Takeaways from Ravens’ Loss to Browns
The Ravens were unable to come away with the victory in Cleveland, falling to the Browns, 12-9, in overtime. The loss dropped the Ravens to 3-2, including a 1-2 divisional record. It was the Browns’ first win against an AFC North opponent since October of 2015.
“After two straight victories fueled by creative offense and adaptable defense, the Ravens crashed back to the grimy reality of AFC North football,” The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote.
Below are a few takeaways from pundits that hurt the Ravens on Sunday.
Mistakes Prove Costly: It should be noted that the Ravens were far from outplayed in Cleveland. The Browns outgained the Ravens in total yardage by just six yards and had more penalties (10 to Baltimore’s six). The Ravens even had more first downs than Cleveland (25 to 20) and had five sacks to the Browns’ two.
The Browns played well enough to deservedly win on Sunday, but the Ravens also hurt themselves with mistakes. Whether it was a dropped pass, poorly timed penalty or a gaffe on special teams, the Ravens always seemed to have a mistake pop up in a big moment, which cost their chances of winning.
“This was the Ravens’ sloppiest performance of the season,” Walker wrote.
One area where Baltimore really struggled was in the red zone. After starting the season 13-for-13 converting red zone trips into touchdowns, the Ravens have started to stall in the most crucial part of the field. Against Cleveland, the Ravens didn’t score a touchdown despite reaching the red zone three times.
The Ravens’ red zone woes started in the second quarter when Flacco threw an interception to Browns cornerback Denzel Ward on a pass that Walker referred to as “an ill-advised throw into double coverage.” Flacco said after the game that he was trying to throw the ball away to tight end Nick Boyle’s feet, but the pass got deflected. At the time, the Ravens had a 3-0 lead, but rather than build on it, the Browns gained some momentum.
Another red zone trip that didn’t result in a touchdown came at the end of regulation with the Ravens trailing 9-6. On a third-and-10 from the Browns’ 14-yard line, Flacco threw a pass that wide receiver Michael Crabtree couldn’t haul in while in the end zone. As Russell Street Report’s Ryan Jones put it, “the catch at the end of regulation was a tough one, but it’s one that you need to make.”
It punctuated a frustrating afternoon for Crabtree despite having six catches for 66 yards, both team-highs. Crabtree also had two official drops.
To be fair to Crabtree, he wasn’t afraid of being self-critical after the game.
The Ravens’ struggles weren’t limited to the red zone, though. Kicker Justin Tucker had a 48-yard effort blocked by Ward right before halftime. On the season, the Ravens now have had two field goals blocked and one punt blocked. As PressBox’s Bo Smolka pointed out, that’s “uncharacteristic for Jerry Rosburg's units.”
Untimely penalties also hurt Baltimore, including one on wide receiver Chris Moore. The Ravens were in the midst of a promising drive in overtime, and a run from running back Alex Collins put them on the edge of Tucker’s range so that he could attempt a game-winning field goal. A flag was thrown on Moore though for a block in the back, which pushed the Ravens back from the Browns’ 36-yard line, to their 49. It was a call that Flacco questioned after the game.
“It was a questionable call as the Browns’ defender seemed to be falling to the ground before Moore made minimal contact,” The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec wrote.
It was an all-around frustrating performance for the Ravens made even more difficult to take because, as The Baltimore Sun’s Jen Badie put it, “this could have been a Ravens victory.”
‘Major Regression’ for the Revamped Offense: Despite finishing with 410 yards of total offense, the Ravens attack didn’t get into sync throughout the afternoon.
“This was a major regression for the revamped offense,” Smolka wrote.
Flacco went 29-for-56 for 298 yards with an interception. It just simply wasn’t the same Flacco that performed so well in the previous two weeks, and as Smolka put it, “whether it was because of pressure or just an off day, Flacco misfired on several throws.”
One way the offense was different was the lack of a big-play threat. Against the Steelers in Week 4, wide receiver John Brown made two catches for over 100 yards in the first half. That made the Steelers sit back further on defense, and created opportunities for other playmakers.
It was also clearly noticed by the Browns, who “appeared to focus on negating John Brown, blanketing him with outstanding rookie cornerback Denzel Ward for much of the game,” according to Smolka. Brown had a team-high 14 targets, but finished with four catches for 58 yards.
Without the big play, the Ravens had to drive the field the hard way. As a result, Flacco finished with 5.3 yards per passing attempt.
“I don’t know how much of this you can truly put on Joe,” Russell Street Report’s Brandon Portney wrote. “He did have a decent amount of time to pass, but a lot of balls were tipped at the line of scrimmage and a lot of balls were dropped.”
Adding to the Ravens’ frustration was that they usually had good field position to work with. Of the Ravens’ 15 drives, seven of them were either at their own 34-yard line, or in a more advantageous position. As Baltimore Beatdown’s Logan Levy put it, “field position was far from the issue.”
“The Baltimore offense had amazing field position the entire first half, yet kept coming away with nothing,” Russell Street Report’s Derek Arnold wrote.
Unlikely Standout in Strong Defensive Showing: Though the game ended with the Ravens allowing a 65-yard drive that resulted in Browns kicker Greg Joseph connecting on a 37-yard game-winning field goal, the defense did a tremendous job of keeping the team in the game.
“The Ravens defense did their best to try and disrupt [Browns rookie quarterback Baker] Mayfield and the Browns passing attack, but the Ravens offense ultimately struggled to hold up their end of the bargain,” Pro Football Focus wrote.
Russell Street Report’s Mitchell Wolfman added, “Defense played a solid game on all phases. Forced turnovers, including a pick and turnover on downs. Pressured Baker Mayfield all game, notched several sacks. Coverage was tight most of the game.”
Indeed, the defense went toe-to-toe with Cleveland for the majority of the game, and allowing nine points through four quarters is usually enough to win. The group even continued its streak of not allowing a touchdown after halftime, only conceding two field goals.
One player who has continued to play well was safety Anthony Levine Sr. He finished with five tackles as well as three passes defended, and was the unit's highest graded player by Pro Football Focus.
The Ravens rolled the dice a little bit prior to this game by cutting cornerback Darious Williams to make room for cornerback Jimmy Smith on the roster. That left the Ravens with just four healthy cornerbacks on the roster, including Smith, who hadn’t played in an NFL regular-season game since last December.
“With Baltimore down to four healthy cornerbacks in this game and then with Tavon Young going into the concussion protocol at one point, Levine was asked to do a lot and performed well all around,” RavensWire’s Matthew Stevens wrote. “He played all over the field and even made a spectacular play on third down to force a punt at the end of the game.”
Another positive was the return Smith from suspension, as he played 35 snaps and “looked like his normal self in his first game back,” according to Baltimore Beatdown’s Frank Platko. Ultimately though, the defense’s resilient effort wasn’t enough to pull out a win.
“All in all, the defense played well in a defeat,” PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz wrote. “It stymied the opponent for most of the afternoon and kept the Ravens afloat.”
Run Defense Wins Battle Without Michael Pierce: The Browns’ best offense this year has been running the ball. Yes, much of the focus entering the game was on how Mayfield would hold up against a Baltimore defense that had stifled Pittsburgh just the week before.
In terms of strategy though, the Browns were always going to lean heavily on the run. Cleveland averaged an NFL-best 152.75 rushing yards per game entering Sunday’s contest, and were second in yards per carry with 5.6.
On Sunday, the Browns’ running back trio of Carlos Hyde, Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson Jr. combined for 100 yards, and the team averaged 4.0 yards per run. It was a solid effort by the Ravens considering Cleveland had been held to under 4.0 yards per carry in just one game this year, but it was far from a vintage dominant Baltimore defense against the run.
The Ravens also had to contend with not having defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who didn’t play due to a foot injury. As Kasinitz put it, the Ravens “bottled up Cleveland’s running backs.”
“For a line missing one of their premier run stuffers in nose tackle Michael Pierce, I thought they held up well to a very good three-headed monster that is the Browns backfield,” Portney wrote.
With Pierce out, the Ravens had to rely on defensive end Willie Henry, who played in his first game since having hernia surgery. Henry finished with two tackles and one sack, which was a big one because it came while the Browns were in the red zone.
Another bright spot along the defensive line was defensive tackle Brandon Williams, who finished with six tackles to double his season total to 12. He also picked up his first sack since 2016, and was a regular nuisance for Mayfield by working his way into the Cleveland backfield.
“One positive takeaway from this game was the pressure up the middle,” Portney wrote.
More Debate About Run-Pass Balance: While it was a frustrating afternoon for the Ravens’ offense as a whole, the team did run the ball more effectively than it has in recent games. In fact, Baltimore’s average of 4.6 yards per carry easily eclipsed the team’s previous high of 3.4, which came in the team’s opener against the Buffalo Bills.
As a team, the Ravens ran 25 times for 116 yards. Running back Alex Collins started the game with a 19-yard carry and led the way with 12 carries for 59 yards, while running back Javorius Allen finished with 34 yards on eight attempts. It wasn’t a flawless display though, as Allen did have a fumble, which led to a Cleveland field goal. The unit as a whole took a step in the right direction.
A few pundits believed the team didn’t lean on the run game enough during the contest, as the Ravens called 58 pass plays to 25 runs in a game where they never trailed by more than six points. Smolka wrote “that has never been, and never will be, the recipe for success with this offense,” while Levy believes the run game was the most consistent part of the offense.
"Taking into consideration the high-level Cleveland’s secondary was playing at, the Ravens’ pass-heavy game plan was irrational," Levy wrote. “They were having success at various points throughout the game, yet when it mattered most, [Offensive Coordinator Mary] Mornhinweg stuck with the aerial attack."
Up to this game though, the Ravens’ rush attack had struggled this season. The unit was No. 31 in the league in yards per carry entering this contest. If the rushing attack continues to improve its yards per carry, it should get more chances in high-leverage situations.
Eric Weddle Fires Back at Skip Bayless
Fox Sports One’s Skip Bayless took to Twitter to praise Mayfield for how well he was doing on third downs against the Ravens. After the game, safety Eric Weddle took exception to Bayless’ take.
If you can stomach it, keep an eye on Bayless’ “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed” this week. Bayless is known for his feuds with NFL players – just ask outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. No doubt, he’ll have a response for Weddle.
It should be noted that Weddle, like much of the defense, was complimentary of Mayfield after the game, saying, “I respect good players and he did a good job.” He also clearly feels the Ravens let rookie off the hook on a few of his throws.
“He made some throws that were really good, he made some other throws that were really bad that we could have capitalized on,” Weddle said. “But, shoot, the game's on the line and he made a great throw and the guy made a great catch-and-run. As good as our defense played, they made one more play than us.”
PFF Offense and Defense Rankings
- Right guard Marshal Yanda led the way for the offense with a PFF score of 4.5. Left guard Alex Lewis scored a 1.8, while tight end Maxx Williams finished with a 1.1 mark.
- Center Matt Skura had the lowest score for the offense with a -3.8. Crabtree scored a -3.7, while rookie tight end Hayden Hurst finished with a -2.1 rating in his first NFL regular-season game.
- Levine easily had the best score for the defense with a 3.1. Suggs finished with a 1.5 mark, while Weddle scored a 1.4.
- Rookie inside linebacker Kenny Young’s final rating was -1.5. Cornerback Tavon Young registered a -1.4 score, while inside linebacker C.J. Mosley finished with a -1.0 mark.
- With the game set to go to overtime, the Ravens lined up to kneel the ball and run out the clock. Only the Ravens didn’t kneel – Flacco handed it off to Collins. He managed a 13-yard gain, and though it didn’t result in any points, the Ravens were commended for their trickery.
- NBC Sports’ Peter King announced that Tucker will be a guest on his weekly podcast, which comes out this Wednesday. As King put it, “The current (and likely future) state-of-the-art NFL kicker is an interesting guy — and we didn’t even get to his opera singing.”