The Browns are headed to Baltimore to face the Ravens in Week 1. The Browns haven’t started off the season with a win since 2004 and are 1-18-1 in season openers since they returned to the NFL in 1999. However, the one win was against the Ravens. The Ravens went 14-2 in 2019, but a shocking loss in the divisional round left them very disappointed. The Browns split their two games against the Ravens in 2019, routing Baltimore 40-25 after Nick Chubb rushed for three touchdowns in Week 4, but then lost 31-15 to the Ravens in Week 16, eliminating the Browns from playoff contention in the process. It will take an impressive game from the Browns, but they can upset the Ravens.
1. Establish the Run Game
As mentioned above, the Browns beat the Ravens last season after the best game of Nick Chubb’s young career. The Browns added fullback Andy Janovich to help clear a path for Chubb and Kareem Hunt. While the Ravens did add Calais Campbell to help the rush defense, it is still the weakest point on the team. In the Ravens loss to the Titans that ended their season, Derrick Henry ran all over them, rushing for 195 yards. If the Browns are able to run the ball and maintain possession, they can keep the high-octane Ravens offense off the field.
2. Give Baker Time in the Pocket
After a record-breaking rookie season, Baker Mayfield had a major sophomore slump. He was second in the league in interceptions and seemed to struggle to create a connection with WR Odell Beckham Jr. The Browns added TE Austin Hooper to help Baker in the passing game, they signed OT Jack Conklin, and drafted OT Jedrick Wills Jr. with the Conklin and Wills to help play the tackle positions, a real position of weakness in 2020. If Baker has time in the pocket, it will allow Beckham and WR Jarvis Landry to find the open field, giving the Browns a good chance on Sunday.
3. Force Lamar Jackson to Throw the Ball
In 2019, the Ravens led the league in rushing yards with nearly 1,000 more yards than the 49ers. However, they had the sixth least amount of passing yards. This was mainly due to the potent Ravens running game, but if teams were able to put the Ravens in a position to throw the ball, they had a much better chance to win. In all three of the Ravens losses in 2019, they trailed by at least 10 points late in the game. The Ravens passing attack does have some great weapons with WR Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown and TE Mark Andrews. This is the offensive strategy the Ravens used to beat the Browns in Cleveland last season, but it gives the Browns their best chance to win.
4. Contain Lamar Jackson on 3rd Down
Lamar Jackson is going to make plays, he’s going to make impossible throws and escape seemingly guaranteed sacks. However, if the Browns are able to stop Jackson from making these plays on third downs; it will help the morale of the young linebacking core. If they are able to get off the field and stop the long Ravens drives; it will be huge for the Browns. With LB Joe Schobert moving to Jacksonville and LB Mack Wilson missing the first few weeks after hyperextending his knee, the Browns linebacker core will have no one who had more than 25 tackles on a NFL team last season. It will be a very tough test, but if the youngsters can rise to the occasion, this could be the key to win the season opener.
5. Be Perfect on Special Teams
The Ravens are a better team than the Browns. This doesn’t mean that the Browns can’t win, but the Browns will need to be perfect on special teams. If punter Jamie Gillian can pin the Ravens deep in their own territory, kicker Austin Seibert can hit all of his field goal attempts, or if the Browns can get a big return from the kick or punt team, it could be the difference-maker. The Ravens’ Justin Tucker is one of the best, if not the best, kicker in the NFL. If the Browns could be lucky enough to get a missed field goal from Tucker, it would be a huge help.
Featured Photo Via: NBC Sports