The revamped Browns defense has been spectacular thus far but will have another challenging assignment containing the versatile QB Lamar Jackson on Sunday.
The Ravens come into town with the same record as the Browns at 2-1, and both are in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC North with the Steelers.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Ravens have the 13th-best offense after Week 3, despite missing RB J.K Dobbins with an Achilles injury and the absence of WR Odell Beckham Jr.
Unlike any other quarterback they have faced so far this season, the Browns defense will confront a Ravens offense led by Jackson. In the first three weeks, the Browns defense played against quarterbacks who tended to stay in the pocket and waited to create with their arms.
When teams try to force Jackson out of the pocket, he counters by hurting the opposing defense with his legs. Jackson rushed for 101 yards in the Ravens Week 3 matchup against the Colts. He has 193 yards rushing total on the season.
“He’s one of the best athletes in the NFL that just happens to play the quarterback position,” DC Jim Schwartz said. “So, if we saw running backs doing that, we wouldn’t bat an eye. We got to tackle him like he’s a running back. Tackle him like he’s a wide receiver. Just because the ball is in his hand doesn’t mean he’s still not a threat to run.”
CB Denzel Ward also added that because Jackson can make plays with both his feet and arms, they could have to cover guys longer than normal and not let players run free off second chances. So, they have to stay tight in coverage, rush Jackson and tackle.
Jackson is a great runner, but the defense won’t sleep on his throwing ability. According to PFF, he is the most accurate QB on targets past the sticks this season. Jackson has the second-highest completion rate in the NFL, completing passes at 73 percent through 86 attempts.
In first-year OC Todd Monken’s scheme, Jackson has more run options out of shotgun formation and throwing to WR Zay Flowers in screenplays, quickly getting the ball out of Jackson’s hands. Yet, the Browns don’t want to let the Ravens hybrid offense affect their defensive style of play.
“We can’t take away from who we are and what we’re good at,” Ward said. “I think we still got to attack and be that fast, physical defense that we are. We can’t let guys on other teams get us out of character, away from who we are, so we still have to go out there and attack.”
The Browns defense, which is first in the league in a handful of defensive categories including yards per play, scrimmage touchdowns and QBR, has the personnel to disrupt the Ravens offense.
The Ravens struggle to protect the ball. On the season, they have four fumbles and one interception. The Browns defense, which only has two turnovers on the season with an interception and a forced fumble, will try to boost their season stats against a turnover-prone offense.
“We’d definitely like to get more turnovers, but we’re still getting stops, whether that’s fourth down stops, considered a turnover, and still making plays on the ball,” Ward said. “So those turnovers will come.”
One key stat that the Browns defense can dominate is in the trenches. The Ravens have allowed nine sacks so far this season. Jackson was sacked five times in Week 1 and four times in Week 3.
The Browns have one of the top defensive ends in the league in Myles Garrett, who is coming off a 3.5 sack game in Week 3 against the Titans. Yet, there could also be opportunities for other guys on the defense to join in on the potential sack party. In Week 1, five different guys sacked Jackson, and in Week 3, four different guys.
“I think our D-line is going to do a great job of that,” S Grant Delpit said of the defense. “Second level is going to keep him (Jackson) where he needs to be, and third level take care of some mistakes.”
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