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Sunday Night Football Preview

Sunday Night Football: Deep Dive

by Warren Sharp
Updated On: November 27, 2021, 9:47 am ET

After missing last week’s game, Lamar Jackson should be ready to take on division rival at home in Primetime.  

This was a spot initially viewed as a beneficial one for the Browns.  They head into a bye after this week’s game and then get to play the Ravens in the first game out of the bye.  Thus, the Browns will have the benefit of game planning for two weeks about what to do vs the Ravens after the bye.

But what the Browns may be looking forward to most after this game is simply getting healthy, as Baker Mayfield has not looked right at all.

It has been interesting to watch the Browns, a team that uses a lot of heavy personnel, switch to using a ton of 11 personnel of late.  And while it hasn’t helped Mayfield much, it should absolutely help their run game.

Over the last month, check out the Browns splits on early down runs in the first three quarters of games:

11 personnel:    +0.31 EPA/att, 6.7 YPC, 56% success, 25 att
12 personnel:    -0.17 EPA/att, 3.4 YPC, 27% success, 15 att
13 personnel:    +0.29 EPA/att, 9.2 YPC, 47% success, 15 att

Now look at the Ravens defense:

11 personnel:    +0.03 EPA/att, 4.4 YPC, 53% success
12 personnel:    -0.26 EPA/att, 2.5 YPC, 41% success
13 personnel:    n/a

The Ravens run defense has been stellar vs heavy personnel (including 21 and 22 personnel which the Browns use on occasion) but has been vulnerable vs 11 personnel runs.

Overall on the season, the Ravens have the #15 run defense but have played one of the easiest schedules of rushing offenses.  Over their last 4 games, they played rushing attacks that ranked:

#24
#29
#30

And last week, the #14 Bears.

In that game, David Montgomery ran for 58 yards on 14 carries and the Bears led for almost the entirety of the second half.

Now they have to go up against the Browns, who finally have some players getting healthy.  The offensive line is getting healthier this week and Nick Chubb got in a full workload last week and now will see the return of Kareem Hunt for the first time since Week 6.  

Per Rich Hribar, Baltimore leads the NFL in percentage of runs stopped for zero yardage gained (28.2%) and rate of runs to gain five or more yards (28.2%).  But, when they do give up gains, they are chunk runs as they rank 28th in rate of carries to gain 10 or more yards (14.1%), which account for 59.4% of the rushing yardage they allow.

The Browns need to lean on the run game as much as possible due to Mayfield’s struggles.  But if they do pass, they might find it beneficial to do so on first down.

Look at the Ravens pass defense over the last month in the first three quarters of games, by down:

1st down:    +0.38 EPA/att, 10.0 YPA, 50% success
2nd down:    -0.04 EPA/att, 8.4 YPA, 47% success
3rd down:    -0.01 EPA/att, 8.7 YPA, 34% success

Meanwhile, Cleveland’s own numbers:

1st down:    +0.04 EPA/att, 6.9 YPA, 53% success
2nd down:    +0.04 EPA/att, 7.0 YPA, 50% success
3rd down:    -0.40 EPA/att, 5.8 YPA, 29% success

It goes without saying the Browns need to avoid third downs at all costs and look to convert first downs on first or second downs.

The problem is, the Browns are beat up at the receiver position.  WR Jarvis Landry is playing through a knee injury.  Donovan Peoples-Jones missed last week’s game with a groin injury but is listed as questionable this week.  Anthony Schwartz has been ruled out with a concussion.  

It’s been a while since this Browns defense has faced an above-average quarterback, but when they have, they’ve typically allowed a ton of production:

Week 6, Kyler Murray:          +0.28 EPA/att, 7.6 YPA, 229 yards, 4:0 TD:INT
Week 5, Justin Herbert:        +0.21 EPA/att, 9.3 YPA, 399 yards, 4:0 TD:INT
Week 1, Patrick Mahomes:    +0.39 EPA/att, 8.7 YPA, 531 yards, 3:0 TD:INT

The only above average QB the Browns limited was Kirk Cousins (5.3 YPA, 1:1 TD:INT and a -0.24 EPA/att).

What is one huge difference between Cousins and the other three quarterbacks mentioned?  Mobility.

And what quarterback is the most mobile in the league?  Lamar Jackson.

Lamar’s splits vs the Browns last year:

Week 1:    20/27, 11.0 YPA, +0.41 EPA/att, 3:0 TD:INT
Week 14:    11/21, 9.6 YPA, +0.31 EPA/att, 1:0 TD:INT

And on the ground:

Week 1:    6.4 YPC, +0.33 EPA/att, 45 yards, 0 TDs
Week 14:    13.8 YPC, +1.19 EPA/att, 124 yards, 2 TDs

One final note on Jackson’s last performance, which was against the Dolphins on a short week – Miami blitzed Jackson over and over and reduced his efficiency – as have many teams this year.  That said, the Browns rank 25th in blitz rate, so the blitz is unlikely to impact Jackson to that same extent.
 

Warren Sharp

Warren Sharp is a football and betting analyst for NBC Sports. As a leading voice in football analytics, Warren writes a yearly book previewing the upcoming season from all angles at his Sharp Football Analysis website. You can follow Warren Sharp on Twitter @SharpFootball.