At times, this game will resemble a track meet, but let’s make one thing clear: This version of the Cleveland Browns (9-3) is much different than the one the Baltimore Ravens (7-5) ran circles around to begin the season.
Anchoring the NFL’s No. 1 rush attack will again be none other than Lamar Jackson, who’s fresh off a 94-yard outing versus Dallas. The Ravens will be looking to outpace a Browns team that, even with Baker Mayfield’s recent excellence, should continue to lean on Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and its No. 2-ranked run game to carry it across the finish line.
Here are four storylines to watch for when the heated rivals face off on Monday Night Football (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN):
Run, Ravens, Run
Baltimore made light work of the NFL’s worst run defense in its Week 13 win over the Cowboys, rushing for a season-high 294 yards. Although they’re averaging 169 a game, it’s hard to envision an encore against a more sound opponent. During their four-game winning streak, the Browns have allowed 99.5 rush YPG and two rushing TDs. James Robinson managed to go off for a Derrick Henry-esque 22 carries for 128 yards and a score in Week 12 but Cleveland made up for it by shutting down the man himself (15/60, fumble) last week. The Ravens’ assortment of ball carriers makes it much harder to telegraph where handoffs are going. They are the only team with at least four players that have 50-plus carries this season, per NFL Research.
Baltimore has found — and will continue to find with Jackson in tow — a lot of success utilizing read-option plays, something Myles Garrett and Co. will try to contain as always. Jackson’s unpredictability coupled with the explosiveness of rookie J.K. Dobbins and the downhill running of Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards makes it’s easy to see why the QB1 hasn’t eclipsed 250 pass yards since he threw for 275 when these teams last met. Despite the challenge presented by this tough run D, it’s not unreasonable to think that won’t change on MNF.
What can the Browns’ run game do for you?
In Week 1, Chubb and Hunt combined for 132 rush yards (23 carries) but were held scoreless in a 38-6 blowout. It would be shocking if that occurs again. Chubb, who boasts a team-high seven rushing TDs, has been tremendous. Upon returning from the MCL sprain that kept him out from Weeks 5-8, the third-year back posted over 100 yards rushing in three of four games. Believe it or not, his 799 total yards rank fifth in the NFL.
As one of the game’s hardest runners, Chubb has faced plenty of stacked boxes; according to Next Gen Stats, he’s been stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage on 18% of his carries. Of course, Chubb has made defenses pay more than enough for their effort. His 4.2 yards after contact per carry, according to PFF, are the most in the league. He also leads the NFL in YPC (6.0) and runs of 20 or more yards (11), per NFL Research. Even when Chubb’s out of the game, the good times keep rolling with Hunt. The change-of-pace back offers a more reliable pass-catching presence while bringing similar run power. He leads the team with four receiving TDs and 914 all-purpose yards, 739 of which have come on the ground.
Will Baker extend his no-INT streak?
Don’t look now, but Mayfield is entering Week 14 in the midst of arguably the best stretch of his young career. Since Week 7, Mayfield has ranked in the top 5 in yards per attempt (8.6) and passer rating (112.7) while posting one INT (vs. CIN) and an absurd 11 TDs. Not to say that his 6.7 YPA and 84.3 rate through the first six were terrible, but his 10-6 TD-INT ratio was less than ideal. Aided by Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins, Mayfield has been on point, slinging the ball with accuracy whether in the pocket or on the move. His 334-yard, four-TD explosion against the Titans was something to behold. The offensive line’s uptick in production has also contributed to the QB1’s strong play; led by Jack Conklin and rookie Jedrick Wills, the Browns are tied for the second-fewest sacks allowed since Week 7 (6), per NFL Research. Mayfield’s been efficient and effective but he still needs to prove he can maintain that against a club against which he’s historically struggled. He’s taken eight sacks and tossed eight TDs to seven picks in five meetings versus Baltimore. Toppling the Ravens would certainly open even more eyes.
Will Baltimore’s front seven get its groove back?
As previously mentioned, Cleveland’s O-line has been superb as of late. On the contrary, the Ravens’ front seven has left more to be desired. After posting 22 sacks and 64 QB hits in Weeks 1-6, the Ravens have tallied six and 28, respectively, in Weeks 7-13. Only the Bengals (3) have fewer QB takedowns in that span, per NFL Research. It’s also worth noting that they’ve surrendered over 100 rush yards in four of those contests. The return of Matt Judon, who’s missed the last two, should influence those numbers. Aside from him, Calais Campbell and standout rookie Patrick Queen will need to turn it up. It may be a little harder on Campbell, though, as the vet missed the entire week of practice to nurse the calf injury that’s hindered him since Week 9. Should his availability be compromised again, Yannick Ngakoue and Brandon Williams will need to pick up the slack for the sake of Baltimore’s postseason hopes.
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