Playing against the Cleveland Browns without OT Morgan Moses on Sunday was not an ideal scenario for the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens would go on to lose their other bookend offensive tackle — Ronnie Stanley — in the fourth quarter and top cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the third. While this is far from an ideal scenario, the Ravens’ offense did manage 24 points against the best defense in the league, but still lost to the division-rival Browns at home.
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The Ravens fell into an old habit of blowing an early lead. They were up 24-9 at halftime, scored one more time the rest of the game, and would go on to lose 33-31. That final Ravens’ offensive touchdown was scored shortly after a muffed Browns’ punt deep in their own territory.
However, this Ravens’ loss cannot be blamed on conservative playcalling. Nor can it be blamed on that pick-six that Lamar Jackson threw in the fourth quarter that was due to a batted ball. What happened was the Browns played like a Super Bowl contender on both sides of the ball in the second half.
Offense was considered the Browns’ fatal flaw going into the 2023 season. When Nick Chubb suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2, a questionable offense appeared to become bad with right tackle Jack Conklin also out for the year. Left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. went on injured reserve last week.
On top of all those problems, since Deshaun Watson returned to NFL action in 2022 following a suspension for what the league concluded was serial sexual misconduct, he had shown no resemblance to the quarterback who was last a star in 2020.
He had already missed three games due to a shoulder injury and left early after delivering a stinker of a performance against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 7. Watson was on his way to a typical disappointing performance against the Ravens on Sunday after going 6-for-20 on pass attempts in the first half and throwing a pick-six on the opening drive of the game. He also went to the locker room for halftime early with an ankle injury.
Watson did not miss a play, nor did he throw an incomplete pass in the second half, however, and would end the day with 213 passing yards. The Browns ran a balanced attack that led to two touchdowns and a game-winning field goal. On that final drive, Watson made one of the plays of the game with a 16-yard run that put the Browns near field-goal position.
On offense, the Browns trudged along, but their explosive defense had the Ravens flummoxed after halftime. Myles Garrett lived in the Ravens’ backfield. Jackson is one of the most slippery athletes to ever play in the NFL, but he struggled to get away from that agile mountain of a man. The Ravens QB completed only five passes in the second half, and as a team, they ran for 44 yards.
The Browns’ passing attack is still a weakness. A wide receiver corps that is headlined by Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, and Cedric Tillman is far from what a high-octane squad such as the Miami Dolphins bring to the table. Also, Watson has still not shown the playmaking ability that his current team decided was worth a fully guaranteed, five-year contract.
All of that being said, Cleveland knocked off a team on the road that, per total DVOA, the only teams in history better through nine weeks were the 2007 New England Patriots and 1991 Washington. The Browns did so by scoring on every second-half possession against a defense that is almost as good as theirs.
Even without their best offensive player, the Browns clearly have enough talent to get to heights that the franchise has never reached.