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Browns expect Ravens to run and run, but knowing is only half the battle

Gregg Williams likes to joke that defense has been set back 100 years because of the offensive emphasis in today's NFL. This week, he's preparing for an offense that might fit the same timeline, but not because of its failure. 

Amid the numerous rule changes designed to soup up passing, Baltimore is running the ball more than some of the oldest football minds in history since naming Lamar Jackson the starter. And the Ravens are 5-1 since doing so.

According to NBC Sports' Peter King, Baltimore is running the ball on 63.6 percent of offensive snaps since Jackson took over for Joe Flacco, a significantly higher percentage than the 1954 Browns, who ran the ball 53.9 percent of the time with Jim Brown, the eventual MVP.

"It reminds me of some of the old days in this league," Williams said of Baltimore's offense. "When it was time to run the ball, time to play the run and understand that the line of scrimmage is going to be challenged at every single snap of the game."

This rushing attack is markedly different from those of Williams' past, however. The Ravens leverage Jackson's mobility to create opportunities for their running backs, and they unabashedly design runs for Jackson each week. Jackson's carried the ball 47 more times than any other quarterback despite playing just six games this season. 

Jackson is far from the only mobile quarterback the Browns have faced this season, and Baltimore isn't employing an innovative technique by catering to its quarterback's athleticism. But Williams says Jackson has a gear that players like Cam Newton and Deshaun Watson don't. Browns linebacker Joe Schobert said no other quarterback runs as aggressively as Jackson. 

There's a reason Baltimore leads the league in rushing since Jackson took over, that it keeps winning despite a predictable run-pass palette. Teams know Baltimore will run and run often, but clearly that information is not enough. 

"The stuff they do is different from every other team," Schobert said. "So it's probably a little bit harder to prepare for them because it's more like college style. You go back to the college days where people run zone-read option, they run triple option, all that stuff."

Baltimore's running game thrives off misdirection and deception. Will Jackson keep the ball or hand it to a running back? If he keeps it, will he pitch it to an outside ball-carrier? Or will he continue up field himself? Schobert said Jackson is an accomplished ball-handler/hider, which is crucial to the success of those misdirection plays. And it doesn't help the Browns that the average Baltimore offensive lineman is 6-foot-5, which the 6-foot-1 Schobert said mars his ability to locate the ball. 

So stopping the run might sound simple on its face, especially when you know the opponent is running on three out of every five plays. But as Schobert explained and Baltimore has proven, Jackson complicates the idea. 

If the Browns want to knock the Ravens out of the playoffs oSunday, they'll need to figure a way to slow a rushing attack that no team has held to less than 159 rushing yards. They know how Baltimore plans to attack their defense, but so did the other six teams.

"It's different from a lot of other weeks when you line up in pro football and run the ball and everybody kinda knows what sort of runs are coming, how to play it," Schobert said. "This is a totally different offensive scheme than what all 31 other teams run, so everybody's really gotta come with a good focus. Everyone has to be doing their exact job on every play. If there is a crease, they're good enough to exploit it and they will."