Posted in Ashley's 3 big questions

3 big questions for Baltimore Ravens in battle with Browns

By: Ashley Anderson

As the 7-3 Baltimore Ravens prepare to host the 6-5 Browns, there are facing a number of pressing questions. Here’s a look at Baltimore’s top concerns heading into Sunday night.

3.) Can Baltimore Ravens contain Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt?

Despite a leaky secondary, the Ravens have been stout against the run. They are second in the league with 88.6 rush yards allowed per game. This week, they face their toughest challenge yet in the duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Chubb leads the NFL with 6-yards per carry, and Hunt is fresh after missing the last five games due to a thigh injury.

The Ravens have been missing nose tackle Brandon Williams due to a shoulder injury, but he may return this week. Unfortunately, things are a bit less certain about defensive end Calais Campbell. If one or both big men miss this matchup, it will leave Baltimore painfully thin upfront. Justin Ellis has done a fine job filling in for Williams, but this is a bigger stage than he has been on before.

With Baker Mayfield dealing with various injuries, there is no doubt the Browns plan to rely on their run game. The weather is also expected to turn frigid Sunday night, which favors the ground and pound approach. Baltimore must key in on Chubb and Hunt, especially on screen passes, if they expect to walk away victorious.

2.) Will Lamar Jackson deal with rustiness?

Somewhat surprisingly, Lamar Jackson missed last week’s game with an illness. He has also missed a great deal of practice time for various reasons this season. Although he practiced throughout this week, his last game action was all the way back on November 11th in Miami.

As previously noted, the weather conditions will be significantly different than the last time Jackson played. In Miami, the Ravens were dealing with extreme heat and humidity, and they were on a short week of rest. Tomorrow night, temperatures are expected to be in the mid-to-low ’30s.

Due to the time off, Jackson could be dealing with a bit of rust. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins said Jackson looked good in practice, but having your defense “pressure” you is nowhere near what Myles Garrett brings to the table. For the Ravens to be successful, Jackson must take good care of the ball and avoid turnovers. He needs to be on his A-game, so hopefully, he can get momentum early and stay hot.

1.) How will the Baltimore Ravens deal with their myriad of injuries?

Injuries are nothing new for the 2021 Baltimore Ravens. Before the season even began, starters were dropping like flies. To date, things have not improved.

This week, ten players are considered questionable, including several starters. Against the Bears, Baltimore only had three healthy corners, and they may be shorthanded again. Jimmy Smith is likely out, and Tavon Young, Anthony Averett, and Chris Westry all missed time this week. Although he played sparingly, safety Ar’Darius Washington was lost for the season when he broke his foot Wednesday.

On the defensive line, Pernell McPhee is out for at least three weeks after landing on IR. Without him, rookie Odafe Oweh has added responsibility with setting the edge. He will take on even more duties if Campbell cannot play. Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale usually likes to rotate guys to keep them fresh, but these injuries simply do not allow for that.

NEXT POST: Ravens offense: Things we want to see against the Browns

If there is any consolation for Baltimore, it is that Cleveland has struggled to score of late. They cannot be overlooked, however, as Mayfield is smart enough to take advantage of broken plays. Chuck Clark and Marlon Humphrey have to get on the same page this week to overcome other absences and prevent the back-breaking plays Baltimore has been known to surrender this season.

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

If Baltimore Ravens find consistency, they will win the AFC North

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens spent most of the season so far as the frontrunner in the AFC North. The Pittsburgh Steelers got off to a 1-3 start. The Cleveland Browns have been dealing with injuries and have been up and down. Their 5-5 record is proof of that. The Cincinnati Bengals have exceeded expectations but a couple of humbling losses has them back down to earth. It’s up for grabs in the AFC.

Which Baltimore Ravens team shows up?

It’s hard to know who the most trustworthy team is in the division. The Baltimore Ravens have a lot of their wins because of comebacks and miraculous moments. When they lost to the Miami Dolphins in Week 10, it showed how capable the Ravens were of laying an egg against lesser competition.

The Ravens have one constant. As long as they have Lamar Jackson they have a chance to win. Jackson is playing like an MVP and he’s the most important player in the entire division, maybe even in the NFL. The problem the Ravens have is that if Jackson is off by just a bit, the Ravens become a less powerful team. He’s the electricity and there is no backup generator.

The Ravens are so close to being an amazing team. Defensively the Ravens are solid in a lot of ways. The problem is they give up too many big plays. The big plays have haunted this team. It’s what squashed the comeback effort in Miami and what fueled the Raiders and Bengals victories over them. The Ravens can get a decent number of stops, but until they can be trusted not to have blown coverage down the field, or a missed tackle that springs a short pass into a long touchdown, the Ravens will be doing things the hard way.

The story of the Steelers:

The Steelers just tied with the Detroit Lions in an ugly game. Granted, the Steelers had to play the Lions without Ben Roethlisberger, but his absence showed how much is going wrong in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has gotten their wins in scrape by fashion. Many would tell you that the NFL officials propelled them unfairly against the Chicago Bears. The Steelers barely beat the Seattle Seahawks without Russell Wilson. While the Browns only put up 10 points against them, Pittsburgh struggled to get their 15 points on the board.

Defensively, the Steelers have a lot going for them. Games with the Steelers are good for betting the under. The Steelers haven’t scored more than 29 points in a game this season. Their opponents don’t light up the score either. If T.J. Watt gets healthy, the Steelers have a shot to keep winning with their defense.

The Steelers’ big conflict, in a nutshell, is that they average 19.7 points per game and their opponents average 20.6 points per game. The defense has to do the heavy lifting. Their offense finds little grooves here and there, but their overall output isn’t great. A battle with the Steelers is usually a race to 24 points. Get there first and you’re probably giving Pittsburgh a loss.

Can you trust the Browns or Bengals?

Baker Mayfield has been dealing with injuries and for the most part, playing through them. The Browns quarterback isn’t having the 2021 season Cleveland was hoping for though, which is something to be mindful of. He has 1,990 passing yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. The Browns have scored under 20 points in five games this season and just lost 45-7 to the New England Patriots.

Dealing with injuries to notable stars like Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and Greedy Williams, the Browns have stayed in the thick of things. They’ve folded against good competition though, losing big to the Arizona Cardinals, and Patriots. They came up short against the Chiefs and botched a legitimate shot to take down Pittsburgh. The Browns are a tricky wild card. They have to be taken seriously, but they haven’t looked like world-beaters by any stretch of the imagination.

The Bengals are 5-4. There was a ton of buzz around the Bengals after they knocked the doors off the Ravens. Since then. the Bengals have lost to the New York Jets and then got torched by the up and down Browns.

Baltimore Ravens’ Bottom Line:

Every team has had its big moment. Every team has its moment as the frontrunner. If there was a team in the AFC North that had all their ducks in a row, that team would be in a one-horse race. In actuality, the AFC North is a battle between four teams that could show up hot or cold on any Sunday. That’s why getting it right is so crucial for the Baltimore Ravens. There is no time to waste.

The Ravens play the Browns after their battle with the Chicago Bears. Then they have the Steelers and a rematch against the Browns. It’s probably not going to be this easy, yet if the Ravens won the next four games they’d be 10-3 in a very comfortable situation. This opportunity is huge for Baltimore. The expectation has to be two wins out of the three consecutive AFC North battles.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens vs. Chicago Bears: 4 predictions and a score

The bottom line is that any team in this division can walk away with the crown. The Ravens still have five divisional games left. If they win four of them, they probably win the division. It’s that simple. Baltimore must find consistency right away. The AFC North team that finds the answers they need to find wins division. The team that puts it all together wins. It’s that simple, and the Baltimore Ravens have got to get some work done.

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Baltimore Ravens bye week went as well as it could

By Chris Schisler 

The Baltimore Ravens didn’t have a game in week 8 of the NFL season. Things went the way the purple and black wanted them to go while they were idle.

Baltimore Ravens got the results they wanted: 

The Cincinnati Bengals fell to the New York Jets. While they have the same amount of wins as the Ravens, they now have one more loss. Despite the head-to-head advantage, Joe Burrow and company dropped to second place in the division.

After the Bengals game, it seemed likely that the Bengals weren’t that good and the Ravens weren’t that bad. The Bengals leaned into that theory. While the real takeaway is that it is a week-to-week league and that anything can happen on NFL Sunday, seeing the Bengals falter is comforting for Baltimore.

The rest of the division (The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers) did battle in Ohio. Baker Mayfield player despite his shoulder injury, though Cleveland only put up 10 points. In a game that was as much of an offensive struggle as it was a defensive showdown, Pittsburgh prevailed 15-10.

The Ravens should take note that the Steelers have righted the ship and the murky waters are no longer flooding their cabin. Pittsburgh has won three straight games and is in a much more comfortable spot than they were at 1-3.

This was still the outcome that strategically works for Baltimore. The Browns are now 4-4. The Steelers are 4-3. Instead of the Browns inching closer to the top. A division with three five-w

in teams would have made this a different kind of a feel on Monday.

The Steelers and the Browns look like beatable foes: 

The Steelers don’t look like world-beaters. They have scored under 20 points in four games this season.

Their bout with Cleveland was arguably their best offensive performance. They only averaged 5.4 yards a play and went 4-13 on third-down conversion attempts. It really feels as if 24 points is usually enough to beat Ben Roethlisberger and company this year. That’s not a discomfort to a Ravens team picking up 26.7 points per game.

The Browns are a disappointment. A team that was supposed to climb into the elite class of the AFC has four losses and is sitting in fourth place. That’s a tough pill to swallow for the sexy preseason pick to win the AFC North.

The Ravens were handed humble pie against the Bengals. Things looked bad. The problems (that weren’t hard to find) felt like they could sink the Ravens’ season. The dark cloud of an embarrassing loss at home is starting to move away from M&T Bank stadium.

The fact is that there’s not a team in this division that doesn’t have issues. There’s no king-slaying team running a rampage through the division. There’s a Ravens team that is in first place despite a plethora of injuries. There’s the Bengals who just got too high on themselves and let a backup’s backup quarterback go for 400 yards in his game. There’s the Browns and the Steelers with four losses apiece.

The Bottom Line: 

Do the Ravens need to do better when they return to action against the Minnesota Vikings? Sure thing. They need to start winning the battle at the line of scrimmage offensively. On defense, they need to find what makes them tick and some consistency to go with that. But as the sun came up this morning, the Ravens were back in first place in the AFC North. Everything is still there for the taking.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens: Top 10 positives at the bye

A bounce-back week with two games (Vikings on Sunday, Miami Dolphins on Thursday) is just what the doctor ordered. If the Ravens reclaim their confidence, they can still be the dangerous team we thought they were when they crushed Justin Herbert’s Los Angeles Chargers. A perfect bye week has resurfaced optimism in Baltimore.

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Ravens vs. Browns could be the rivalry it was meant to be

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns have never liked each other. The Baltimore Ravens were birthed when the original Browns franchise moved to Baltimore. When Cleveland got a team back, they were put in the same division as Baltimore. This was always supposed to be a rivalry.

The Browns were bad for a long time though, and the Pittsburgh Steelers kind of became the main rival of the AFC North. The Ravens and the Steelers were always fighting for the divisional throne. The Bengals and the Steelers have some serious bad blood. The history of the Browns and the Steelers made Pittsburgh the main rivalry of the Browns, despite the Steelers straight up dominating the battles.

The Ravens have rolled through the Browns over the years:

Baltimore has beaten the Browns 33 times while the Browns have just 11 wins in the series. The Ravens only lost three games to the Browns during the Joe Flacco era. At one point the Ravens had beaten Cleveland 11 times in a row. Again, there was dislike, but a great rivalry hadn’t really formed.

Baltimore’s top rival was originally the Tennessee Titans and has become the Steelers. You could argue that the Titans have become the Ravens’ second biggest rivalry, though that flame could die down as the Ravens don’t play the Titans this season. When Baker Mayfield was taken as the number one pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and Lamar Jackson was taken with the final pick of the first round, things were once again set in motion.

The Ravens swept the Browns in the 2020 season, though the second meeting may have been where the rivalry really got started. 47-42. The best drama that television has had for years. Lamar Jackson went to the locker room. Trace McSorley got hurt. Jackson came into the game and made magic happen. Be honest Ravens fans, how many times have you seen the replay of that game? Three for me.

New Browns, New Rivalry:

Now the Browns look like one of the best teams in football. In fact in the AFC, the four best teams are clearly the Kansas City Chiefs, the Buffalo Bills, the Ravens, and the Browns. This will be the first time in the history of Ravens vs. Browns where both teams will come into the season as Super Bowl contenders.

That 47-42 battle seemed like the first heavyweight fight between the teams. That was the Browns showcase game against the Ravens. The Ravens know that this is going to be the toughest opponent on their schedule for years to come. That’s a game-changer. That’s a rivalry.

Baltimore and Cleveland are perfect rivals too. It’s got many of the same Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh elements. It’s two physical football teams, and it’s starting to feel personal.

The Ravens and Browns have two of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, both have young franchise quarterbacks. John Harbaugh and Kevin Stefanski are both really strong personalities and that makes for a nice coaching rivalry. It just seems so perfect. The Browns and Ravens are getting on each other’s nerves. This is a feeling Ravens fans typically reserve for Pittsburgh alone.

Baker Mayfield is an almost cocky number one pick. In the same draft class where every team passed on Lamar Jackson at least once, Mayfield was chosen first. Mayfield gives the Browns more of a traditional quarterback. Jackson is the quarterback who is making history by being the best dual-threat quarterback. Mayfield and Jackson, both of whom you have to have a lot of respect for as leaders of their team, are the perfect foils for each other.

NEXT POST: 3 Forgotten Baltimore Ravens of the month: vol. 2

Mayfield and Stefanski give the Browns legitimacy, and their stacked roster is finally starting to make some noise. Jackson has given the Ravens new life and Harbaugh is a very trusted head coach. Could this become the Ravens’ main rivalry? Could this rivalry tell a huge part of the story for the next five to ten years? It looks like the answer is starting to shape up as a YES.


Posted in Hot Take of the Week

Ravens are still the class of the AFC North

By Ronald Toothe

There’s a shift currently taking place in the AFC North. It’s a shift that has brought with it an influx of incredible young talent to all four teams over the last few seasons.

In Cleveland, it started with Myles Garrett in 2017 and continued with the addition of franchise cornerstones like Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and Denzel Ward.

In Cincinnati, second-year QB Joe Burrow will have his chance to wreak havoc on opposing defenses with his old college teammate Ja’Marr Chase for years to come.

Even in Pittsburgh, despite their old guard slowly leaving piece by piece, they’ve managed to stay strong by drafting new stars like TJ Watt, Chase Claypool, and Diontae Johnson.

While the balance of power going forward could be as fragile as it’s ever been, fear not, for the AFC North will still be the Ravens division to win for years to come.

Of all the other three teams’ additions to their rosters since 2017, Eric Decosta and company have been right there with them every step of the way. For as much as the Flock can be frustrated at times when a player like Miles Boykin or Jaylon Ferguson doesn’t provide the immediate boost, we’d like, the hits have far outweighed the misses.

Marlon Humphrey, Tyus Bowser, Chuck Clark, Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews, DeShon Elliott, Bradley Bozeman, Marquise Brown, Patrick Queen, J.K. Dobbins. All of these players have been drafted in the last four seasons. This is crazy to think about given how integral each one has been to the Ravens’ success already.

Ravens fans already know that this team has numerous different standard-bearers in place for the future though. The question is, how do they stack up with the rest of the division going forward?

Cleveland rocks?

Pundits on television and in print media have been quick to say that the Browns will be the kings of the north for years to come following 2020. The only problem with that hot take, is that we’ve heard it for going on four years now.

Cleveland has certainly taken monumental steps forward over these last few years and does deserve much more respect than they’ve garnered in the past, but a playoff win against a broken down Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t make them instant Super Bowl contenders or divisional favorites.

It’s hard to argue the talent the Browns have accrued over the last few seasons. Nick Chubb is in the conversation of the best pure running back in the league, and Myles Garrett has shown that he’s probably the best defender in football not named Aaron Donald.

Baker Mayfield really began to show why the Browns took him first overall in 2018 after last Thanksgiving as well, putting together the best stretch of his pro career thus far. He only threw one interception during that span, indicating that his gunslinger approach may be a much more calculated one going forward.

Paper vs. reality

Even despite all of the “on paper” talent the Browns have though, the current Mayfield-led iteration of the team still holds a 1-4 record vs the Lamar Jackson-led Ravens. Both of their key wins last season (vs Tennessee, vs Pittsburgh in the playoffs) were almost blown after getting out to huge leads early on in the ballgame.

They also stubbed their toe against lesser teams like the Raiders and Jets during what was still a crucial playoff push at the time, games where elite teams get the job done. Going forward the Browns will likely be the biggest thorn in the Ravens side, but anyone who says it’s their division to win is doing so just for the sake of the potential “I told you so”.

From LSU to Cincinnati, the new Tiger Kings?

The Bengals have a whole lot of work still left to do and more additions to make, but make no mistake about it, they’re not as far off as one would initially think. Their 2021 draft was quietly among the best in the league as of now (which is easy to say while players are still in shorts and helmets of course).

The free agent acquisition of Trey Hendrickson to pair alongside Joseph Ossai from Texas could be one of the most overlooked pass rush duos in football, but will certainly help what’s been a rough defensive unit for the Bengals over the last few seasons.

The major key to their success going forward will be keeping QB Joe Burrow upright. They began focusing on this with the drafting of Jackson Carman out of Clemson (along with two others later in the draft: D’Ante Smith and Trey Hill), who will provide some much needed protection for the young signal caller.

Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd could very well be the most well-rounded receiver group in the league down the line with a player like Burrow slinging the rock, they just need the time in the pocket to make it happen.

2021 likely isn’t the year the Bengals will be competing for a playoff position, but if Burrow is able to make it through the season and continue building what was already becoming great chemistry with the young guys around him, they’ll be far from the easy win on the schedule that we’ve come to know going forward.

Closing the Steel curtain on the old guard

Surprisingly enough, the team in the least enviable position in the AFC North going forward is the one that took home the divisional crown in 2020: the Steelers. Each AFC North team has their quarterback of the future, while Pittsburgh willingly signed up for another ride with a 39 year old coming off of total elbow reconstruction.

What was once one of the most feared offensive lines in football has become more and more a shell of itself over the last few seasons, with the biggest shifts coming this off-season. After the retiring of Maurkice Pouncey, and Alejandro Villanueva coming over to anchor the right side of the Ravens line, their current situation up front leaves much to be desired.

In an article for Trib Live, Chris Adamski writes,

“J.C. Hassenauer and B.J. Finney are options at center. Second-year player Kevin Dotson is penciled in as the new starter at left guard, and Zach Banner is expected to serve as the starting right tackle in 2021 despite never having started and finished an NFL game on the offensive line. Also, Chuks Okorafor is slated to take over for longtime starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who signed with the rival Baltimore Ravens. And another rookie, tackle Dan Moore, was added via a fourth-round draft pick.”

Now, it may be unfair to completely write off the linemen they have coming in given that most of them haven’t had the chance to step up. However, given the consistency they’ve had and the chemistry they built in the process over the last decade, it’s hard to be confident that a brand new group like this can keep Ben healthy through an extended season.

Other issues for the Steelers

Not to mention, they spent this year’s first round pick on a heck of a running back from Alabama in Najee Harris, but if the offensive line is causing him to meet defenders at the line of scrimmage on a regular basis it may as well still be James Conner back there.

The defense will still be among the better units in football, but even that side of the ball has seen its fair share of losses. Bud Dupree chose to head for greener pastures in Tennessee, Mike Hilton the same to Cincinnati, and Steven Nelson was deemed a cap casualty and released. They didn’t address those holes until day three of the draft, so it’ll take a mighty effort from Watt, Heyward, and company to replicate their prior success.

Wrap up

Overall the AFC North is improving in a lot of ways, but the Ravens have managed to stay ahead of that curve every step of the way. We’ve got some exciting divisional match-ups to look forward to in the coming years, and probably a lot of Sundays spent on the edge of our seats as a result.

NEXT POST: The Ravens don;t need Julio Jones to make it work

It wasn’t too long ago that people considered the AFC North to be the true class of the NFL, and should the new young crop of talent across the board live up to their full potential, it won’t be long before that again becomes a reality.