After three games, the AFC North preseason narrative has flipped. During the offseason, the Browns were being hyped by the national media as the division favorites. Now, Baltimore is the North’s respected frontrunner with an opportunity to claim a three-game lead.
Cleveland will take the field on Sunday with an underdog’s mindset. They remain a formidable opponent. Baker Mayfield passed for 718 total yards in two starts against Baltimore as a rookie last season. Their receiver duo of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry will challenge the Ravens shorthanded, 27th ranked pass defense. And the Browns defensive front boasts pass rushers who can harass Lamar Jackson.
This showdown will feature direct battles between Pro Bowl caliber players, namely Myles Garrett vs. Ronnie Stanley and Beckham vs. Marlon Humphrey. Nonetheless, a few less anticipated matchups likely hold the keys to victory:
RB Mark Ingram vs LB Mack Wilson
The Ravens enter Week 4 with the NFL’s best rushing offense in terms of yards per game and the second best average yard per carry. After limiting Todd Gurley to 43 yards on Sunday night, Cleveland has allowed the 10th fewest yards per attempt.
Ingram has proven to be a valuable free agent acquisition. So far this season, he has gashed Miami, Arizona and Kansas City for a combined 315 all-purpose yards, along with five touchdowns.
With Christian Kirksey on injured reserve, Wilson will receive his second start beside Joe Schobert. The rookie was a consensus top-50 prospect at the beginning of the draft cycle and drew comparisons to C.J. Mosley because of his run stuffing skillset.
Baltimore’s gameplan will probably lean on Ingram, Gus Edwards and Jackson to move the chains on the ground in Week 4.
DT Michael Pierce vs C J.C. Tretter
Pierce has had a quiet start to his contract season, a Week 1 tackle for loss is his only impact play. Still, he represents the Ravens best pocket collpaser among a defensive line group that lacks much pass rushing ability.
Cleveland has allowed 11 sacks in 2019 and naturally had a tough time dealing with Aaron Donald last week. Matt Judon and Pernell McPhee could have their way unless the Browns subpar tackles are given help, which should force Tretter into solo responsibilities.
Baltimore has accumulated the most quarterback hits in the NFL through Week 3, but the defense needs more interior penetration to aid a secondary that is still building chemistry.
HC John Harbaugh vs HC Freddie Kitchens
Harbaugh was unjustly criticized for his aggressive decision making in Arrowhead stadium last Sunday. However, the play calling and substitution packages were questionable at times last Sunday. With a 19-3 record, he has essentially owned Cleveland during his tenure in Baltimore.
First time head coach Kitchens has not found his stride thus far. The Browns offense has struggled to find their groove as Kitchens has been unable to scheme around a relatively porous blocking unit.
Both franchises have had this divisional clash circled since the schedule was released.
Score Prediction: Ravens 23, Browns 20