In Week 1, the Browns defense will face the ultimate test against the Baltimore Ravens, who led the NFL in scoring last year at 33.2 points per game and set the NFL record for most rushing yards in a season with 3,296. Quarterback Lamar Jackson set the NFL single-season record for most rushing yards by a QB with 1,213 and running backs Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards added 1,018 yards and 711 yards, respectively.
Due to the multiple threats on the ground, not to mention the addition of second-round pick J.K. Dobbins to mix, the Ravens place an inordinate amount of stress on opposing linebackers and safeties who are forced to come down in run support. Further complicating the matter is the Ravens also love to throw the ball to their tight ends on play-action once they have forced teams to sell out and stop the run. In 2019, Ravens tight ends combined for 125 receptions, 1,522 yards and 14 touchdowns. Mark Andrews led the way with 64 receptions for 852 yards and 10 of those scores.
In other words, no defense puts more stress on opposing linebackers and safeties than the Ravens, and it will be a tall order for the Browns completely remade linebacker and safety rooms. With Mack Wilson (knee) injured, LB Sione Takitaki (46 snaps in Week 16) will be the only projected starter to have even played a snap against this Ravens offense led by MVP Lamar Jackson. B.J. Goodson (Green Bay), Andrew Sendejo (Philadelphia and Minnesota), Karl Joseph (Oakland), Ronnie Harrison Jr. (Jacksonville) and Jacob Phillips (rookie) were not with the Browns last year and had no exposure to the Ravens' attack. The player with the most experience against Baltimore in the LB and S rooms is Sheldrick Redwine, who played 66 defensive snaps against the Ravens in Week 16 of last year.
The Browns' initial 53 man roster on August 31, 2021
New Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods coached against the Ravens last year as a member of the 49ers staff, and San Francisco held Baltimore to just 20 points on that rain-soaked day. Still, there is not a ton of experience dealing with all of the ball-handling challenges presented by the Ravens, not to mention the fact that you always need to account for the quarterback. The Browns did show the recipe for success last year and have split with the Ravens two straight years.
In the Browns' Week 4 win over Baltimore last year, they limited Jackson to just 66 rushing yards, held the Ravens to just 173 total on the ground and didn't allow a single tight end to eclipse 40 receiving yards. In the Week 16 loss, Jackson ran for 103 yards, the Ravens ran for 243 and a touchdown, while Andrews led the way with 93 yards and two touchdowns of his own. The Ravens were undefeated last year when Jackson ran for 70 yards in a game and their only losses came in the two games when he totaled just 110 yards rushing combined.
The Browns must contain Jackson and his tight ends if they are to have a chance to win Sunday. That responsibility will lie mostly with the new-look linebackers and safeties, although I am sure the talented defensive front will absolutely try to do their part.