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The Breakdown: Mink's Five Thoughts on Dominant Win in Cleveland

From left: OLB Jadeveon Clowney, DT Broderick Washington
From left: OLB Jadeveon Clowney, DT Broderick Washington

The Ravens dominated the Browns with a 28-3 win in Cleveland, putting them back atop the AFC North with two strong division road wins in their back pocket.

In a game where the Ravens were underdogs, they were the top dawgs in Cleveland.

Here are my five thoughts from the game:

Lamar Jackson bests Cleveland's top defense.

Cleveland's defense entered the game with all the hype, ranked atop the NFL in just about every category. The Browns yielded just 163.7 yards and 10.7 points per game through the first three weeks.

Baltimore's offense posted 249 yards of offense and 21 points … in the first half.

The Browns defense is legitimately good. But Lamar Jackson and Baltimore's offense, despite its injury shortcomings, was better.

It didn't look good at first. Three of the Ravens' first four drives were three-and-outs. The exception was a single play, a 10-yard touchdown run by Jackson set up by an interception return. The Ravens' fifth drive ended with a fumble in scoring range, bringing back memories of last week's blunders.

But Jackson and the Ravens kept their poise. And that, perhaps among all other factors, was most important on a day when Baltimore didn't need that many points to win. The Ravens marched down the field on back-to-back long touchdown drives in the second quarter to all but put the game away before intermission.

It wasn't smooth throughout, but Jackson scored two touchdowns on the ground and threw two more – surprisingly the first time he's done that in his career. The Ravens scored touchdowns on all four trips to the red zone.

Again without Ronnie Stanley and facing Myles Garrett and a ferocious Browns pass rush, the Ravens mostly leaned on their ground game to slow down and counter-smack Cleveland's defense. Credit Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken for remaining patient. Credit Baltimore's running backs and offensive line for grinding away. The Ravens piled up 117 rushing yards in the first half.

Beyond that, it was Jackson hitting a handful of big plays with improvisation and a handful of picturesque throws. It doesn't get any better than his touchdown throw to Mark Andrews in the back corner of the end zone at the close of the first half. That was the dagger in an efficient 15-of-19 passing day for the Ravens quarterback.

Against a very good defense, the Ravens still took a step forward Sunday. It's going to be fun to watch when injured players return and Baltimore keeps getting more comfortable in Monken's system.

Baltimore's defense feasts on a rookie QB.

Deshaun Watson sat out the game due to a shoulder injury, sending fifth-round rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson into action for his first career game against Baltimore's ferocious defense.

It was an unfair fight. The Ravens feasted on the rookie, who was overwhelmed from the start and never got relief.

Baltimore clobbered him with four sacks, eight quarterback hits, and three interceptions. Brandon Stephens picked off the rookie on his second drive and Kyle Hamilton intercepted his final attempt – a fitting way to end a dominant day.

The Ravens were excellent on defense at every level. Without outside linebackers Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo, and going against a good offensive line, they still had Thompson-Robinson under pressure often. They shut down Cleveland's running game. Baltimore got a hand on 10 of Thompson-Robinson's passes though it seemed like more.

Of course, facing Thompson-Robinson is part of the reason why Baltimore's defense had such a shutdown performance. But the Ravens were missing those outside linebackers, as well as their top cornerback (Marlon Humphrey) and top safety (Marcus Williams).

Even if Watson had played, I suspect the Ravens would have proven their defense is every bit as good – if not better – than Cleveland's.

Roquan Smith sets the tone for every game.

Roquan Smith's comments this week, that the Ravens were "going over to beat their tails in front of their wife and kids," weren't a direct shot at the Browns. That's his mentality for every road game. It's how he'll approach next week's game in Pittsburgh too.

With that said, Smith wasn't running from his words, which were apparently used as bulletin-board material by the Browns this week. Smith doesn't care what his opponents think. He's going to approach the game the same way, "100 mph all game long" regardless.

Not only has Smith been the best inside linebacker in football so far this season. He's also an elite tone-setter. Part of the reason why the Ravens are 2-0 in two road games against their division opponents is because Smith helps get his team in the perfect mindset for such battles.

This Ravens defense feeds off of Smith in every way.

"He's a leader and he backs it up," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "That's what he did and all the guys had his back. And as a coach, you're going to be proud of that."

Mark Andrews can still be top dawg when needed.

Without wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman, and with a hampered offensive line against a dangerous pass rush, the Ravens weren't going to hit a lot of big plays in the passing game.

But when Baltimore needed a play in the passing game, it was Andrews who often answered the call, a throwback to the days of old with Jackson and Andrews.

The first play that got the Ravens offense going was a 36-yard catch and run from Jackson to Andrews, when Jackson escaped pressure and found his tight end back across the field.

With the Ravens poised to take a stronghold on the game at the end of the first half, Jackson uncorked a pass from his back leg to Andrews in the corner and the big tight end leapt over a couple Browns defenders to haul it in.

"I just gave Mark a shot, and he did the rest," Jackson said.

Monken said this week that Andrews is fully healthy for the first time this season. While the Ravens won't require days like this every week with the assortment of weapons they now have (when healthy), it's good to see that it's always in the back pocket, ready for deployment.

For whatever reason, Andrews dawgs on Cleveland. He now has nine touchdowns in 11 career games against the Browns.

Extra Points

  1. The Ravens' red-zone improvements have been major and should not be overlooked. They entered the game ranked 5th in the NFL in that category, scoring touchdowns on 72.7% of their trips. They went 4-for-4 in Cleveland. So much for being the same as last year's offense, as some pundits said this week.
  2. It's the first time in Jackson's career that he's rushed for multiple touchdowns in back-to-back games. Monken continues to call on his legs around the goal line, which shouldn't be all that surprising. Stetson Bennett, who is not nearly as dynamic of a runner as Jackson, scored 10 rushing touchdowns with Monken's play-calling at Georgia last season.
  3. Kyle Van Noy was signed to the practice squad early this week and made his presence immediately felt with a quarterback pressure and pass deflection. The veteran outside linebacker will likely see his role increase in the weeks to come.
  4. Jadeveon Clowney had a strong return to Cleveland after a messy ending there at the end of last season. He'll wish he cashed in on some of the sacks that slipped through his fingertips, but he still got a lot more pressure in this game than former Raven Za'Darius Smith, who replaced him this offseason.
  5. Jordan Stout got a lot of work with seven punts and he put together one of his best days yet with an average of 47.7 yards. The second-year punter has all the talent but needs to string together consistent performances. He was up-and-down last week, but consistently up in Cleveland.
  6. Stephens is having a superb season. Amari Cooper had one catch for 16 yards and no Browns wide receiver topped 20 yards. Stephens and Hamilton got their first career interceptions and Stephens' return that set up Baltimore's first touchdown got the ball rolling.
  7. Baltimore suffered more injuries, again. Right tackle Morgan Moses and safety Daryl Worley both left with shoulder injuries. Moses is a grinder who hasn't missed a game since his rookie season in 2014. It would be a significant loss if he goes on the shelf for an extended time.

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