Key No. 1: Get Baltimore off the field on the third downs
This is a strength vs a strength. The Browns defense has been outstanding at getting off the field on the third downs this season. Cleveland has been forcing fourth downs on 26% of their third down opportunities, the highest percentage in the league.
However, those numbers take a bit of a hit when the Browns are on the road. Cleveland is allowing teams to convert on 37% of third downs when they are on the opponent’s field. Fun side note, the Browns lead the league in forcing three and outs with a staggering 57%.
Enter the Ravens, who are converting first downs on 45% of their third down opportunities, which ranks them sixth in the NFL. The key to the Ravens offense is their first down efficiency. Lamar Jackson and company do not find themselves in many third and long situations.
In years past, that was due to the effectiveness of the Ravens’ running game. But this year, with Todd Monken as the offensive coordinator, the Ravens are a 50/50 proposition to throw on early downs. With Jackson completing a league leading 71.5% of his pass attempts, the Ravens are able to stay up with the sticks with relative ease.
For the Browns, putting Jackson in third and eight or more yards is the key. If the Ravens are consistently seeing third and four or less, it is basically a wrap due to Jackson’s ability to covert with his legs if all else fails.
Jim Schwartz has to find answers to limit Jackson’s effectiveness and efficiency. If it was just as easy as putting a spy on Jackson, Schwartz has the athletes to do it in Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Grant Delpit. However, the answer is more of an all-hands-on-deck approach where the entire defensive front has to converge on Jackson.
To be blunt, regardless of how the Browns approach Jackson, he will get his because he is just that special of an athlete. The key is to force Jackson into making mistakes and capitalizing on them when he does. The margin for victory in Baltimore is going to be slim, and it will get much slimmer if the Browns cannot get off the field on third downs.