A slow yet promising start swirled into a cyclone of chaos late in the second quarter but the Baltimore Ravens didn’t let their many mistakes and miss-steps on either side of the ball—mostly on offense—prevent them from prevailing over the Cleveland Browns 16-10 in Week 12. The AFC North showdown took place in primetime on Sunday Night Football and a nationally televised audience was forced to witness a sloppy turnover-filled defensive slugfest where there was some good, some bad, and some ugly.
Pass rush: The Ravens and Defensive Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale relentlessly pressured the Browns offense and had Baker Mayfield on the run all night long. They made the already bruised and battered signal-caller even sorer with hits he took while being sacked even after he let the ball go.
Two players that especially stood out in this game were veteran Tyus Bowser and rookie Odafe Oweh, the team’s top two edge defenders. They each recorded a sack and were breathing down Mayfield’s neck as well on a consistent basis. As a team, the Ravens finished with three total sacks, five quarterback hits, and several pressure events that led to incompletions and errant throws.
Justin Tucker: For the second week in a row, the Ravens only managed to put up 16 points and their leading scorer was their future Hall of Fame kicker again with the same amount of points (10) that he had last week. On a day and in a season where kickers around the league are consistently missing crucial kicks in critical situations, Tucker continues to be the gold standard and model of consistency of which he has no equal. He converted on kicks from 52, 25, and 49 yards out and made his lone extra-point attempt as well. The All-Pro specialist likely would’ve had more opportunities to add to his total had it not been for a quartette of drive-killing turnovers that we’ll dive into later in this article.
Run defense: The Browns boasted the league’s top-ranked rushing attacking coming into this game, averaging 156.8 yards per game, and they got both running back Kareem Hunt and right tackle Jack Conklin back from injured reserve. Even without their veteran leader and best player on the defensive line, Calais Campbell who sat out with a concussion, the Ravens only yielded 40 yards on the ground to Cleveland which was their lowest total of the season.
Hunt led the Browns in rushing with just 20 yards on seven carries. Nick Chubb led the team in carries with eight but was held to a meager 16 yards. The return of Brandon Williams aided the effort but it was players like veteran Justin Ellis and second-year pros Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington who stepped their game up the most.
Running game: On the flip side, while the Ravens weren’t ripping off chunks of yardage like they’ve been used to since Lamar Jackson became the full-time starter and Greg Roman took over as offensive coordinator, they still racked up 148 yards on the ground. It took nearly 20 attempts from their quarterback and they averaged just one yard more per rush than the Browns at a clip of 3.4, yet they got the job done and churned out the necessary yardage to dominate time of possession 37:04-22:56 and put themselves in scoring position more times than their opponent. Jackson led the team with 68 yards on 17 carries and veteran running back Devonta Freeman finished second with 52 yards on 16 carries.
Red zone offense: For the vast majority of the time that Jackson has been under center and Roman has been calling plays, the Ravens have been one of the most efficient and potent offenses when it comes to finding the end zone once they reached the opposing team’s 20-yard line. While the offense has stalled out once they’ve crossed midfield as of late and haven’t gone on as many trips to the red zone as they’re used to, they were 1-for-2 on Sunday which played a part in why the game had to come down to the wire.
The Ravens marched down to the Browns’ 1-yard line on their best and longest drive of the game in the second quarter. It lasted nearly nine minutes but they couldn’t punch the ball across before a false start penalty on fourth-and-goal backed them up and forced them to settle for a short field goal. It took an incredible display of elite athleticism by Jackson for the Ravens to reach the end zone for their only touchdown of the game. Against an all-out blitz, he bought time for tight end Mark Andrews to uncover in the end zone for a decisive 13-yard score on their first possession of the second half.
Defending play action pass: As impressive as the Ravens were on defense against the run, they didn’t fare as well against the pass, particularly off of play-action. The Browns consistently answered Baltimore’s over-commitment towards slowing down their ground game by strategically taking well-timed and designed shots down the field to sometimes wide-open targets through the air.
While they didn’t get burned for any long touchdowns, they will travel to Cleveland in a couple of weeks to faceoff against this exact same team. The Browns will be coming off a bye and will have had additional time to prepare for the rematch where they will assuredly be looking to attack what worked well and fix what didn’t.
Pass Protection: In all honesty, I was fully expecting to have this topic be featured in the ugly section of this article. While Jackson bailed out his starting offensive line on numerous occasions as he consistently made something out of nothing, it wasn’t all bad all the time. Jackson was sacked just twice which is a far cry from the six Tyler Huntley endured last week against the Chicago Bears. Thankfully, he was able to Houdini himself out several close calls but the line gave up many pressure events that led to scrambles, rushed throws, and throwaways.
4 interceptions by Jackson: As amazing as the Ravens’ dynamic dual-threat signal-caller was with his legs, he was wildly inconsistent and sloppy as a passer for a portion of the game. He tied his career-high single game interception total inside the final three minutes of the second quarter and by the end of the game, he set a new one after throwing his fourth early in the final quarter. All four of his interceptions came on passes that were meant for Andrews. While the first one was tipped and the fourth was just a great play by Browns’ safety John Johnson, the two in between were just bad decisions where he didn’t see the lurking defender underneath.
David Njoku “touchdown” call: The officiating in this game was atrocious, to say the least, and that was apparent for the whole world to see on a 20-yard pass from Mayfield to Njoku late in the third quarter. The controversial play was initially called a touchdown on the field but even after multiple video replays clearly showed that the ball briefly bounced off the turf, the ruling was upheld and the Browns, who were trailing 13-3, were able to make it a one-score game heading into the fourth quarter.