The Cleveland Browns are pretty much what most observers expected this season – the worst team in the NFL. When they traded down in the draft from No. 2 to No. 15, leaving the best quarterbacks for other teams, the message was clear. They were stockpiling picks and rebuilding.
But with Robert Griffin III and veteran Josh McCown, there was a sense that they would be competent at quarterback. If RGIII failed to find his old magic, McCown could at least bring experience and win a few games. Then both guys got hurt, and Cleveland has played six different guys at the position — including Terrelle Pryor, who happens to be their best wide receiver. That is how you go 0-9 and have people talking about a winless season.
Baltimore is tied for the lead in the AFC North at 4-4 and has been excellent on defense most of the season. Ironically, one of the Ravens’ worst games defensively came against the Browns in Week 2 when Isaiah Crowell rushed for 133 yards and Cleveland put up nearly 400 total. But a closer look shows that the Browns led 20-2 after one quarter and got shut out 23-0 the rest of the way.
In order to pick up their first win of the season, the Browns will need to put together four quarters this time.
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 10 at 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NFL Network
Spread: Ravens -10
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Browns get the run game going?
Cleveland is actually a pretty good running team. The Browns have five games of 120 rushing yards or more and in three of those they topped 160. When these teams met in September, Cleveland rushed for 145. But again, the Browns had a big early lead to protect in that game. Generally, they fall behind and have to abandon the run — they rank 29th in rushing attempts despite ranking third in yards per carry (4.8). When and if Cleveland wins a game this season, it will put up a big numbers on the ground. But that is unlikely this week against a Ravens defense that ranks second in rushing yards allowed per game (76.1) and third in yards per carry against (3.4).
2. Will Baltimore even bother to try to run the ball?
For the second time in five days, the Ravens face a bad run defense. The Browns rank 31st against the run. But the Steelers also were struggling to stop the run, and Baltimore rushed for just 50 yards in that game. And that was despite leading almost the entire game and attempting a season-high 27 rushes (not counting end-of-game kneel downs). Basically, the Ravens can’t run it, so they don’t bother trying too. Even in their four wins they average just 74 rushing yards per game. The point is, even if Baltimore gets a lead, it may let Cleveland hang around because the offense can’t consistently move the ball.
3. More is being put on Joe Flacco’s shoulders
Flacco has never been an especially accurate passer by modern standards. He’s usually good for completing around 60 percent of his attempts and hitting some big plays because he has a big arm. But because the Ravens have historically been good on defense and run the ball well, he’s never really had to carry them. Well, as we said, the running game has been a non-factor, and Flacco is not picking up the slack. Despite being on pace for career highs in attempts and completions, he is averaging a career-low 6.1 yards per attempt — 30th in the NFL. He has also thrown only six touchdowns (29th in the NFL) with seven interceptions.
Looking at these two teams, there are two constants — the defenses. The Ravens rarely give up much (second in total defense, ninth in scoring defense) while the Browns always give up plenty (31st in yards and points allowed). Cleveland has allowed at least 28 points in every game since facing Baltimore in Week 2. Basically, the Cleveland offense knows going in every week that it needs 30 points to have a chance. And the Browns are not scoring 30 on this Ravens defense.