What to watch for: Browns vs. Ravens on 'TNF'

When Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore more than two decades ago, the shift created a natural, bloodthirsty rivalry between the Ravens and the "new" Cleveland expansion team that launched in 1999.

That rivalry, however, has never taken off.

The Browns have forged just two winning seasons since their return to the league, while the Ravens have won two Super Bowls and operated as one of the NFL's most dominant and consistent franchises. Along the way, Baltimore has blasted the Browns in 15 of their last 17 meetings.

Sitting at 4-4 -- in the thick of the AFC North race -- Baltimore now prepares to host a winless Browns squad riddled with flaws. Does Cleveland have a shot at crafting their first victory of the year in a big spot on Thursday Night Football (airing exclusively on NFL Network)?

Let's explore this rich terrain, shall we?

  1. Here's the case for Cleveland: For all their deadly shortcomings, the team has a rash of playmakers on offense. It begins with Terrelle Pryor, the quarterback-turned-wideout who leads the club in targets (82), catches (46), receiving yards (579) and touchdowns (4). Using his massive 6-foot-4, 223-pound frame, Pryor has won matchups weekly against opposing No. 1 cornerbacks and remains a favorite target of rookie quarterback Cody Kessler. With first-round receiver Corey Coleman back in the mix alongside tight end Gary Barnidge and pass-catching runner Duke Johnson, Cleveland doesn't lack for weapons. Scoring consistently and finishing games, though, has been a season-long issue for coach Hue Jackson's roster. Asked what might change this week, Jackson acknowledged that Kessler -- impressively accurate on short and midrange lobs -- needs to take chances downfield, where Pro Football Focus has him ranked 31st out of 33 quarterbacks on throws of 20-plus yards. "Are you asking do I want to see the ball go down the field more?" Jackson asked this week, per The Plain Dealer. "Yes, I do."
  1. It's unfathomable to talk up Cleveland's offense, though, without noting that Baltimore is coming off a game in which they held Ben Roethlisberger and friends to just 14 points in a pivotal win over Pittsburgh. While not the juggernaut of old, the Ravens boast a rugged defense that rolls into Thursday ranked ninth in points per game and second in total yards, rushing yards allowed and third-down percentage. The secondary has allowed just one 300-yard passer all season and field generals have learned to monitor defensive end Timmy Jernigan, who leads the team in tackles for loss and quarterback hits while sitting second in sacks. His pairing with big-bodied interior lineman Brandon Williams could equal total destruction for Cleveland's fizzled-up ground game, which has crossed the 70-yard barrier just once since Week 5.
  1. The Ravens want to establish the run, but Baltimore has been a mess on the ground since hiring Marty Mornhinweg to replace fired offensive play-caller Marc Trestman prior to Week 6. After notching 99 rushing yards per game under Trestman, the Ravens are managing a measly 53 yards per tilt under Mornhinweg. Only the Jaguars have leaned more heavily on the pass. That dynamic has not helped quarterback Joe Flacco, currently one of just four quarterbacks -- along with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum and Blaine Gabbert -- with more picks than touchdowns on the year. After throwing 40-plus passes in a six consecutive games, Flacco settled down for a season-low 30 attempts against the Steelers. Still, Baltimore's 29 rushes against Pittsburgh netted just 50 yards at a ghastly 1.7 yards per tote.
  1. While the Ravens have issues with offensive balance, runners Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon have a legitimate shot to feast against a young and shorthanded Browns defense allowing a ridiculous 146.4 yards per game on the ground -- second worst to only the floating 49ers. Cleveland is equally troubled through the air, with a secondary that ranks 28th in the NFL. Stats aside, the Browns have operated as one of the ugliest tackling teams league-wide, allowing deadly real estate after contact on a weekly basis. Coming off a monstrous four-catch, 124-yard tilt against Pittsburgh, deep threat Mike Wallace matches up well against a Browns defense absent of reliable safety play. We'll be watching to see if newly acquired linebacker Jamie Collins can lift a Cleveland pass rush that has struggled to make any impact this season.
  1. Looking for a potential fantasy star? After watching Cowboys tight end Jason Witten burn the Browns for 134 yards and a score off eight catches, the Ravens will do their best to get Dennis Pitta involved early and often against a defense that has struggled against tight ends all season. If that script plays out, Cleveland could be in for another long week of football.
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