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Ravens News 12/16: Fresh Legs and more

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NFL: DEC 11 Ravens at Steelers Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

RB Index, Week 15: Three fresh-legged running backs who could impact the NFL playoff picture - Maurice Jones-Drew

J.K. Dobbinselectric performance last week was a welcome sight, especially for a Baltimore Ravens offense limping into the stretch run.

Dobbins returned from a six-game injury absence for a gotta-have-it matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, racking up 120 rush yards, including a 4-yard touchdown run, on 15 carries for an impressive 8.0 yards per carry in the 16-14 victory. Dobbins missed all of the 2021 season with a knee injury, and his 2022 campaign has been only slightly less frustrating. He first took the field in Week 3, only to play four games — rushing 35 times for 123 yards (3.5 yards per carry) and one score — before having another surgery to remove scar tissue.

Given that he essentially has fresh legs for the stretch run, Dobbins’ return couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. At 9-4, Baltimore is in first place in the AFC North (over 9-4 Cincinnati, thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker, though a Week 18 showdown between the teams looms). The Bengals have caught fire, winning five straight games — and they’ve got Ja’Marr Chase back from his own injury.

After trade to Ravens, Roquan Smith is right where he wants to be - Dan Pompei

In DeCosta’s estimation, Smith could be a “force multiplier” in the same way cornerback Marcus Peters was when he was acquired via midseason trade from the Rams in 2019. Smith recognizes offensive tells and keeps teammates alert, setting a standard and playing with a transmittable energy.

Since the Ravens acquired Smith, they have allowed an average of 55 rushing yards per game, down from 97.5 before his arrival.

In Baltimore’s victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday, Smith had six tackles, one tackle for loss, a sack that forced Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett out of the game, an interception and two passes defended in what CBS play-by-play man Kevin Harlan dubbed “a Hall of Fame day.”

“He’s made us a better defense for a lot of reasons,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “The spot in our defense is really important. He’s another level of player. And he’s one of those players who makes everyone around him better.”

The primary beneficiary has been third-year inside linebacker Patrick Queen, whom Harbaugh says has played more freely with Smith beside him.

“He makes me go hard,” Queen says. “Knowing how great he is, I don’t want to let him down.”

Twelve Ravens Thoughts ahead of Week 15 tilt at Cleveland - Luke Jones

Since the Browns averaged 4.7 yards per carry in their Week 7 meeting, Baltimore has surrendered just 2.77 yards per rush over the last six games, a dominant stretch of run defense. For context, it’s even more remarkable that the 2000 Ravens allowed 2.69 yards per carry all season.

After watching Baltimore impose its run-heavy will on the Steelers last week, Cleveland has to be very concerned about its rush defense that ranks 26th in yards per carry and 30th in efficiency. Even if the Browns know it’s coming, will that even matter?

Browns tight end David Njoku had seven catches for 71 yards on seven targets in the first meeting before exiting in the third quarter with an ankle injury. Health is a constant concern with him, but he’s routinely shown off his game-changing ability against Baltimore.

Held without a touchdown and having registered no more than 63 receiving yards since Week 6, Mark Andrews was blanked by Cleveland in Week 7 and is seeing double teams “a lot more than he ever has,” per Greg Roman. Given the passing game’s current state, that sounds about right.

Ravens vs. Browns scouting report for Week 15: Who has the edge? - Childs Walker

Ravens passing game vs. Browns pass defense

They’ll next face an underachieving Browns pass defense that has squandered the talents of All-Pro edge rusher Myles Garrett (12 sacks, 19 quarterback hits). Despite the individual performances of Garrett and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, they rank in the bottom half of the league in sacks and pressure rate. Cornerback Denzel Ward is one of the highest-paid players at his position, but his Pro Football Focus grades suggest he has played far below that level. Jackson was unable to take advantage in the Ravens’ 23-20 win over the Browns in October, eating three sacks and completing just nine of 16 passes for 120 yards.

Browns running game vs. Ravens run defense

The Browns had the best running game in the league through the first half of the season but have not produced nearly as consistently in recent weeks. Nick Chubb (1,153 yards, 12 touchdowns) is their best offensive player, but they turn away from him too easily when they fall behind. Though Chubb gained 91 yards on 16 carries against the Ravens in Week 7, they have generally held him in check since he went off for 165 yards in their first meeting of 2019. Backup Kareem Hunt has been less effective than usual this year, averaging 4 yards per carry. Watson is more of a threat on designed runs than Brissett was. Guards Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio are stellar run blockers, while Cleveland’s excellent center, Ethan Pocic, is on injured reserve.

Week 15 NFL Picks Against the Spread - Sheil Kapadia

Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns (-2.5)

The Browns’ worst offensive performance of the season, in terms of expected points added (EPA) per drive, came in Week 13 during Deshaun Watson’s first start. The Browns’ third-worst offensive performance of the season came in Week 14 during Watson’s second start.

The Ravens left Pittsburgh with a 16-14 win, despite Tyler Huntley and Anthony Brown combining to complete just 11 passes for 94 yards. Huntley, who suffered a concussion last week, was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice and looks like he has a good chance to start for Baltimore on Saturday.

I like the Ravens in an underdog role. Their defense is eighth in DVOA—10th against the pass and seventh against the run. Plus, they have an edge on special teams most weeks. I think they can create some turnovers here, run the ball, and leave Cleveland with an upset win.

The pick: Ravens (+2.5)