In preparing for Sunday’s matchup against the Cleveland Browns, Dawgs by Nature’s Chris Pokorny and I sat down for a small Q&A for one another’s publications.
1. The Cleveland Browns listed quarterback Deshuan Watson as questionable after being limited in practice all week. What is the level of expectation for Watson to play on Sunday? If he can’t go, would the offense change or be limited with backup quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson?
I am going into the weekend expecting Deshaun Watson to play. Although he was limited in practice this week, I feel if it was so bad that he wasn’t going to play, then the Browns would’ve been doing everything possible at practice to get reps for rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson (DTR). To answer your second question, I’m sure there would be some things that Kevin Stefanski would change from a formation perspective with DTR — like fewer five wides, and more two tight end sets — but the offense has not really “clicked” with Watson, so I don’t know if there would be a notable productivity dropoff at this point. DTR brings a much greater element of speed than Watson does — sort of like Lamar Jackson — so I would expect him to use his legs quite a bit to try gaining yardage. I think the big difference we would see is Baltimore loading up to stop Cleveland’s running game, and daring DTR to beat them through the air.
2. The Browns defense has dominated, allowing only one field goal in Weeks 1 and 3, and allowing only 12 points against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2. What about this system is finding success?
Having players with more speed like DE Za’Darius Smith and S Juan Thornhill has helped, but Jim Schwartz has also found the right formula to get these players all clicking on the same page. The sure-tackling, instincts in pursuit, teamwork in defending the run, confidence from cornerbacks in man coverage, are all clicking at the highest level I have ever seen in any Browns defense. When you add all of those factors together, you get to see DE Myles Garrett take advantage like he did against the Titans last week with 3.5 sacks. This three-week stretch is so crazy and unprecedented for me as a football fan, because every drive, I am dying to see our defense on the field because it feels like they are going to make a big play on every down.
3. A player Ravens fans are familiar with and want to know more about is edge rusher Za’Darius Smith. He’s been productive as a pass rusher this season with nine pressures and among the NFL’s best in PFF’s pass rush grade. What have you seen from him and do you expect the sacks to be on their way?
I’m sure a few sacks will come here and there, but I’m not really worried about that because of the other statistics you mentioned (pressures and pass-rushing grade). Smith has been a disruptor, and the rest of the defensive line has benefitted from it. DE Alex Wright, a third-round pick last year, only played about 35% of the snaps last week but received a terrific grade from PFF, as did veteran DT Maurice Hurst. The threat of Smith and Garrett is opening things up for everyone else, and it helps when every single unit is playing their role to perfection.
4. Who are two Browns players (one offense/one defense) Ravens fans should pay specific attention to in this game that aren’t household names?
On offense, I’ll go with WR Elijah Moore. He is probably a known name to many fans, but he is the newest addition to the Browns’ offense. The team is utilizing him with a lot of targets in the short passing game (swing passes, screens, slot receiver third down stuff), and also using him as a running back here and there. He hasn’t quite had a game where he’s made me go, “wow, what a difference maker!,” but there is no doubt that the team has committed to utilizing him on offense.
On defense, S Grant Delpit has been terrific. During the first two games, he was dominant, and is building off of a solid stretch in 2022. His instincts in coverage have been fantastic, whether that be defending the pass, or recognizing a shorter route and coming up with a full head of steam to make the sure tackle. He looks like an All-Pro defense, and I think defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has unleashed his potential a bit. The only reason he didn’t have a more notable game last week is because the 10 other guys on defense did their jobs so well that I don’t know if there was anything left for Delpit to even try cleaning up.
5. The line for this game, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, is Browns -1.5. What are your thoughts on this line?
The line was lowered I assume due to the uncertain status of Deshaun Watson. Since I am still expecting him to play, and I still view the Ravens’ offense as being too reliant on Lamar Jackson’s legs, and since the Browns’ defense has been playing at a historic level, I feel good about the Browns coming away with a victory. And since a -1.5 line is pretty much a pick’em, I think it’d be a solid bet to take.