Entering 2020, the Browns are looking to get back to the playoffs while the Baltimore Ravens are looking to break through and get a win in the playoffs for the first time since 2014. The Ravens are the defending AFC North Champions, having finished the 2019 season with a 14-2 record, but one of those losses came at home to the Browns (40-25), when the two teams faced off in Week 4.
Baltimore returns its coaching staff and the majority of the team's key contributors, including reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, while the Browns are ushering in a new era led by Kevin Stefanski. The Browns and Ravens have split their yearly series in each of the past two seasons, and there would be no better way for the Browns to make a statement in 2020 than by knocking off the defending division champs in Week 1.
1) Feed Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt early and often to control this game on the ground
In the Browns' Week 4 win and the Titans playoff win over the Ravens last year, it was a dominant rushing attack that punished the Baltimore defense and kept its explosive offense off the field. Chubb ran the ball 20 times for 165 yards and three touchdowns for the Browns, while Derrick Henry carried it 30 times for 195 yards. That ground dominance directly correlated to success against the Ravens, and it will likely do so once again in 2020.
The Browns boast the best running back duo in the NFL in Chubb and Hunt and should rely on them extensively Sunday. The ability to rotate the NFL's leading rusher from 2017 and last year's second-leading rusher means the Browns will always have fresh legs carrying the ball. That is a big advantage in Week 1, when the Ravens have done limited live tackling and have yet to play a full game on defense this year. The wide zone scheme the Browns deploy will force the Ravens to do a lot of running from sideline to sideline and conditioning will play a major role, which should play into the Browns hands.
Thirty-plus combined carries is not out of the question in the season opener, and if the Browns hit that mark, it bodes well for their chances to win.
2) Attack the Ravens inexperience at the off-ball linebacker and safety spots
With the additions of Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe up front, combined with NT Brandon Williams and pass rushers Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, the Ravens have one of the better defensive fronts in the NFL. Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith form perhaps the league's best CB trio. So, the one area to attempt to exploit on this defense is the inexperience in the middle of the field at inside linebacker and safety.
The Ravens' top three "off-ball" linebackers are two rookies and a veteran who has never been a full-time starter in the NFL. First-round pick Patrick Queen takes over the middle of this defense, and while he is extremely talented, this will be his first NFL action following a truncated offseason. The same is also true for third-round pick Malik Harrison, who is considered more of a thumper and will also be making his NFL debut Sunday. Veteran L.J. Fort (a former Brown) has been in the league since 2012 but has just 11 career starts to his name. Eight of those starts came last year for the Ravens and Fort really struggled in coverage, allowing 80 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed.
At safety, the Ravens are without both of last year's opening day starters, SS Tony Jefferson and FS Earl Thomas. This year, the starters will be FS DeShon Elliott and SS Chuck Clark. Elliott has played just 41 defensive snaps in his two-year NFL career and will be making his first career start on Sunday. Clark, a former sixth round pick, has 14 starts in his three-year NFL career, 12 of which came last season. Clark played at a high level for the Ravens in 2019 and is considered a good coverage safety, but he will be dealing with a lot of inexperience and unfamiliarity around him.
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Ravens Sunday
3) Win the turnover battle
This is a tried and true coaching point that has stood the test of time. It takes on critical importance against the Ravens, however, and will be absolutely crucial to the Browns success.
In 2019, the Ravens went 13-1 when they won the turnover battle or it was even. The Ravens went 1-2 (including the playoffs) when they lost the turnover battle last season, including the defeat they suffered to the Browns in Week 4. Since the year 2000 (cue Conan O'Brien), the Ravens are a stunning 203-22 when winning the turnover battle and 32-86 when the turnover ratio is negative.
If there was one thing stressed by Stefanski this offseason, it was ball security for the offense and "ball seeking" for the defense. They drilled it incessantly in Berea and now is the time for it to produce dividends. If the Browns can make one of those game changing takeaways and avoid turning the ball over, they will be well on their way to securing the victory.