On Wednesday, a reporter suggested to Ravens coach John Harbaugh that the team’s rivalry with the Cleveland Browns hadn’t resonated as deeply in recent years. Harbaugh disagreed. And, as if on cue, fighting words over the next day rang out.

From Ravens inside linebacker Roquan Smith: “At the end of the day, you’re considered the bad guy because you’re going into essentially another man’s house and you’re trying to take over. His wife, kids, everyone is there to watch them. So we’re going over there to beat their tails in front of their wife and kids. So, when you think about it from that perspective, any man is going to fight till the death at that point.”

And from Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz: “I think you can err on the other side of Lamar Jackson. If you sit there and chew the chickens, as we say, you’re not going to get him, either. So we’re going to rely on our team speed. We’re going to rely on team defense. We’re going to rely on running through with leverage and try to take the fight to him, as opposed to sitting back and trying to hem him in.”

In other words, business as usual in the AFC North. Here’s what to watch in the Ravens’ Week 4 matchup in Cleveland.

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1. Ball security isn’t just a problem for Jackson. Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s fumbles this season have been perhaps the NFL’s most costly.

He fumbled once in Week 1 before a shotgun handoff to running back Jerome Ford, who went on to fumble himself, losing possession deep in Cincinnati Bengals territory. Watson fumbled twice in Week 2 against the Steelers, first losing the ball on an option play, then losing it on a fourth-quarter strip-sack that the Pittsburgh Steelers returned for the go-ahead touchdown. He fumbled in Week 3 for a fourth time when, bafflingly, he tried to avoid a Tennessee Titans sack by tossing the ball inaccurately back to wide receiver Elijah Moore, who had to track down the bouncing ball and settle for a 16-yard loss.

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According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, the three fumbles Watson lost cost the Bengals 13.4 expected points added — almost two touchdowns’ worth. Jackson’s two lost fumbles were worth minus-11.9 EPA.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s Lamar or any quarterback, in terms of their ball security in the pocket, outside the pocket,” Ravens offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. “You know it’s coming the more it ends up on the ground. There’s no question they’re showing that to their defensive players. So it’s a point of emphasis this week, of all of our players. We can’t turn the ball over. Can’t put it on the ground. Puts us all at risk.”

2. For the first time since he was drafted, the Ravens don’t have to worry about stopping Nick Chubb.

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The Browns running back, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2. Smith, who played with Chubb at Georgia, called him “arguably their best player.” In 10 career games against the Ravens, Chubb has averaged an impressive 4.7 yards per carry but just 64.3 rushing yards per game, far lower than his averages against the Steelers (71.7) and Bengals (90.3).

“Definitely thinking about him,” Smith said. “But despite that, knowing that they’re going to come out and try to do what they have to do to get the job done, I think [with] Watson at the helm, they’re still going to try to run the ball. And that’s hats off to their head coach [Kevin Stefanski], and I think that’s something that he wants to do, run the ball. So that’s our main priority, stopping the run.”

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It should be easier than in years past. Watson is a dual-threat quarterback, but Cleveland is 25th in the NFL in ESPN’s run block win rate. With Chubb sidelined Sunday, running backs Kareem Hunt, Pierre Strong and Ford combined for 21 of the Browns’ 31 carries against Tennessee, which allowed just 2.5 yards per rush.

“Just a small sample size with the one game, but, yes, [they’re] sticking to their normal plan,” defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald said. He called it a “very potent run game, some of the best in the league. So we expect the same.”

3. Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper didn’t need long to get up to speed this season. After a three-catch, 37-yard outing in Week 1 against Cincinnati, Cleveland’s top wideout had seven catches for 90 yards in Week 2 against the Steelers. On Sunday, he had seven catches on eight targets for 116 yards and a touchdown against the Titans.

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Cooper’s done most of his damage as an outside receiver: 199 of his 243 receiving yards this season have come on plays where he lined up out wide, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. But, in the Browns’ win over the Ravens last season, he gave their defense the most trouble in the slot. Cooper earned five of his six total targets as an inside receiver, catching four passes for 58 yards, including two receptions on Cleveland’s lone touchdown drive.

“You don’t see that a lot, receivers playing all those different types of positions,” Macdonald said. “And they find different ways on a week-to-week basis to scheme him open, and credit to him. It’s probably not easy to be a receiver and learn all three spots — sometimes four spots — and learn the whole route tree from there. Definitely a dynamic player that we’re going to have to account for and understand where he’s at all times.”

LANDOVER, MARYLAND - JANUARY 01: Amari Cooper #2 of the Cleveland Browns sores a touchdown on a 46 yard pass during the third quarter against the Washington Commanders at FedExField on January 01, 2023 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
The Browns' Amari Cooper scores a touchdown last season against the Commanders. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

4. Before this summer, Daryl Worley had spent most of his NFL life lining up at cornerback. A third-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2016, he played primarily out wide, with the occasional cameo elsewhere.

This past offseason, he made a change. The Ravens needed depth at safety, and Worley felt he could make the switch. By the middle of training camp, he said, he considered himself a “full-time safety.”

It was a timely transformation. With safety Marcus Williams sidelined early this season by a pectoral injury, and Kyle Hamilton’s role changing from game to game, Worley played 76 defensive snaps Sunday against Indianapolis. On 41 of those snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, he lined up as a deep safety. Over his first seven NFL seasons, Worley had never played more than 48 snaps at safety in a single season.

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“Seamless, I guess, is a great way to explain it,” Macdonald said of Worley’s move. “Throughout the spring and the offseason, it felt like a seasoned vet back there, understanding kind of the eye progression and the overlap and the things we were trying to create in the secondary. Just had a great feel for it from the get-go.”

With Williams’ return date nearing — he was a full participant in Thursday’s practice — Worley’s role on defense could shrink. But he held up well in coverage Sunday, allowing two catches on three targets for 15 yards, according to PFF, and remains a valued special teams member.

5. The Ravens started their Week 4 preparation in an unusual spot: near the bottom of the NFL in special teams efficiency. After another disappointing performance Sunday, the Ravens are 29th in special teams DVOA, according to FTN. Over the past three years, they never finished a season lower than third in the league.

The Ravens’ shortcomings have been widespread. Kicker Justin Tucker is 4-for-6, though his misses have come from 59 and 61 yards away. Devin Duvernay’s two kickoff returns and five punt returns have been solid, if unspectacular. They’ve struggled most on their punt coverage, where they rank 31st in the NFL in DVOA. The Bengals scored on a punt in Week 2, and the Indianapolis Colts returned two punts for 48 yards on Sunday.

“It just always goes back to that consistency thing that I’m talking about,” special teams coordinator Chris Horton said. “It’s everywhere; it’s across the board. It’s not just Jordan [Stout] and punting. It’s us covering the punt. It’s just knowing, just doing our jobs and understanding how to get those things done. … We’re just trying to chase those little details. I think, overall, after three weeks, Jordan has done a pretty good job.”

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Horton acknowledged that injuries have had a “huge” impact on the unit. The Ravens have had to lean on young players still grasping their system and on veterans expected to play regularly elsewhere. On Monday, the team lost another core special teams contributor, wide receiver Tylan Wallace, to a hamstring injury that relegated him to injured reserve.

“But we don’t kind of use that as an excuse,” Horton said of injuries. “If you’re here and you’re on this team and we put you out there, we’re expecting you to go play well.”


Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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