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The Cleveland Browns have a big game on Sunday at home against the Baltimore Ravens. You could even go as far as to say that it's the most important game by far this season for the Browns, with divisional stakes on the line between both teams. In fact, the last time Cleveland played was in Baltimore, where the Browns lost to the Ravens 16-10. There were divisional stakes on the line then as well but after Baltimore was upset by the Pittsburgh Steelers while Cleveland was on their bye, things were reset back to square one between both teams.
The last game between both teams showed that the Browns can beat the Ravens. Any armchair quarterback can tell you Cleveland obviously needs to run the ball more behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and actually score points, particularly in the fourth quarter. Sure, a lot of blame can be put on Baker Mayfield for being part of the Browns' inability to score but, in the grand scheme of things, this was one of his better games after his shoulder injury.
“Those are all things we talk about," said head coach Kevin Stefanski on Monday in regards to Chubb and Hunt. "We want to make sure whatever we do is sound in thinking, sound schematically and those types of things. You are right, those are two great players so we have to make sure that they are involved so that we can be productive in the run game and in the passing game.”
Well, thanks to a week off the Cleveland can come back fresh, and hopefully ready with a realistic chance to make things at least interesting in the division. The Browns should feel fortunate to still have a chance at the postseason, even more so now that the Ravens are reeling.
Sure, it's disappointing that Cleveland is heading into this game with an overall record of 6-6. Many expected a Super Bowl appearance from the Browns this season after the successes the team experienced last year. But, everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong for Cleveland. Odell Beckham Jr. was more than they bargained for both on and off the field. Mayfield has regressed mightily, looking much like he did when Freddie Kitchens was the team's head coach. Finally, Kevin Stefanski, last year's Coach of the Year, has looked lost at times and has failed to adapt his offensive scheme in order to best suit his team.
But, this Sunday matchup against the Ravens is a new opportunity for the Browns to put the past behind them and play their best football possible throughout the remainder of the season. For now, it appears that that's the mentality heading into this upcoming game.
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If Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield is unable to shoulder the offensive load for the Browns in their second game against the Ravens, then they should try and lean more on superstar running back Nick Chubb.
“I am not going to get into specific gameplan stuff, but we just have to be better overall," said Mayfield on Wednesday after practice. "They are a great team. I hit on it after the game when we played them. If we do not capitalize on their mistakes, they are going to capitalize on ours so we have to take care of the ball, we have to do all of the little things right, capitalize on field position and turnovers and just go into it with the mindset that we need to do our job at a very high level.”
If Cleveland wins, something that seldom happens against Baltimore, it'll be the shot in the arm they need for the remainder of the year. After their game against the Ravens, the Browns host the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday before they fly up to Green Bay to take on the Packers on Christmas Day.
Obviously, those games will each be a test in their own right but all eyes should be on what's coming this week instead of what's down the line. As it was said before, if the Browns win this game then Cleveland is in a prime position to win the AFC North, something that has never happened in the nearly 20 years the division has existed. But, if the Browns fail to capitalize on the floundering Ravens, it could be a slow death march towards another losing season.
If that happens, it could mean that there could be a dramatic shakeup all throughout the organization as well. The Haslem family has never been known to be patient throughout their time owning the team. With expectations so high heading into this season, there is bound to be some frustration no matter what from ownership's side of things.
But, if the Browns fall apart and have their twentieth losing season since returning to Cleveland in 1999, then the Haslem family will likely overreact. That means Mayfield is likely gone as the team's quarterback and the Browns make a separation win-now move. It likely means that Stefanski is on a shorter leash heading into next season, coaching not only to win but for his job security as well. Ditto for general manager and executive vice president of football operations Andrew Berry, who is the visionary behind this resurgence for Cleveland.
That's what makes this game against the Ravens so important for the Browns on Sunday. Not only is a clear path to the playoffs on the line, but the future of the organization is as well. It'll be interesting to see how Cleveland comes out on Sunday against Baltimore but, they should set the tone early and keep their foot on the throats of the former Browns for all four quarters. That means they'll once again have to lean on their defense once again. Hopefully this time the offense meets them halfway.
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