During the first half of last football season, one of the things I had to figure out was how to run the site and produce a great NFL Edge and still have time to think through the slate and my own rosters the way I’m used to doing. It took a little while to get it all figured out and really get my feet under me; and it wasn’t until this year that I truly felt I had a strong plan and process for everything, as there were just some things I couldn’t have been prepared for the first time around. (If you were on the site last year, you hopefully feel like the product has gotten even better, at all levels; and hopefully you will continue to feel that way every year.)
I mention that because the same thing seems to be happening to Freddie Kitchens, whose offense last year was exciting, aggressive, and layered, and whose offense now looks neutered. Kitchens seems to have no handle on how to prepare a full team (or himself) for situational football, and with his team already halfway to the Titans’ total number of flags thrown on them in 2018, we continue to see a team that appears to lack attention to detail in preparation, making too many mental errors throughout a game. A couple of egregious instances from last week of Kitchens appearing “in-over-his-head” were the Browns running a draw play on fourth and nine and passing the ball four times from inside the five-yard-line without giving Nick Chubb a single look. (On all four of those plays, Odell Beckham was also used as a decoy).
These are fixable issues, of course; but in the thick of the grind of the NFL season, it will be difficult for the Browns to overturn all these issues at once — issues that have been compounded by how poorly the Browns offensive line is playing.
All of this is bad timing, with a matchup this week against an aggressive, attacking, blitz-heavy Ravens defense that will look to make life miserable on Baker Mayfield.
What we should expect ::
We should expect the Browns to move Beckham all over the field to avoid whatever toughest cornerback matchups happen to be there (Marlon Humphrey missed practice on Wednesday and Jimmy Smith is expected to be out once again, so we’ll see who the Ravens have out there this week), and we should expect Beckham to be emphasized in the game plan once again, likely seeing double-digit targets (he has nine or more in every game so far). Kitchens has been using Beckham primarily on routes that don’t have momentum moving upfield — so one of the big ways he could get more out of the Browns’ prized acquisition is by adjusting the looks being given to him. We’ll see if Kitchens recognizes this shortcoming this week.
We are also likely to see heavy involvement once again for Jarvis Landry, who is being used downfield more than he was during the second half of last year. The Downfield Landry Experiment has failed many times before, but that doesn’t mean he can’t hit on one play in one game — giving him some upside in this spot with the targets locked in.
With David Njoku out and Rashard Higgins missing last week, the Browns continued to tighten up their target distribution — still spreading the ball around, but emphasizing Beckham and Landry as clear alphas (over 48% of the team’s total targets between them this year). This makes the “number three” a speculative flier at best, with Damion Ratley (five targets last week; three catches for 26 yards) filling in if Higgins misses, and with Higgins replacing Ratley as the “guessing // hoping // praying” option. With Beckham and Landry seeing emphasized work and the rest of the looks being spread around, floor is thin behind the bigger names.
The matchup is also tough for Chubb against what is consistently one of the toughest run defenses in the league — a unit that already ranks fifth in adjusted line yards this year. Last year, the Ravens allowed the fifth fewest rushing touchdowns to running backs and the third fewest rushing yards. Only two teams allowed fewer receiving yards as well. Chubb is a close-your-eyes and bet-on-volume play — though he does have touch counts of 20, 22, and 27, with reception totals of three, four, and four: enough volume to make that “bet-on-volume” approach defensible on this ugly running back slate.
This is a difficult matchup on the other side for the Cleveland defense, as they will be matching strength-on-strength with their defensive line against the Ravens’ offensive line — and while they should be able to get some pressure on Lamar Jackson, Jackson should be able to escape pressure enough to take advantage of a weakened Browns secondary.
Marquise Brown remained the offensive focal point of the Ravens through the air last week, leading all skill position players in snaps and running 44 of a possible 53 pass routes — seeing nine targets, and giving him an average of nine targets per game on the year. With Brown ranking 10th in the league in aDOT and 11th in percentage share of team air yards while piling up nine looks per game, he is a solid process play this week regardless of health in the Browns’ secondary; but especially if Denzel Ward misses, Brown has more paths to reaching ceiling this week.
The second featured weapon on this offense is Mark Andrews, who has averaged eight targets per game. Cleveland should be weak once again this year in tight end coverage, making Andrews an intriguing play — with his stock rising a bit if Ward plays and gives Brown a more challenging matchup.
Behind Brown and Andrews, pass game pieces on Baltimore are just hoping you capture a couple touchdowns or broken plays.
This swings us over to the backfield, where Mark Ingram has taken the lead in this group with ascending touch counts of 14 // 15 // 20. His production to date has been heavily touchdown dependent — inflating his price tag above what his floor really supports — but with the Ravens carrying one of the higher Vegas-implied totals on the slate again at 26.0 (and with no one in football having more touches inside the 10-yard-line than Ingram), his ceiling remains intact.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I’m a bit on the fence right now with the Ravens offense, as A) the Browns defense has continued to find a way to produce in spite of injuries, and B) the Ravens hype has gotten a bit out of hand given that they scored only 23 at home against the Cardinals and required deep catch-up mode to score 28 against the Chiefs. But the biggest cause for pause here is C) the fact that the Ravens lead the NFL in plays per game after dominating the Dolphins, playing the pace-up Cardinals, and allowing the Chiefs to score so efficiently that Baltimore spent much of that game with the ball. These extra plays have been baked into the pricing on Ravens offensive pieces (as those extra opportunities have aided production) — and there is no reason to expect the Ravens to remain quite so play-heavy as the season continues. It should be noted that the Ravens led the league in plays per game last year (at just over 70 — only four plays per game below their current pace), so none of these concerns are massive; but they do blend together to slow me down just a bit on all these pieces. More than likely, Lamar will end up Tier 1, though the other three main pieces on this offense will be on the 1 // 3 borderline for me this week, and we’ll see where they fall officially as we move deeper into the week.
In just about all circumstances, I’m unlikely to take offensive players at Baltimore on a core build; but the tightening of higher-end volume on the Browns offense and the likely emphasis on Beckham this week make him an interesting play to think about in tournaments. Chubb has an outside shot to also be in the tourney realm for me due to “volume in spite of matchup.”
Outside of these two, I don’t expect to show much interest in the Browns offense, as there are just much better spots on the slate than this.