It’s true: The Cleveland Browns are a force -LSB

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Play against the Cleveland Browns without OT Morgan Moses Sunday was not an ideal scenario for the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens would go on to lose their other offensive tackle — Ronnie Stanley — in the fourth quarter and top cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the third. While it’s far from an ideal scenario, the Ravens’ offense did put up 24 points against the best defense in the league, but still lost at home to the division rival Browns.

The Ravens got into an old habit of blow early lead. They led 24-9 at halftime, scored one more the rest of the game and would go on to lose 33-31. That final Ravens offensive touchdown was scored shortly after a muffed Browns punt deep in their own territory.

However, this Ravens’ loss cannot be blamed on conservative playcalling. Nor can it be blamed on that pick-six Lamar Jackson threw in the fourth quarter that was due to a batted ball. What happened was the Browns played like a Super Bowl contender on both sides of the ball in the second half.

Offense was considered the Browns’ fatal flaw in the 2023 season. When Nick Chubb suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2, a questionable offense appeared to turn sour with right tackle Jack Conklin also out for the year. Left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. went on injured reserve last week.

On top of all these problems, since Deshaun Watson returned to NFL action in 2022 after a suspension for what the league concluded was series of sexual misconducthe showed no resemblance to the quarterback who was last a star in 2020.

He has already missed three games with a shoulder injury and left early after a stinker of a performance against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 7. Watson was coming off a typically disappointing performance against the Ravens on Sunday after going 6-for-20 on first-half attempts and throwing a pick-six on the game’s opening drive. He also went to the dressing room early for halftime with an ankle injury.

However, Watson did not miss a play, nor did he throw an incomplete pass in the second half, and would finish the day with 213 passing yards. The Browns ran a balanced attack that led to two touchdowns and a game-winning field goal. On that final drive, Watson made one of the plays of the game with a 16-yard run that put the Browns in near field goal position.

Offensively, the Browns rallied, but their explosive defense stymied the Ravens after halftime. Myles Garrett lived in the Ravens’ backfield. Jackson is one of the slickest athletes to ever play in the NFL, but he struggled to get away from that agile mountain of a man. The Ravens QB completed only five passes in the second half, and as a team they ran for 44 yards.

The Browns’ passing attack is still a weakness. A wide receiver corps headlined by Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore and Cedric Tillman is a far cry from what a high-octane group like the Miami Dolphins bring to the table. Watson also still hasn’t shown the playmaking ability his current team has decided is worth a fully guaranteed five-year contract.

All that said, Cleveland knocked off a team on the road that, by total DVOA, the only teams in history were better through nine weeks the 2007 New England Patriots and 1991 Washington. The Browns did it by scoring on every second-half possession against a defense nearly as good as theirs.

Even without their best offensive player, the Browns clearly have enough talent to reach heights the franchise has never reached.

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