This one isn’t difficult to determine, but we also won’t spoil things for you.
OK, maybe a little.
The first and most important focus of the Browns is Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who wears No. 8 and can essentially do it all with the football. But there are more points of focus for the Browns this weekend in Baltimore.
Here are the three key ingredients to produce a winning mix for the Browns.
1. Stop the run
We’ve covered this plenty this week, but the Ravens lead the league in rushing yards with 216.7 per game. They also lead the league in total yards per game with 511.7 through three contests. Those two numbers are not independent.
Baltimore boasts a rushing attack that can hit you in multiple areas almost simultaneously. The Browns will need to limit Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards in an effort to reduce the total number of offensive players who can affect the game for the Ravens. This will require Cleveland’s stellar front four to continue its strong start against the run, flowing with plays and maintaining gap integrity while the linebackers execute their run fits and make tackles when the opportunity arises.
“The tackling has been better. Not as many missed tackles,” Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens said when asked what has helped the team improve against the run in 2019. “These guys have put a lot of time and a lot of work from a coaching perspective and a player perspective to amp up the importance level of tackling and one-on-one tackling. I think (defensive coordinator) Steve (Wilks) and those guys on that side of the ball have done a great job of that, and the players have bought in to that is how you are successful defensively in making the tackles that are there.”
From there, the focus will shift to the former Heisman Trophy winner.
2. Contain Lamar Jackson
This might be listed as No. 2, but it is the most important part of a defensive effort geared toward winning the game.
Jackson is the engine of Baltimore’s offense in all areas. He hands the ball off, he runs, he passes, he executes run fakes, he gives defenses headaches and he provides viewers a reason to tune in every Sunday. The Browns will need to eliminate such a reason Sunday by bottling him up on the ground and forcing him to pass into crowded secondaries. They have the personnel to force turnovers, they just have to apply consistent pressure without allowing Jackson to break the big play.
“You have to cage this guy and make sure he does not scramble up the middle, definitely scrambling up the middle,” Browns defensive end Myles Garrett said of Jackson. “You have to get him running to his left, throw off balance and just try to keep him in the pocket if we can, but if we cannot, just follow him to his weaker side throwing. Just make sure he is not as effective.”
That’s the key: Eliminate the big play from Jackson. Make him work in small gains. The less time Baltimore has the ball, the better, which leads us to our third point.
3. Win time of possession
The Browns largely dominated in their Week 2 win over New York, but in their two losses, the team statistics have been surprisingly close. They won time of possession in Weeks 1 and 3, the latter by a full three minutes and change, yet didn’t come away with the victory. It kept them in the game in Week 3, though, and will help them again in Week 4.
The reason: Keeping Jackson off the field minimizes the amount of damage he and the Ravens’ offense can cause. Some might call it playing scared, but wiser minds know it’s playing smart. The Browns have the running back to be able to pound the ball and grind clock, but they’ll also need to be better on third down to maintain ownership of the football. Cleveland ranks 29th in the NFL in third-down percentage, converting just 28 percent of such attempts.
That won’t win a divisional game in a hostile environment. Sustained offense will, and will produce a win in this category, too, which should result in a victory, unlike last week.