives the Ravens an edge over Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson, who has just one victory as Cleveland’s head coach since the start of 2016. Furthermore, the Ravens have the second best turnover differential in the NFL, while the Browns have the worst. Expect a low scoring affair with a fourth quarter game winning field goal from Justin Tucker.
Ravens 23, Browns 20