BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Two achievements down, one big one left for the Baltimore Ravens.
As the team has continued its winning streak in the last two weeks, they have locked up a playoff berth and the AFC North division crown. Heading into Sunday’s rematch with the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens have the chance to check another accomplishment off the list. And it’s one that they have never reached before in franchise history.
“More than anything, it’s about what is at stake for them. The chance to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, where they would only have to go on the road if they were to play in the Super Bowl, and that is in Miami,” said NFL on CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn. “That is something that is a reality for this team for the first time as an organization. They have never been a number-one-overall seed.”
With a victory over the Browns, the Ravens clinch home-field. They can also clinch if they lose, but the team, as with any organization, would much rather earn the home-field advantage with a victory. Adding to the desire, the Browns are one of only two teams to have handed the Ravens a loss this season, and it was a big one, 40-25, back in Week 4. It was also the last time that the Ravens lost a game. Washburn says that he knows the Ravens were “embarrassed” after that loss, and he says they are well aware that the Browns have the talent to pull an upset.
“As dysfunctional as it appears right now, you never know at any moment if all those pieces could decide to come together and have a day. Maybe it’s a quarter. Maybe it’s just half a quarter, and that is all they will need to keep it close or steal a win from Baltimore,” said Washburn. “I think that is at the forefront of the Ravens mind. I know for a fact that the way they felt after that Week 4 loss was embarrassed. And that’s in the front of how they are approaching this rematch.”
The Browns are coming off a rough loss to the Arizona Cardinals, and there have been reports of turmoil in the locker room. According to reports this week, there were several players shouting “Come get me” towards the Arizona sideline after last week’s game. Still, it is a talented group on offense that could test the Ravens pass defense. The Ravens have consistently improved in that area over the last six weeks, with only the Jets surpassing 200 passing yards in that span.
The more interesting matchup, of course, is when the Ravens are on offense. In the first meeting, the Browns forced three turnovers, which were really the difference in the game. Since then, Jackson and the offense have caught fire and protected the ball. The 10-game winning streak has made the unit seem nearly unstoppable, with Jackson garnering loud calls for him to win MVP. From Washburn’s vantage point talking to players, the reason the offense is so difficult to stop is because it’s hard to get a sense of just how fast Jackson is both with the ball and on play fakes in practice.
“You can’t replicate Lamar’s speed. You may have a scout team that can run the exact way based off of what they have captured on film and what they have scouted. But it’s not being run to the level and the degree of efficiency and speed,” said Washburn. “Not just being able to run but the speed at which they’re able to carry out fakes, disguise the ball, and all those things.”
That then leads to a problem for defenses, because they are adjusting on the fly to a level of speed they haven’t quite seen before. And, in the process of adjusting, that’s where Washburn says Baltimore takes the most advantage.
“What happens is you use the whole first quarter as a defense getting your body and mind in gear to face this, and at that point you’re already down maybe 13 points. The first-quarter point differential for Baltimore this year has been off the charts,” said Washburn. “Once you’re down, they are built to just kind of grind you out with time of possession, work the clock, and on the flip side, the defense is great. It’s that shock value that is really a problem for teams.”
The stats bear that out. Baltimore leads the league in average first-quarter points scored (8.7) and points allowed (2.2). That’s a 6.5-point difference, meaning that, by the time teams have adjusted in most games, they’re already down close to a touchdown. But, there is one interesting caveat with this Cleveland game. This is only the second time this season that we will see a defense get a second look at Lamar and the offense this year.
“Cleveland, like any other team in their division, gets to see it for a second time now, and maybe that helps the defense to not be so on their heels to start the game,” said Washburn. “We just haven’t seen that over the course of this stretch for Baltimore.”
Cincinnati has already seen Baltimore twice, but the Bengals defense is one of the worst in the league. The Browns, despite their struggles, rank in the middle of the pack in defensive efficiency. How they adjust from the first meeting will be an interesting part of Sunday’s game.
The Ravens are favored by 10 heading into the game with kickoff slated for 1:00 p.m. EST on CBS.