In preparing for Sunday’s matchup against the Cleveland Browns, Dawgs By Nature’s Chris Pokorny and I sat down for a small Q&A for one another’s publications.
To read my answers, check out Browns vs. Ravens: Scouting the Baltimore Ravens with our Q&A with Baltimore Beatdown
1. The Browns enter this matchup with a 2-4 record. Was this where you had projected them at this point in the season? If not, where?
The Browns’ had the easiest-looking schedule to begin the season that one can ask for in my opinion, facing the Panthers, Jets, Steelers and Falcons. I know the Jets and Falcons have actually turned out to be a little bit better than expected, but Cleveland was dominant against the Jets and had an unfathomable collapse (which I know the Ravens have faced several times this year, to a degree). The hope was that, even with Brissett, Cleveland could go 3-1 in a worst-case scenario, and maybe 4-0, during that stretch. Then, we expected to lose quite a few games leading up to Deshaun Watson’s return (the current stretch we’re in). Therefore, 4-2 was the hope heading into this game, with 3-3 being more pessimistic. Instead, we’re 2-4 and regressing, having lost three straight games.
2. What has been the recipe for success with the Browns running game? Obviously, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are talented backs, but we all know that’s not enough to have a top-tier rushing attack.
Aside from last week against the Patriots, the run blocking has been stellar, but Nick Chubb is just so good at breaking tackles, shaking off defenders, and stiff arming players, all while he’s still moving up the field — it’s like he doesn’t even lose his burst of speed as he’s doing it. Kareem Hunt is a multi-dimensional back, as you guys know, who is very shifty and can break tackles in a unique form of way. But one area I’m concerned about this week is that right guard Wyatt Teller, who is one of the best in the business in run blocking, will miss this week’s game to a calf injury. That takes away a lot of the pulling guard options that Cleveland has over to the left side, which often confuses defenders when timed up right.
3. Many expected the Browns’ defense to be one of the better squads this season. However, they’re the second-worst team in defensive DVOA. Can you give some insight as to what’s plaguing this unit?
For the first few games, the Browns were just having very dumb breakdowns in coverage, where receivers were left completely uncovered 30 yards down the field because a cornerback thought they were in one coverage, while a safety thought it was another coverage. The communication has apparently gotten better, but then in Week 5, at the end of the third quarter, the Atlanta Falcons decided to run the ball every single play. Cleveland couldn’t stop it. Losing starting linebacker Anthony Walker and being without three starting defensive linemen in that game didn’t help matters, but it did kind of expose to other teams that the Browns have some serious issues in run defense if you keep plugging away. And then now, with the issues against the run, Cleveland is trying to cover that up by committing more defensive backs to the run, which is opening up some pass plays. Aside from defensive end Myles Garrett and safety John Johnson, a lot of defenders have not been playing up to their potential, which is a reason why fans are calling for defensive coordinator Joe Woods’ head as the scapegoat.
4. Who are two Browns players (one offense/one defense) Ravens fans should pay specific attention to in this game that aren’t ‘household names?’
On offense, look out for wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. He doesn’t gain a lot of separation when running his routes, but he has been very good this season at making tightly-contested catches, which has strengthened the confidence that Jacoby Brissett has in throwing him the ball.
On defense, rookie cornerback Martin Emerson has been somewhat of a bright spot, compared to the rest of the defense. Although I wouldn’t say that he’s been shutting teams down or anything like that, he’s played respectably and should continue to see action this week with Denzel Ward still out (concussion).
5. The Browns are heavy underdogs in this game at +6.5 according to DraftKings. If you had to make the line, where would you mark it and why?
The Browns’ first three losses were all within a field goal; it was only last week that they were blown out. I think it’s a good like right at +6.5, though, because the Browns have lost three straight games, are really struggling on defense, and are on the road against a Ravens team that many feel have probably underachieved. I wouldn’t place a bet on the game if I was in Vegas, but just for the sake of conversation, I’m expecting the Browns to lose by at least a touchdown, since they are likely to fall behind and don’t feature the type of offense under Brissett where they can sustainably come back via the passing game.