The Ravens’ defense locked the doors to the bank. The Browns’ offense brought bolt cutters and busted right through to a 33-31 victory.
After an electric start — a Kyle Hamilton pick six on the second play of the game — the defense found itself shocked, frustrated, angry and disappointed when it headed to the locker room in defeat. That interception was a misrepresentation of what would follow.
“It’s a little bit of a humbilization, if that’s a word,” Hamilton said. “The past two home games, we’ve been treated to 30-point wins over the Lions and Seahawks. Came out today, it was looking the same.”
The offense put up 24 points to build upon Hamilton’s opening touchdown. Although the offense stalled at the end of the game, that still should have been enough, especially with the way the defense has been playing this season, holding teams to 13.4 points a game. Instead, they gave up more points than the Ravens’ home crowd has witnessed since the 42-38 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 18, 2022.
“These games you’re supposed to win,” outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney said. “When your offense get 30 points, you’re supposed to win this game.”
The last time the Ravens played the Browns, they made a case that they should be considered the NFL’s best defense over Cleveland’s. But the Dorian Thompson-Robinson factor made all the difference. Instead of facing the unpredictable rookie, the Ravens had to deal with starting quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was sued by 22 women for sexual assault and harassment in 2021.
Through reputation and film study, the Ravens knew they’d have to prepare for the quarterback’s legs. They practiced all week and made it a priority, coach John Harbaugh said. The preparation did nothing.
The Ravens brought the pressure and got their arms around the Browns’ quarterback multiple times, but he slipped through their grasp over and over. The Ravens finished with a solid four sacks but should have had many more.
“A big part of the emphasis in the plan was to keep him in the pocket, retrace [and] tackle him coming back on the middle,” Harbaugh said. “When he took off — we call it the front door — that’s when he ran, and we didn’t want to let him get out of there, but he still did it.”
The silver lining? Watson wasn’t successful finding targets while scrambling (he was 1-for-6 outside the pocket). However, he finished with 37 rushing yards, including two scrambles for first downs.
The struggles extended from the front line through the secondary. Hamilton said the intensity didn’t feel the same from the top down. The Browns beat them on the ground and through the air. They found open gaps in the line and in the coverage.
“They had some great calls,” Clowney said. “They were getting on the edges with gap schemes, pulling schemes and hooking the end with the tight end.”
But, just as important, the Ravens beat themselves. They missed tackles, messed up coverages and simply failed to execute even when they knew what was coming, Harbaugh and his players pointed out after the game. “But he still did it” was the theme of the day.
Receivers were wide open down the field, leading to first downs and touchdowns. By the end of the game, the Browns had 195 passing yards, averaging 5 yards an attempt. The Ravens have allowed more than 5 yards per pass only twice, 5.1 yards against Cincinnati and 5.8 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Until this game, the Ravens were allowing an average of 4 yards.
Even more disappointing, the Ravens allowed 178 rushing yards, by far the most they have allowed all season. Prior to Sunday, their worst effort was the Indianapolis Colts game in Week 3, when they allowed 139 yards.
Just as they failed to execute their plan against the quarterback, they failed to execute their plan against the rush. Even when they saw it coming and got in position, they couldn’t stop it. Browns running backs averaged 4.0 yards after contact per carry, per TruMedia, the Ravens’ worst mark of the season.
“It kind of bothers me a little bit — a lot, really,” Clowney said. “We take pride on not giving up a lot of rushing yards in the run game.”
It was an uncharacteristic performance for a steady defense that has given its at-times unpredictable offense the chance to win every game. Yes, there have been some weak defensive stretches, like the end of the game against the Arizona Cardinals, but for the most part this defense has been consistent.
Now, the Ravens have only two practices and one rest day to figure things out before they host the Bengals on Thursday. It’s not much time to rest or to heal, especially considering the Ravens lost starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey to an ankle injury. But it also means there’s not much time to dwell, and Hamilton is OK with that.
“It might be a bit of a hyperbole, but if we could play tomorrow, I feel like everybody would want to,” Hamilton said. “I feel like we want to just get back out here and make it right.”