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Ravens vs. Browns key matchups: Mismatches on the edge will be paramount

This heavyweight divisional bout features key battles between specific players, units, and coaches.

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens will be back at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 10 for the second three-week homestand. They’ll face off with the Cleveland Browns on Sunday for the second time this season. The Ravens are favored to win this AFC North matchup by nearly a touchdown, against a Browns team that shut out the Arizona Cardinals in Week 9.

However, games aren’t won on paper or decided by betting odds. There are some pivotal matchups between individual players, units, and coaches that will go a long way in determining the outcome of this contest.

Below are a handful of those key battles that could prove to be deciding factors in Week 10.

Ravens’ pass rush vs. Browns’ offensive tackles

The biggest mismatch in this game on either side of the ball will be Baltimore’s edge defenders against Cleveland’s bookend blockers. The Browns lost All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin in their season-opener and will be without his backup, too. Rookie Dawand Jones was ruled out with knee and shoulder injuries. This comes after they placed starting left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. on injured reserve earlier in the week with a knee injury.

These untimely injury developments will likely leave the Browns with veteran Geron Christian at left tackle and third-string right tackle James Hudson against the league’s most potent pass rush. Through nine games, the Ravens lead the NFL in sacks and rank No. 5 in quarterback hits. Christian has appeared in 49 career games and made 16 starts, with the last coming in 2021. Hudson has just seven starts under his belt in 36 career games.

The most sacks the Ravens’ defense has recorded in a single game this season is six, which came in their Week 6 win over the Tennessee Titans. They could potentially shatter that mark given the level that their top three outside linebackers have been playing at.

Veteran Kyle Van Noy has recorded five sacks in six games since joining the team and is coming off a monster two-sack game. Fellow 10-year veteran Jadeveon Clowney has been a disruptive force all season and will be motivated to sweep his former team. Third-year pro Odafe Oweh has looked very impressive since returning from his ankle injury, too. He has a sack in two of his last three games.

The Ravens sometimes line up their interior defensive linemen on the edge, too. Fourth-year breakout star Justin Madubuike could wind up extending his franchise record for consecutive games with a sack streak to seven.

Ravens’ offensive line vs. Browns’ defensive line

On the flip side, Baltimore’s blocking unit will also face one of the league’s top fronts, headlined by Defensive Player of the Year favorite Myles Garrett. He’ll likely be a problem for each offensive lineman because of how Browns’ Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz moves him around the alignment.

Garrett primarily lines up on the right side of their defense, which means he’ll be up against Ravens’ blindside protector Ronnie Stanley. The former All-Pro will be looking to have a bounce-back performance against his familiar foe after having a few lapses in pass protection last week.

Another key matchup to watch will take place along the interior between Ravens’ second-year center Tyler Linderbaum and veteran defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. Both players are having strong seasons. Linderbaum has the highest Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade among all centers in the league (82.9). Tomlinson is on pace to set a new single-season career high in sacks with three through eight games. He is coming off a monster game in the Browns’ win over the Cardinals last week in which he logged 2.5 sacks.

Mike Macdonald vs. QB Deshaun Watson

In their previous matchup in Week 4, Watson didn’t play due to a shoulder injury. The Ravens’ defense gave fifth-round rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson a “welcome to the NFL” experience in his first career start. They intercepted him three times, sacked him four times, hit him eight times, and held Cleveland to a season-low 166 yards of total offense.

Watson has only faced Macdonald’s unit once since becoming the Browns’ quarterback, which was in Week 15 last season. He will be facing quite the uphill battle on Sunday without three of his top offensive tackles. Watson’s play has been volatile even when healthy, so expect Macdonald to dialing up deceptive coverages to bait him into errant passes and set up pressure.

Ravens’ running game vs. Browns’ rush defense

Baltimore has gone up against a pair of Top-10 run defenses in the past three weeks in the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks. They averaged 222 yards on the ground in those two outings. They rushed for 146 against the Lions, which marked the only time this season Detroit allowed 100+ rushing yards. Then, the Ravens racked up 298 rushing yards — the fourth-most in franchise history — this past Sunday against Seahawks.

The Browns have given up the sixth-fewest rushing yards (718) and fourth-fewest yards per carry (3.7) through nine games. In their Week 4, they yielded 131 rushing yards and a pair of scoring runs by Lamar Jackson. That marked the second-most rushing yards given up in a single game this season.

The Ravens are currently the top run offense in the league, having recorded the most yards on the ground (1,443) and rushing yards per game (160.3). They’re also are tied for the most rushing touchdowns (17) as well. The Ravens have had two different running backs earn FedEx Ground Player of the Week honors in back-to-back games. Undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell exploded for a career-high 138 yards on just nine carries against the Seahawks.

QB Lamar Jackson vs. Browns’ secondary

Cleveland has allowed the fewest passing yards (1,160) in the league while giving up the second-fewest yards per attempt (4.8), just behind Baltimore at 4.1. Even though Jackson only threw for 186 yards against the Browns in Week 4, it was one of his best passing performances of the season.

He went 15-of-19 and finished with a pair of passing touchdowns. He also had his second-highest completion percentage (78.9) and passer rating (142.5) of the season.

Jackson’s volume passing stats haven’t been gaudy but his pure performances have been elite and awe-inspiring. He is operating, from the pocket in particular, at the highest level of his career. Jackson continues to prove that he can make almost every throw from any angle, including off-platform ones.

Jackson’s rapport with his pass catchers has grown stronger as the season has progressed, too. He spreads the ball around to whoever is open instead of funneling it to one or two players, as has been the case over the previous four seasons.

Three-time Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews has recorded at least four receptions and 40+ receiving yards in six straight games and veteran wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is coming off his best game as a Raven. Standout rookie Zay Flowers has been electrifying all season and third-year wideout Rashod Bateman has been coming on strong as of late.

As if Jackson didn’t need any further incentive ahead of this matchup, Garrett made national headlines about how he’d give “the nod” to Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow over him.

Although Burrow has been to consecutive AFC championship games and Jackson has yet to advance past the divisional round, those are team accomplishments — not individual accolades. Garrett’s comments are truly comical considering Burrow is 1-5 as a starter against the Browns while Jackson is 7-2.