Browns Can’T Afford To Allow Banged-Up Ravens To Leave Cleveland With A Win

Browns can’t afford to allow banged-up Ravens to leave Cleveland with a win

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.

Four downs on Browns (2-1) v. Baltimore Ravens (2-1)

First down: Right on course.

A Browns win would put them at 3-1 overall and 2-1 in AFC North games as they hit their bye – exactly what anyone would have accepted when the schedule was released in May. A win would not automatically move the Browns into first place, however. If the Steelers win in Houston to go to 3-1, they would own the top spot by virtue of their 1-0 record in division games. Baltimore plays at Pittsburgh next week. So, you can see the gravity of every AFC North meeting in a season in which every one of the four teams – defending champion Cincinnati included – believes it can claim the division title and the home playoff game that comes with it. It’s a long season, but these division games – no matter how early – always decide the division race.

Lamar Jackson's beat the Browns by air and by land, but this time the Browns sport the NFL's No. 1 defense.


Second down: Lamar the Magnificent.

Lamar Jackson is 6-2 in eight starts against the Browns. One of his losses occurred after he was knocked out of the game by linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the first quarter, so 6-1 is a truer measure of his work. He has beat them with his arm and he has beat them with his legs. He has beat them with a nearly-perfect game (152.1 passer rating) and he has beat them after throwing four interceptions. He has had three three-TD passing games and two 100-yard rushing games. So I asked Grant Delpit, “Would you rather have Lamar throw or run?” After a few moments of thought, he said, “Good question. Whatever works best for us. I don’t know. I think either way it goes, we are going to have a good plan, man. So I’m not going to give you an answer on that.” It’s the first game against a running quarterback for Jim Schwartz’s No. 1-ranked defense. The coordinator’s comments about his plans indicated he will take his chances with Jackson’s legs and attack him as he would any throwing quarterback. “I think you can error on the other side of Lamar Jackson, and if you sit there and shoo the chickens, as we say, you’re not going to get them either,” Schwartz said. “So, we’re going to rely on our team speed. We’re going to rely on team defense. We’re going to rely on running through with leverage and try to take the fight to him as opposed to sitting back and trying to hem him in.” Will he scheme to take away either aspect of Jackson’s game? “We just try to play our schemes the best we can and play good team defense. And like always, we try to put an emphasis on relentless effort and speed and physical toughness and some passion for the game. And if we do those things, then that’ll be enough to stop a dual threat at quarterback,” Schwartz said.

Third down: The Watson shoulder mystery.

The Browns did not announce an injury to Deshaun Watson after his 2023 breakout performance last week against Tennessee. On Wednesday, Watson held his weekly press availability in the locker room, as usual, and the Browns’ pre-practice injury report made no mention of a Watson injury. In the portion of practice open to media, however, Watson did not throw at all – which was highly unusual. After practice, the team listed Watson as limited with a “right shoulder” injury. I can’t remember the Browns, or any other club, specifically identifying “right” or “left” when it comes to any injury. Watson threw lightly on Thursday and Friday and ended the week listed as questionable. Close inspection of the game replay indicated the injury may have occurred on a designed run by Watson up the middle for 10 yards in the third quarter. At the end of it, Tennessee safety Amani Hooker rammed his shoulder pad into Watson’s right shoulder as the quarterback was going down. Watson never missed a play. Later in the game, he executed a quarterback sneak – his first all season -- and a 43-yard TD pass to Amari Cooper. On Saturday, the Browns elevated QB3 P.J. Walker from the practice squad. They had to do that in order to have him eligible as the emergency quarterback on Sunday. Watson is not expected to miss the game. In four seasons with Houston, the only games Watson missed because of injury were due to a season-ending torn ACL in his rookie season.

Fourth down: Get them now, or maybe never.

The Ravens are competitive in the division race so far despite a slew of injuries. On Sunday, they will be without receivers Odell Beckham Jr. (ankle) and Rashod Batemon (hamstring), cornerback Marlon Humphrey (foot), and edge rushers Odafe Oweh (ankle, knee) and David Ojabo (ankle). They also list left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee) questionable. Although Humphrey has yet to play in a game, none of these injuries is so far considered season-ending. Thus it’s reasonable to assume that when the teams meet in the rematch in Baltimore on November 12, the Ravens should be healthier. All the more reason the Browns can’t afford to let the Ravens leave Cleveland with a victory.

The pick: Browns 24, Ravens 16.

My record: 2-1.