The Ravens travel to Cleveland Dec. 22 with a chance to clinch the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC and avenge their last loss, and that game was on the mind of head coach John Harbaugh as he held his weekly Monday news conference Dec. 16.
“We’ll have to play a lot better than we did in that game, obviously, to hold them down,” Harbaugh said, referring to the Browns’ 40-25 win at M&T Bank Stadium Sept. 29. That was the most points the Ravens have allowed in a game this season.
The Browns totaled 530 yards of offense in that game, the second straight game in which the Ravens yielded more than 500 yards of offense after Kansas City totaled 503 the week before. That marked the first time in franchise history that the Ravens allowed more than 500 yards in back-to-back games.
Since that loss to the Browns Sept. 29, the Ravens have reeled off a franchise regular-season record 10 straight wins and have already wrapped up their second straight AFC North title.
The Browns (6-8), meanwhile, a trendy offseason pick to reach the Super Bowl, lost four in a row after beating the Ravens and are barely hanging on to remote playoff hopes.
The Ravens team that the Browns see at FirstEnergy Stadium this week will look significantly different than the one that took the field at M&T Bank Stadium, especially on defense.
Browns running back Nick Chubb piled up 165 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries in that first meeting, and within a week of that game, the Ravens had signed free agent linebackers L.J. Fort and Josh Bynes with an eye toward improving their run defense.
They later traded for cornerback Marcus Peters, signed defensive end Jihad Ward and signed defensive linemen Domata Peko and Justin Ellis.
In addition, run-stuffing defensive end Brandon Williams missed the first Browns meeting with a knee injury.
“We’re clearly a better defense [now],” Harbaugh said. “How we do against them this time remains to be seen. That’ll be up to us.”
The Ravens now rank No. 5 overall against the run, allowing 96.1 yards a game. However, they remain susceptible, especially to the outside, where linebackers have struggled to set the edge. The Ravens allow 4.52 rushing yards a play, which ranks 22nd in the league.
In addition to Chubb, who leads the league with 1,408 yards, the Browns also have Kareem Hunt, the former Pro Bowl back who missed the first meeting between these teams while serving an eight-game suspension for a violation of the league’s personal-conduct policy. Hunt was seen on video shoving and kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel, which prompted his release by the Kansas City Chiefs last year.
In six games since returning to action, Hunt has 38 carries for 167 yards and 30 catches for 220 yards.
Chubb is “one of the best,” said Harbaugh, noting that he was Harbaugh’s top-rated back in the 2018 draft, and he added that Hunt is “a pretty good sidekick.”
“They’re both in the backfield together quite a bit,” Harbaugh said. “They block for one another, they run routes, flair passes and screen passes out of the backfield quite a bit. They’ll line up at wide receiver. … It’s a very talented offense.”
JACKSON TOPS FANS’ PRO BOWL VOTE, SEVEN RAVENS LEAD AT THEIR POSITION: Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson led all players with 704,699 votes in Pro Bowl fan voting, which ended Dec. 12. In addition, six other Ravens joined Jackson as leading Pro Bowl vote-getters at their position among fans.
Voting by fans, coaches and players each count one-third toward the final Pro Bowl rosters. Jackson, the front-runner for the league’s Most Valuable Player Award, topped Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (539,768) and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (468,838) for the overall lead.
In addition, six other Ravens finished as the league among fan voting at their respective positions: fullback Patrick Ricard, tight end Mark Andrews, offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., guard Marshal Yanda, cornerback Marcus Peters and kicker Justin Tucker.
The Pro Bowl teams will be announced Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. on NFL Network.
HARBAUGH: NO DECISION ON WEEK 17 PLANS: If the Ravens beat the Browns this week, they will secure the No. 1 overall seeding for the AFC playoffs. Harbaugh would not say how that might affect playing time for Jackson in the Week 17 regular-season finale, which would then have no bearing on the Ravens’ playoff position.
On the one hand, the Ravens could choose to rest Jackson, but sitting out Week 17 plus a bye week would mean he would go three weeks between games. On the other hand, playing Jackson could make him susceptible to injury. The Ravens also could treat it like a preseason game, with a greatly reduced workload for key players.
“Of course I think about it, but no plans have been made,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just decide that when the time comes.”
STANLEY, BOARD REMAIN IN CONCUSSION PROTOCOL: Harbaugh said offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley and linebacker Chris Board remain in the concussion protocol. Both missed the Ravens Week 16 win against the New York Jets after sustaining injuries at Buffalo Dec. 8. Their status for this week’s game will depend on whether they clear the concussion protocol later this week.
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