Ravens respected Cleveland Browns running game more than passing attack

Dec 12, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; A Cleveland Browns fan holds a sign in support of Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (not pictured) during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 12, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; A Cleveland Browns fan holds a sign in support of Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (not pictured) during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

A win is a win, but it was clear that the Ravens were much more mindful of Nick Chubb than the Cleveland Browns passing game on Sunday. 

The Cleveland Browns did not exactly dominate the front-running Baltimore Ravens, who were playing without superstar Lamar Jackson on offense. They were also missing their Pro Bowl cornerback, Marlon Humphrey, who was injured while the Browns were licking their wounds during bye week.

A win is a win is a win, and the Browns are within striking distance of their rival. However, a major takeaway is that if this game is used as a real-world referendum on the Browns offense, the Ravens by their actions voted strongly in favor of stopping Nick Chubb and the running game, and were really not that concerned about the passing game.

Coming into the game, the Ravens were statistically the third-worst passing defense in the NFL, yielding 7.1 yards per attempt behind only the Detroit Lions and the New York Jets, both of whom are touch football teams that somehow made it into the NFL. Without Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens must have the worst defensive backfield in the NFL, on paper.

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale did not even care. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! They routinely stacked the box with eight defenders to slow down Nick Chubb, and took their chances with Baker Mayfield and the Browns passing game. You can interpret that as great respect for Nick Chubb, or correspondingly less respect for Mayfield in his current injured state.

This writer believes Baker Mayfield is the long-term quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, but in the short run he is something like 30th to 40th best quarterback in the NFL while playing in a harness to hold his body together while awaiting off-season surgery. Case Keenum is the better option right now, and nothing we saw versus the Ravens changes that opinion. Harbaugh and Martindale had the right game plan, but the Ravens just did not have the horses on Sunday.

Snap count analysis shows that the Ravens averaged 4.65 defensive backs per play in the first game versus the Browns on November 28 and gave extra snaps to run-stopping linebackers rather than pass coverage guys. For the game on December 12th, they averaged only 4.49 defensive backs on the field including 2.34 corners and 2.15 safeties. In other words, they minimized their investment in defensive backs versus Cleveland, even after losing a Pro Bowl cornerback.

By contrast, the previous week versus Pittsburgh, the Ravens played 4.83 defensive backs versus Air Roethlisberger. The Ravens gave extra snaps versus Cleveland, compared to Pittsburgh, to big players including six-foot-five, 275 pound linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, six-foot-three, 293 pound tackle Justin Madabuike, and six-foot-one, 336 pound defensive tackle Brandon Williams. It could not be more clear that they were totally committed to stopping the run versus the Browns even though their defensive secondary was terribly weakened by injuries.

By the way, if you look at the snap counts from NFL.com, they list Justin Houston and Odafe Oweh as linebackers even though the Ravens website calls them rush linemen and they definitely line up like defensive ends. Go figure. If you just watch the film and count the purple helmets in the box, they are up on the line of scrimmage. Anyway, the point is, the Ravens showed that they believe the way to stop the Browns is to play the run, and they were not that afraid of the passing attack.

The Ravens game plan was sound, so let’s give them credit. With a mediocre defensive backfield, the Ravens were able to contain the Browns. Donovan Peoples-Jones was held to five catches in 7 targets for 90 yards. Jarvis Landry was held to five catches in 8 targets for 41 yards and a touchdown. Overall Mayfield was only 22 for 32 for 190 yards, which is a good showing for Baltimore’s depleted secondary in mostly man-to-man coverage.

Let’s just say it. One way or another, the Browns’ passing attack was anemic versus an opponent that does not have good personnel to defend against the pass. On a positive note, the Browns kept Mayfield upright for the most part, allowing only one quarterback hit, a devastating hit by 304 pound Broderick Washington, who eluded Jed Wills, that sent our guy to the sidelines briefly. The Ravens are much more formidable up front than in the defensive backfield.

James Hudson III started at right tackle and held up his end of the bargain, not allowing a quarterback hit. That was encouraging. Blake Hance looks like he may have a future as an NFL guard, but Hudson has the tools to play tackle.

Overall it was an ugly win versus a very banged up opponent. Mad respect for the way the Ravens played with so many second stringers in the lineup, and kudos to backup quarterback Tyler Hundley. It looks like the Ravens have something there (hello! What’s wrong with developing a young quarterback even though you have an entrenched starter? But that is a discussion for another time).

Next. 4 Frustrating takeaways from Browns win over Baltimore. dark

The Browns were not impressive, but we will take the ugly win anytime, thank you very much.