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5 takeaways from the Ravens disappointing loss to the Browns

The Ravens had their four-game winning streak snapped in deflating fashion.

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens faced off with the Cleveland Browns for the second time in Week 10 and despite leading for nearly the entire game, they lost 33-31 to fall to 7-3. In a contest that was expected to be a defensive slugfest, the home team failed to put the game away after holding multiple double-digit leads. The offense made big plays but couldn’t find a consistent rhythm or stay on the field when it mattered most. And the defense followed up their most impressive performance of the season with their worst.

Some of the top takeaways from the Ravens upset loss in Week 10:

Ravens lost the battle in the trenches

After owning the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball last week, the Ravens got bullied up front on offense and defense by the Browns on Sunday. Even before injuries caused them to lose two starters on the offensive line in the fourth quarter and one before the game even started, the offensive line struggled to consistently maintain their blocks outside of a few big plays. Despite not having Morgan Moses last week, they still dominated and racked up nearly 300 yards on the ground and over 500 yards of total offense. Against one of the best defenses in the league, they were held to a season-low 106 rushing yards and struggled to consistently provide Lamar Jackson with a comfortable pocket, resulting in three sacks given up.

As bad as the Ravens’ offensive line played as a whole, their defensive front’s play was even worse in a game where they had the biggest advantage with the Browns down their top three offensive tackles and Deshaun Watson playing hobbled the entire second half after suffering an ankle injury in the first. While they were still able to register four sacks and eight quarterback hits, they gave up season-highs in total yards (373), rushing yards (178), and offensive points (27).

“A big part of the emphasis in the plan was to keep him in the pocket, retrace [and] tackle him coming back on the middle,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “When he took off – we call it the front door – that’s when he ran, and we didn’t want to let him get out of there, but he still did it. So, that’s something that was disappointing.”

This was also an uncharacteristically poor game for the defense as a whole in terms of tackling in the open field. There were multiple instances where defenders failed to wrap up, complete the tackle to the ground, or whiffed altogether. It seemed at times like they were more focused on trying to strip the ball than forcing ball carriers to the ground before they could push piles and pick up additional yardage after initial contact was made.

“They were getting on the edges with gap schemes [and] pulling schemes, hooking the [defensive] ends with the tight ends, and we were missing a lot of tackles today,” outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney said. “We missed more tackles. So, that’s part of the game.”

Marcus Williams’ return to the lineup didn’t go as well as expected

The veteran safety was back in action for this game after missing the last three with a hamstring injury and it yielded less than satisfactory results. The Ravens had multiple blown coverages in their two high safety zone coverages according to Harbaugh which led to the middle of the field being completely vacated. The Browns feasted on their area of the field for crucial first down conversions on numerous occasions.

“We didn’t play our specific zone coverages there – our split safety coverages very well, and that’s what happened,” Harbaugh said.

Watson was a perfect 14-of-14 for 134 passing yards and a touchdown in the second half after going 6-of-20 for 79 passing yards in the first half. After being held to one catch for 16 receiving yards on six targets in their first meeting of the season, Cleveland’s four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper caught 6-of-9 targets for a game-high 98 receiving yards running mostly wide open on several catch-and-run opportunities.

In Williams’ absence, fourth-year pro Geno Stone had assumed the mantle of ball-hawking playmaker and had a streak of four straight games with an interception that came to an end on Sunday. Although he was still on the field early and often for the Ravens’ three safety packages, he came off the field when they were in their base defense on several of the plays where they got gashed through the air. Some of the zone coverage mistakes and miscommunications can be attributed to rust on Williams’ part.

Missed opportunities in all three phases cost them dearly in the end

While the Ravens made big plays in every phase of the game, they also squandered prime opportunities to seal the game. On offense, the Ravens were shut out in the second quarter after scoring 17 in the first but could’ve extended their lead even more had it not been for a pair of mistakes by the offense and and special teams on the same drive.

“I think we had [the momentum] the whole time,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “It felt like we had control of the game. It’s just [about] making plays [and] not making mistakes. We hurt ourselves a lot.”

After punting on their first possession of the second quarter, the offense was moving the ball well on their second, picking 30 yards on back-to-back catches by rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers to advance past midfield. Facing a third-and-7 from the Cleveland 41-yard line, Jackson overthrew Flowers for what would’ve been an easy touchdown after the first-rounder got behind the safety on a deep route out of the slot.

That drive was given new life after a defensive holding penalty negated what would’ve been a drive-ending sack to force a turnover on downs. However, even that reprieve was short-lived as they would wind up coming away without points after Justin Tucker had a 55-yard attempt blocked by Browns defensive tackle Jordan Elliott. Instead of extending their lead to 24-6 or at least 20-6, the Browns were able to make it a one-possession game at halftime by going on a short field goal drive of their own to make 17-9 at the midway point.

Jackson also threw a pair of inceptions that either prevented the Ravens from putting up points or directly resulted in the Browns scoring points. The first came on the offense’s last drive of the first half where an underthrown pass intended for Rashod Bateman was picked off by Mike Ford. It occurred with just under a minute left in the second quarter on the Browns side of the field and thwarted any chances of tacking on any more points before halftime.

The second came on the second play their second-to-last possession of the game where Lamar was trying to throw a check-down pass to fullback Patrick Ricard. Browns defensive end Ogbo Okoronkwo jumped up and batted the attempt and it flew nearly 20 yards in the air before cornerback Greg Newsome corralled it with a full head of steam and returned the ball 34 yards for a touchdown to cut the Ravens’ lead to one point after a missed point after attempt.

Despite playing uncharacteristically poor for most of the second half, the Ravens’ defense had a chance to ice the game on its final possession. With just over three minutes left, the Browns had the ball on their own 31-yard line when Ravens outside linebacker Odafe Oweh came up with a clutch strip sack of Watson. There were two purple jerseys around the loose ball but somehow Browns offensive lineman Wyatt Teller was able to fall on it and maintain possession for his team.

As unfortunate as that missed opportunity was, the one that followed was even more gut-wrenchingly unacceptable. Their top-ranked pass rush had the Browns backed to their own 22-yard line facing second-and-19 and instead of keeping the heat on Watson and his two backup tackles, they gave him enough time to find Cooper deep over the middle for 17 yards to make it third-and-short. From there, Cleveland proceeded to finish their four-minute drive in typical Ravens’ fashion with six straight runs to move into field goal range, setting up Dustin Hopkins for redemption with a game-winner.

Keaton Mitchell remains an underutilized weapon

The most explosive playmaker on the Ravens’ offense in this game was the undrafted rookie running back who had just burst on the national scene last week with a breakout performance. He followed it up with an incredible first-half where he ripped off a 39-yard touchdown run on his first carry to cap off the offense’s first possession of the game.

His next touch came on the Ravens’ next possession where he was thrown the ball behind the line of scrimmage on a halfback screen and proceeded to rip off 32 yards for the longest reception of his career.

The huge play moved the ball just outside of the red zone. He was targeted deep down the right sideline on a wheel right two plays later but wasn’t able to corral a pass that hit him right in the chest despite Browns linebacker Sione Takitaki being tight in coverage.

Mitchell’s next touch came on a carry that resulted in a seven-yard loss after a failed reverse play was blown up in the backfield. His third and final carry didn’t come until the fourth quarter and resulted in a two-yard gain. There was speculation that his lack of involvement in the second half was a result of a potential injury given that he was questionable to play with a hamstring injury. But after the game, Harbaugh shared that it wasn’t health-related.

“It’s just kind of the way it went as far as the play calling,” Harbaugh said. “It wasn’t a part of the plan or anything like that.”

When asked about his sparse usage despite showcasing his incredible playmaking talent for the second week in a row, Mitchell told reporters in the locker room “It is what it is.”

“I’m not going to complain,” Mitchell said. “Whenever my name is called I’m going to try to make the best of the opportunity.”

The Ravens’ best plays on Sunday came on big plays and two of them came from their impressive rookie. When their offense was sputtering and struggling to stay on the field in the second half, it seemed like the opportune time to try to get a spark from him but one carry wasn’t enough on a day where veteran Gus Edwards was limited to just 24 rushing yards on 11 attempts for a measly average of 2.2 yards per carry.

“He’s playing great football right now,” Edwards said of Mitchell. “Next week, I know we’re going to keep getting him more involved in the offense.”

Injury bug strikes again

Just when it seemed like the Ravens were all but past their health-related woes, they were hit hard on both sides of the ball at a pair of crucial positions in the second half on Sunday. They already came into this game without Moses, who missed his second straight game with a shoulder injury. After losing starting blindside protector Ronnie Stanley early in the fourth quarter, they were forced to play a pair of backup offensive tackles against one of the league’s best pass rush units.

Stanley was replaced by second-year pro Daniel Faalele and after veteran right guard Kevin Zeitler also left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury, he was replaced by third-year pro Ben Cleveland. Three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey went down with a non-contact injury in the second half that looked very concerning at the time.

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Humphrey avoided disaster and merely suffered a lower calf strain, “not an Achilles strain” as so many speculated during and following the game. He is considered “day-to-day” but the likelihood of him being ready for the Ravens’ Week 11 AFC North clash with the Cincinnati Bengals is probably not high given that they play on Thursday night.

The Ravens are no strangers to having to overcome short-term injuries to prominent players and proved they are capable of as much this season already. Humphrey missed the first four games of the season while he recovered from foot surgery. In his absence, veterans Ronald Darby and Rock-Ya Sin stepped up while third-year pro Brandon Stephens emerged as a lockdown outside corner. Stanley missed three games from Week 2-4 with a knee sprain and the team still got by with Moses and Patrick Mekari as their bookend tackles.

“Similar things happen like that. It’s the NFL,” Jackson said. “We can’t control injuries. We try our best to do it, but sometimes it happens, and I don’t know. I believe we could’ve still finished the game with those guys being out, because we’ve done it throughout the season.”