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Keys to Victory

Keys to Victory: What we're watching against the Ravens

1. Baker Mayfield’s biggest lesson from his NFL starting debut last week was to take better care of the ball. The Browns rookie quarterback accounted for four turnovers (some his fault, some not) in an otherwise impressive performance in an overtime loss to the Raiders. 

Mayfield passed for 295 yards and two touchdowns and led Cleveland to its highest scoring output — 42 points — since 2007. While Mayfield took ownership of the team’s miscues, coach Hue Jackson said the youngster has been unflappable in the face of adversity, self-inflicted or not, thus far. 

“I am being very honest with you, I did not see any blink in Baker on any of those things. That's what was very pleasing to me. I get a chance to look in his eyes, and he did not flinch,” head coach Hue Jackson said earlier this week. “That’s what he did. In the end, we were right there. He put us in position again to have a chance to win that game. We just didn't do it.”

“His demeanor is great. I think that those are the things that you really like about Baker,” Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley added. “I have a feeling that he could throw one right to them and that he is going to come right back the next play and try to put a ball in a tight place.”

2. Year in and year out, Baltimore has laid claim to one of the NFL’s most ferocious defenses. This season is no different. The group is ranked third in scoring defense and second in yards per game allowed. 

“They’re good. Let’s make no mistake about that. They are statistically good. They are personnel-wise good. Terrell Suggs is still Terrell Suggs. (Eric) Weddle is still Weddle. They still have a lot of good, premiere players,” Jackson said. 

“This is the AFC North. We get it. We think that we have some good players, too. We are looking forward to the challenge. If we are going to be the team that we want to be, we have to go in our stadium, play against these teams and find a way to defeat them. That is what this is all about.”

Mayfield said he’ll have to keep a careful eye on veteran Ravens standouts in Suggs and Weddle. 

“Baltimore obviously has been a historically great franchise. They trust what they are good at and they’ll run it. They are playing well right now,” he said. “I expect them to continue to do what they are good at, and also throw a couple of wrinkles in there for me. But if we do our job and we see our keys, they can’t throw anything that we have not seen. We just have to be prepared and just do our job.”

3. On the other side of the ball, the Ravens offense quietly has been one of the league’s best units, averaging the fifth-most points per game and 10th in total yards. Veteran quarterback Joe Flacco looks like the signal-caller that won a Super Bowl in 2013 while a new-look receivers room that includes speedster John Brown and Michael Crabtree have given the Ravens new weapons on the perimeter. 

“They have that guy Brown that can run. Oh, can he run,” Jackson said, laughing. “He can really run. Crabtree is really solid, very consistent and makes a lot of plays. They have some young tight ends. All of their backs can catch. They have some skill guys that can play. It is a fun challenge for us as coaches, the chess match back and forth in how we slow them down. I’m sure they are feeling the same way about how they slow us down.”

4. Cleveland’s defense lost one of its top playmakers last week when cornerback Terrance Mitchell broke his wrist and needed surgery days later to repair the damage. The Browns’ “next man up” approach will get tested when veteran E.J. Gaines makes his first start with the team since signing in free agency. The good news? The big stage is nothing new for Gaines, who has 36 career starts under his belt and played for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for three seasons before coming to Cleveland.

“That’s why we brought him here. Obviously, he knows Gregg and knows Gregg’s system. Gregg felt really comfortable with him, as well. We all did when we brought him here,” Jackson said.

“Obviously, hasn’t played a lot. Money Mitch was the guy there, but we feel very comfortable with him stepping in. He’s a veteran player. He’s played. He’s made plays. He’s played against a lot of these guys in the National Football League so it’s a tremendous opportunity for him. I think he’s been waiting for this chance to walk out there first and show what he is worth. He’s going to get that opportunity.” 

Gaines had an interception last week against the Raiders while Mitchell, whom the team placed on injured reserve earlier this week, had two forced fumbles and an interception in four games.

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