Thursday Night NFL Preview: Browns at Ravens

The Sports Xchange

November 09, 2016 at 3:17 pm.

Nov 6, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) drops back to pass during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 6, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) drops back to pass during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium. Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns (0-9) at Baltimore Ravens (4-4)

KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore. TV: NFLN, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Heather Cox.

SERIES HISTORY: 36th regular-season meeting. Ravens lead series, 26-9. The Ravens relocated from Cleveland in 1996 and left behind only the Browns nickname. Baltimore won four of the past five meetings. Ravens coach John Harbaugh has lost just twice to Cleveland in 17 meetings. The Ravens won the first matchup this season, 25-20, after trailing 20-0 in the first quarter. That was the second-biggest comeback in franchise history.

GAMEDATE: 11/10/16

KEYS TO THE GAME: Baltimore is looking to build off an emotional victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9. The Ravens did a much better job than in previous weeks balancing their attack with the pass and run. Even though the running game struggled against the Steelers, the mix of plays took some pressure off quarterback Joe Flacco. Baltimore will maintain that balance against the Browns, who are ranked last in the NFL in total defense.

The Browns have difficulty defending the pass. They did not get close to Flacco in the second week of the season, so defensive coordinator Ray Horton might decide to gamble with blitzing him in the rematch Thursday.

Horton might take a “What do we have to lose?” approach if he does gamble. Flacco passed for 302 yards and two touchdowns in the Sept. 18 meeting. He also threw two interceptions.

The Ravens’ defense is improving each week. The pass rush also is more effective even without injured linebacker Elvis Dumervil. The Ravens will keep that pressure on Browns rookie quarterback rookie quarterback Cody Kessler, who was able to return from a concussion and play Week 9 against the Dallas Cowboys. He completed 19 of 27 pass attempts for 203 yards with a touchdown. However, he also was sacked four times, and Baltimore will make him as uncomfortable as possible.

This Spinoff Bowl means more to the great football fans in Cleveland who rue that time in 1996 that owner Art Modell moved their beloved franchise to Baltimore. And Baltimore fans, whose Colts franchise bolted for Indianapolis, are ambivalent about the history of the Browns, just as long as they have a team again.


–Ravens WR Steve Smith Sr. vs. Browns CB Joe Haden. Despite the Browns’ struggles, Haden remains one of the top defensive backs in the league. Haden came up big in the last meeting against the Ravens with a pair of interceptions. He will face a challenge against Smith, who appears to be fully recovered from an ankle injury that kept him out of the past two games. In the previous game against the Browns, Smith finished with three catches for 64 yards.

–Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs vs Browns OT Joe Thomas. Thomas has traditionally managed to contain Suggs in what has been one of the best battles in the AFC North. The burly offensive tackle could have a further advantage this time around with Suggs battling through a biceps injury. In the previous meeting, Suggs had a quiet game, finishing with three tackles and no sacks. The Ravens will aggressively attack Cleveland rookie QB Cody Kessler, so Thomas and the rest of the line will need to have a big game.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Cleveland LB Emmanuel Ogbah. In recent weeks, Ogbah developed into Cleveland’s best pass rusher. If he can put pressure on Ravens QB Joe Flacco, the Browns might pull off the upset they missed when the teams first met this season. He had just two tackles against the Ravens on Sept. 18. He has 16 tackles and two sacks in the past three games.

FAST FACTS: Browns rookie QB Cody Kessler has four touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 106.6 passer rating in the past four games. He leads rookies and ranks fifth in NFL with 67.5 completion percentage. … Cleveland WR Terrelle Pryor had a TD catch last week, giving him four on the season, tied for fourth in the AFC. … .Ravens QB Joe Flacco is 14-2 in his career as a starter vs. the Browns. He is one of eight quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for 30,000 yards (30,400) in his first nine seasons. … Baltimore WR Mike Wallace caught four passes for 124 yards against Pittsburgh last week, including a 95-yard touchdown. Wallace is the only player in NFL history to have a 95-plus-yard TD catch with two different teams (Baltimore and Pittsburgh).

PREDICTION: The Browns are a better team now than when they couldn’t close the deal against the Ravens in September, but so are the Ravens. Cleveland has lots of problem areas but shows the ability to shake this winless record, but probably not on the road.

OUR PICK: Ravens, 28-21.

–Frank Cooney.