Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun
Browns passing game vs. Ravens pass defense
Quarterback Deshaun Watson played the best game of his Browns career against Tennessee, completing 27 of 33 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns. He had struggled with accuracy, thrown two interceptions and fumbled three times in Cleveland’s first two games. The Browns gave Watson a record amount of guaranteed money to be their franchise quarterback, so they’ll hope his latest performance was a sign of things to come. His top target is wide receiver Amari Cooper, who caught seven passes on eight targets for 116 yards against the Titans. Elijah Moore, a 2021 second-round pick whom the Browns traded for in the offseason, was also effective against Tennessee, catching all nine balls thrown his way. Tight end David Njoku has made several big plays against the Ravens over the years but is off to a quiet start, with 10 catches for 92 yards through three games. Cleveland’s offensive line, led by guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller, is strong, but left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. is off to a rough start.
This is a tough ask for the Ravens, who looked lost on offense for much of their overtime loss to the Colts. Cleveland plays defense as well as any team in the NFL does anything. Watson is more fallible and will give the Ravens chances to hang close, but you don’t want to go against Garrett and company with a wounded offensive line. Browns 20, Ravens 16
Jonas Shaffer, The Baltimore Banner
After a 27-3 win Sunday over the Tennessee Titans, Cleveland leads the NFL in virtually every significant defensive category: scoring defense (10.7 points per game, though it’s allowed just one offensive touchdown total), yards allowed per game (163.7, almost 90 yards ahead of No. 2) and yards allowed per play (3.2, almost a yard better than the second-place Ravens), among many others.
Opposing offenses have not found a reliable workaround. The Browns lead the NFL in the rate of carries stopped for no gain or negative yardage (35.7%) and have allowed the lowest share of carries converted into a first down (8.9%), according to TruMedia.
Solution: Rely on Jackson to make magic. He’s averaged a remarkable 6.1 yards and 0.24 expected points added per carry against Cleveland over his career. The Browns’ speed on the edge and at linebacker will limit his effectiveness outside the tackles, but the Ravens’ interior can create daylight up the middle, especially if center Tyler Linderbaum is healthy.
The Browns don’t mind forcing the issue, either. Despite having Garrett and Smith, both of whom rank in the top 10 of ESPN’s pass rush win rate among edge defenders, Cleveland ranks ninth in the NFL in blitz rate (32.0%). Opposing quarterbacks have combined to complete just nine of 26 passes for 82 yards against five or more Browns pass rushers, according to NGS.
Solution: Lean into play action. Pickens’ touchdown in Week 2 came after a run fake, which slowed the Browns’ pass rush and drew in their linebackers just enough for Pickett to throw into a window behind them. Because of the Browns’ wide alignment up front, their linebackers have to be proactive about clogging gaps as run defenders. That can leave them vulnerable to play action.
Clifton Brown, BaltimoreRavens.com
However, the Ravens aren’t ready to anoint Cleveland’s defense as the best. Not this early in the season. Not with Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey (foot) yet to play, and star safety Marcus Williams (pectoral) having played just one game.
The Ravens are ranked 10th overall on defense, but All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith sounds ready to toss that ranking into Lake Erie on Sunday. Smith says the Ravens’ defense won’t take a back seat to anyone heading into this AFC North matchup.
“You’re not defined by being the best defense in the league [based] off of Week 4, period,” Smith said. “It’s a 17-game season, so it’s what you’re going to do late in the season.
“I would say we strive to be the No. 1 defense,” nose tackle Michael Piece said. “We aren’t there at the moment, but definitely. This is Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Ravens. It’s always been a big hit, take-a-punch, throw-a-punch kind of game. We definitely are aware that they’re No. 1, and they have an amazing front. We definitely want to outplay them, but at the end of the day, that No. 1 [defense] spot is still up for grabs until the season’s over. That’s what we’re striving for.”
Vic Tafur, The Athletic
The Browns defense is no joke. Cleveland has allowed an NFL-low 3.2 yards per play this season, the best by any defense through three games this century, and it should be 3-0. They have a star in Myles Garrett, made some great offseason pickups on the defensive line to help him out and have good tacklers and cover guys behind him. The Browns force three-and-outs on 61.5 percent of opponent drives, also the best by any defense through three games since 2000. The public is in on the secret, and this spread has moved four points because the Ravens are banged up. I will ride with the Browns, and Deshaun Watson’s improved play is the reason why neither the line movement nor Kevin Stefanski’s 10-19 ATS record as a favorite will discourage me.
The pick: Browns
Sheil Kapadia, The Ringer
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns (-2.5)
The three best single-game defensive performances this season, according to success rate:
The Browns in Week 1 vs. the Bengals
The Browns in Week 3 vs. the Titans
The Browns in Week 2 vs. the Steelers
The Browns have given up a total of 21 first downs in three games—that’s 20 fewer than any other team.
As of this writing, it’s unclear which injured Ravens—wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., safety Kyle Hamilton, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, or center Tyler Linderbaum, among others—are going to be able to play. Cleveland QB Deshaun Watson played better last week, and it’s entirely possible that the Browns are the superior team.
But I generally like rolling with Lamar Jackson and John Harbaugh in these spots. The Ravens are 12-2 against the spread as underdogs with Jackson. I would love to get an extra half point here with the Ravens, but I’m going to go ahead and take them anyway.
The pick: Ravens (+2.5)