The Ravens won’t make a quarterback’s day a nightmare, but they will cause him to be consistently frustrated. Baltimore ranks eighth in yards per game, and is even better at limiting the opponent in the most important category: scoring. The Ravens are the third-best unit in points allowed per game and excellent at getting off the field, also standing as the league’s third-best unit on third down.
The yardage totals are what lift the Ravens to this standing, because they aren’t jumping off the page in many Next Gen metrics. But frustrating the opposing quarterback has been working for them, as evidenced by their ninth-best opposing passer rating allowed (89.3) and completion percentage over expectation of -0.5 percent.
If there’s one recommendation for the Ravens, it might be to blitz a little less. Baltimore is near the middle of the pack when it comes to causing disruptions, yet it blitzes at a higher rate than any other team in the league. Then again, maybe that’s the Ravens’ best chance at success. Right now, it has them in the heat of the AFC wild-card race.
Baltimore Ravens (7-5) @ Cleveland Browns (9-3)
Still, if the Browns want to prove they belong, they have to start by standing up to the bullies who’ve been beating them up for years. The Ravens have won 21 of 25 games against the Browns (84 percent) since Baltimore hired head coach John Harbaugh in 2008. A win over Baltimore to all but guarantee a Browns playoff berth would be the rare victory for the underdog in 2020.
The Ravens, meanwhile, are trying to regain their form after looking lost for the first three-quarters of the year.
Assuming this game gets played as scheduled, it will be consequential for the playoffs. A Ravens win would give them a roughly 85 percent chance of making the postseason, but a loss drops them to roughly 33 percent. Baltimore has long been able to beat the Browns, but now they need to do it when it matters most.
NFL playoffs 2020 concern index: Should we be worried about Russell Wilson, Tom Brady and Lamar Jackson? - Seth Galina
When all seems lost, when all seems hopeless and when you’ve been counted out, playing against the Dallas Cowboys’ defense is quite the cure. The Ravens and Jackson sat at 6-5, just out of the playoffs, entering Week 13, and the Cowboys came to town to get them back on track.
Baltimore now sits at 7-5 with improved playoff odds, but it’s still going to be a climb to reach the postseason. The Ravens are worse in a lot of areas compared to their 2019 team, with the biggest decline coming in passing efficiency. Specifically, the Ravens and Jackson haven’t been great against man coverage this season. Against any type of zone defense, the quarterback’s grades have stayed roughly similar — 81.4 in 2019 and 79.7 this year. But against man coverage, his grade has plummeted from 90.2 to 70.5.
One issue is that he’s using his legs much less in those situations. He has scrambled only eight times for 57 yards against man coverage, while he had 17 scrambles for an impressive 220 yards last season. Jackson can likely afford to hold on to the ball a little longer before seeing if there are more plays to be made on the ground against man coverage.
He would also benefit from the playcalling giving him deeper concepts. His average depth of target is down 1.4 yards from 2019. The Ravens should provide Jackson with deeper routes to create more explosive passes, and if nothing is open, let him use his legs. He will probably bounce back from all of this eventually, but is it already too late for 2020?
The Ravens are 6-1 this when Lamar Jackson’s completion rate is better than 59%
While Jackson’s electrifying skills as a runner generate highlights and topple records, his proficiency as a passer often serves as the best indicator for team success. When Jackson completes high rates of his passes, the Ravens often perform well on third downs and opposing defenses are unable to commit fully to stopping the run.
In Baltimore’s season-opening rout of Cleveland, Jackson put together his best passing performance of the season, completing 20 of 25 attempts for 275 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
His play hasn’t reached those heights in the three months since. Jackson doesn’t need to be quite that good to lift the Ravens over the Browns, but if he can move the ball through the air with consistency against a bruised Cleveland secondary, he’ll put his team in a good spot.
Are Lamar Jackson and Ravens in for tough test vs. Browns’ defense? - Hensley & Trotter
Bold prediction: The Ravens will be held to a season low in points. Jackson and the Baltimore offense is coming off a game in which they scored 34 points and ran for 294 yards. But that came against a struggling Cowboys defense, whereas the Browns have held teams to 18.8 points at home this season, the fourth fewest in the NFL. — Jamison Hensley
Stat to know: The Browns have a minus-15 point differential this season, the worst by any team with at least nine wins through 12 games in NFL history, via Elias Sports Bureau data.
Playoff/draft picture: The Ravens are on the outside looking in, sitting at a 68% chance to make the playoffs, according to FPI. But that would go up to 84% with a win or drop to 37% with a loss. The Browns, meanwhile, have a 86.2% chance to make the playoffs at this point.
Betting nugget: Cleveland is 0-4 ATS against AFC North opponents this season.
Hensley’s pick: Browns 23, Ravens 13
Trotter’s pick: Browns 30, Ravens 28
FPI prediction: BAL, 65.9% (by an average of 5.5 points)