In preparing for Sunday’s matchup between the Ravens and Browns, Dawgs by Nature’s Chris Pokorny and I sat down for a short Q&A for one another’s publications.
1. The Browns have been hit hard by injuries at offensive line. What can you tell us about who will be filling in?
The tackle positions have been hit a bit hard. Jack Conklin suffered a season-ending injury to begin the regular season, but rookie Dawand Jones from Ohio State has filled in admirably since then. Jones has been battling through injuries the past two weeks, but this week he was kept out of practice and has now been ruled out. It sounds like James Hudson, the team’s primary backup tackle, will fill in at right tackle. He was a fourth-round pick in 2021 who was pretty rough in spot duty early in his career, but he has appeared more stable when filling in this season.
Over at left tackle, starter Jedrick Wills suffered an MCL injury last week and will be out for a month. Hudson finished the game for Wills, but because of two injuries on the line, the team seems to be looking at other options there. They have a few candidates who were signed recently off the street, but head coach Kevin Stefanski remained mum on Friday regarding what the team’s plan is. I believe they will shift Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio over to left tackle, and then insert backup guard/center Nick Harris in at left guard. Even though that would be a lot of moving pieces, it would represent the group with the most familiarity with the offense; and Bitonio has proven before that he can fill in adequately at left tackle.
2. Deshaun Watson had a solid two weeks of play. Do you feel he’s starting to make his contract worth it?
His contract will never be worth it. At this point, me and a lot of other Browns fans have kind of thrown that thought out the window. All we can do is focus on him giving the offense the best chance to win, which he most certainly does compared to the likes of P.J. Walker and Dorian Thompson-Robinson. The biggest sign of encouragement that I saw from Watson last week was that his deep ball was on the money for the first time since becoming a Brown. That included two bombs that he launched for the speedy Marquise Goodwin (who is out this week to injury), but Goodwin just couldn’t haul them in. If Watson can get that part of his game down, it would be a huge jolt to the offense because those type of accurate deep balls are pretty indefensible. I’m not counting on him remaining sharp with those, but it’s something to watch for.
3. The Cleveland defense continues to be a menace. Where do you feel they are strongest? Where can the Ravens find and exploit weakness?
Baltimore did a good job making Cleveland’s defense hesitate and be flat-footed in that first match-up. The only other team that sort of did that against Cleveland was the Indianapolis Colts. By that, I’m referring to much of what Baltimore’s running game entails with Lamar Jackson’s decision-making. Although I do think the Browns’ defense defended it better in the second half, it’s still Baltimore’s best weapon against them. The Browns’ defense remains a group that plays tight man coverage, and relies on the instincts of everyone else to rush the quarterback or pursue the first player they think are getting the ball. That’s why an offense like the Arizona Cardinals had no shot of mustering anything last week, beyond them already being bad. But, if you catch this defense not being able to go off of instinct, then those runners break tackles against them, and the man coverage breaks down because the plays get extended.
4. If the Browns could add any Baltimore Raven to their roster (no contract issue, no cap involvement) solely for the addition of the player (not to poach from the Ravens but to boost the Browns talent), who would it be and why?
Without question, it would be Lamar Jackson. My god, if we had him, I feel like the Browns would go 17-0 with no sweat. Jackson remains sharp and among the league’s most dynamic weapons.
5. DraftKings have the line set for this week at Ravens -6.5. Do you agree? Why or why not?
I think the line is a hair steep, given the fact that Deshaun Watson is back and the Browns’ defense could win a game in any given week by themselves. I guess I understand it because of how dominant the Ravens’ home victories against Detroit and Seattle were, and that Baltimore already beat Cleveland by a wide margin. I think it makes it a very enticing bet to take Cleveland (+6.5) because not only could they win this game, but it should be very competitive and could finish within a field goal either way.