It’s not exactly the division-deciding contest Cleveland Browns fans might have hoped for.
But the Baltimore Ravens visit FirstEnergy Stadium for another battle between our former selves.
Baltimore sits atop the division thanks only to a tie-breaker with the Cincinnati Bengals.
And despite a tougher schedule, the Bengals appear ready to run the table.
IT’S GAME DAY.
IT’S THE RATBIRDS.
— Browns fan UK (@brownsfanuk) December 17, 2022
That means a loss by the Ravens this week could cost them the division title.
And that gives Cleveland something to play for.
But with Deshaun Watson still shaking out cobwebs and Lamar Jackson sitting this one out, where are the key matchups?
As it turns out, the key will rest on the legs of the teams’ other stars this week.
Nick Chubb vs. Ravens Linebackers
Inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen anchor one of the strongest run defenses in the NFL.
Through Week 14, the Ravens allow the second-fewest ground yards behind the collective work of a solid front 7.
And Browns fans know Kevin Stefanski runs out of patience with his running attack too early each week.
Cleveland’s offensive line isn’t the earth-moving behemoth it used to be.
— CleWest (@erjmanlasvegas) November 23, 2021
But Nick Chubb still ranks among the leaders in yards-after-contact and is 5th overall in rushing.
Stefanski would do well to use Chubb early and often regardless of Baltimore’s stout defense.
The threat of breaking one at any time will keep the secondary honest and help Watson find receivers off play action.
But the whole offense comes together if Chubb can fight for 4-5 yards per carry right from the start.
J.K. Dobbins Against… Who?
Meanwhile, Cleveland Browns fans need an updated program to know who their linebackers are.
Tony Fields is the only remaining player from the group’s Week 1 roster.
Jordan Kunaszyk was in camp but started the season on the practice squad.
Injuries decimated the linebacker room, including Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s Week 14 exit.
— Browns fan UK (@brownsfanuk) December 4, 2022
Deion Jones and Reggie Ragland join Fields as starters this week, and Jermaine Carter joins Tae Davis as the only backups.
But putting newer players together can work out well because they forego the intricacies of Joe Woods’ game plan and just play football.
With little help expected from a still unimproved interior line, the second tier has a formidable task.
And holding J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards under 150 yards might be a reasonable, but difficult goal.
Bonus Matchup To Watch: Garrett vs Stanley
Baltimore’s excellent left tackle, Ronnie Stanley, came back from an ankle injury just last week.
And it appears that might have been a week too early, as he gave up a season-worst 4 quarterback pressures.
But overall on the season, he still has not allowed a single sack and only 7 QB pressures.
Two of those pressures came in the first matchup with Myles Garrett and the Browns.
The last time the Browns and Ravens met in December, Myles Garrett completed the hat trick with a strip sack, fumble recovery and touchdown 🎩
Garrett’s 89.9 PFF grade was second to only Joel Bitonio (91.8) in the contest 😤pic.twitter.com/9QGGyjuABs
— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) October 22, 2022
Garrett has quietly racked up 13 sacks and is among the league leaders with 58 pressures.
If Stanley’s ankle is still not 100%, Garrett might be in line for a big day against the Ravens.
And Cleveland might need Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney to bring a little havoc if the defense is to hold up.