No team is hotter than the Baltimore Ravens, who enter FirstEnergy Stadium at 12-2, atop the AFC, already the AFC North champions and on a 10-game winning streak. In fact, the last time the Ravens lost a game was Week 4 when the Browns went to Baltimore and hammered the Ravens 40-25.
Since that time, the Ravens juggernaut has won 10 games by an average of 15.7 points per game, including wins over current playoff teams like the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Lamar Jackson is the runaway NFL MVP in 2019, as he leads the league in both passing touchdowns (33) and total touchdowns (40). He is the only quarterback in NFL history to produce more than 2,500 yards passing (2,889) and 1,000 rushing (1,103 – an NFL QB record) in the same season.
He is leading the league's top scoring offense (33.7 per game), top rushing offense (202.1) and second-highest yardage offense (409.7). The Ravens are two games away from being the first team in NFL history to average more than 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing per game over the course of an entire season.
Their defense is no slouch, either, giving up just 15.7 points per game during their 10-game winning streak, which is second-best in the NFL. It is no wonder that the Ravens are sending an NFL record tying 12 players to Pro Bowl, with six on offense, four on defense and two on special teams.
The Browns are one of only two teams to beat them this year and could sweep the Ravens for the first time in franchise history with a win on Sunday. So let's get right to the winning mix!
1. Fast Start
If there is one potential Achilles' heel to this Ravens team, it is their ability to mount a big comeback. Granted, they have not had to make a comeback very often this year because they've scored first in 11 of their 14 games this year. Furthermore, the Ravens have been behind for nearly 118 minutes all season, by far the fewest in the NFL. They have had the lead, however, for a ridiculous 550 minutes of game time, by far the most in the NFL.
The Ravens are the best play from ahead team in the league this year. No one is better at running the ball, chewing clock and destroying the will of their opponents than the Ravens. They also have a secondary that is sending three players to the Pro Bowl, making it quite difficult to pass against them in the hopes of a dramatic comeback.
In other words, getting the lead against this team is far easier said than done, but the Browns must find a way to do it. If there is one situational stat that really stands out about the Ravens that is directly tied to wins and losses it is the following: When Baltimore has the lead or is tied at the half, they are 12-0 (11-0 with the lead). When Baltimore is trailing at halftime this year, it is 0-2.
It is critical for the Browns to get out to a lead, carry it into halftime, use the momentum of the home crowd who have witnessed four straight Browns wins and then finish the job against the streaking Ravens.
2. Contain Jackson and the Baltimore ground game
Perhaps the toughest task on this list will check in at No. 2 because Jackson has been the most consistently electric player in the NFL this season. He leads the NFL in passing touchdowns (33), is completing 66 percent of his passes and has three games with five passing scores under his belt this season alone. Over the last seven games, he has been simply spectacular as a passer, completing 70 percent of his passes for 1,239 yards with 22 touchdowns, one interception and a QB rating of 130.9.
During the 10-game winning streak, Jackson has been also unstoppable as a runner, with 872 yards on the ground with six rushing touchdowns. Containing him as a runner could be another big key for the Browns defense Sunday. Now, Cleveland struggled mightily with the Cardinals and the Kyler Murray/Kenyan Drake combo last week, and if they want to have any chance of winning this week, they must limit Jackson and Mark Ingram on the ground.
The Ravens are 13-0 when Jackson runs for more than 70 yards, something he has done eight times this season, including seven times in the 10-game winning streak. The Browns held Jackson to 66 yards rushing in their Week 4 victory and limited Ingram to 71 of his own. The Browns held the Ravens to 173 yards rushing that day (137 from Jackson and Ingram), which amazingly is the Ravens fourth-worst rushing performance of the year. The Browns, themselves, rushed for 193 that day (165 and three TDs from Nick Chubb) and are one of two teams to outrush Baltimore all season.
It is a very scary idea to say you want to limit the Baltimore rush so that the NFL leader in TD passes (33), games with three-plus TD passes (7), games with four-plus TD passes (4) and five-plus TD passing games (3) is forced to throw it, but that is the only path. When Jackson goes off as a rusher, the Ravens do not lose, and the Browns must find a way to contain him Sunday, like they did in Baltimore, to get another big win.
3. No Turnovers and Possess the Football
During their 10 game win streak, the Ravens have forced 18 turnovers and scored five defensive touchdowns. When you are a big underdog like the Browns are, it is imperative that you play a clean football game and do not give the ball away.
In the Week 4 win over the Ravens, the Browns had one giveaway, a Baker Mayfield interception, but they took the ball away from the Ravens three times. Going plus-two in the turnover battle again will go a long way toward beating the Ravens. After all, the Ravens have only lost the turnover battle twice all year long and they are 1-1 in those games.
The final little piece of the puzzle for the Browns is to control the ball and win the time of possession battle. The Ravens lead the NFL with 34:29 minutes of possession every week, a near 10-minute advantage over their opponents, which is unheard of. This year, when the Ravens have possessed the ball for 35 minutes or more, they are 7-0.
In the Browns' Week 4 win over the Ravens, they out-possessed the Ravens 30:17-29:43. That was the second-lowest time of possession for the Ravens all year long and is another critical piece of the blueprint to take Baltimore down. The Browns will need to feed Chubb and Kareem Hunt all game, convert on third downs and try to keep the ball away from this explosive Ravens offense.