The spoiler alert for which Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh is making his players aware this week has nothing to do with tipping off how some cliffhanger in a television show is going to end.
The Ravens (7-6) need to avoid looking ahead on Sunday, when they visit the winless, upset-minded Cleveland Browns (0-13).
Baltimore cannot get to the top of the AFC North because the Pittsburgh Steelers are 11-2, but it can make the playoffs as a wild card by finishing strong. The Ravens finish with home games against the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals, who own a combined record of 8-18.
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“I feel like they’ve played well all year,” Harbaugh said of the Browns on Wednesday. “They’ve played well enough to win plenty of games this year. All you have to do is watch the tape to understand that. They’re very well coached, a very hard-playing team with talent.
“We have enough at stake where I don’t think that particular term (a trap game) will apply. I think our guys understand what we need to accomplish. We’re going to have our hands full with a very good football team, and that’s how we are looking at it.”
The Ravens handled Cleveland easily in the second game of the season, winning 24-10 in Baltimore while picking off rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer three times. Kizer still has problems “keeping the ball out of harm’s way,” to use his term, but he is playing better than he was earlier in the season and will likely be extra careful on Sunday after throwing an interception in overtime last week during a 27-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
After watching the way Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger carved up the Ravens for 506 passing yards, Kizer will be the most important player for Baltimore to corral and conversely the key player for Cleveland to pull off the upset.
That isn’t what the Browns are thinking about, though. They just want to win a game so they can stop being asked questions about the possibility of going 0-16.
“You take it one week at a time as a player,” Browns left guard Joel Bitonio said. “Each week you try to get the win. Unfortunately for us this year, the losses have piled up. It’s tough. It really (stinks).
“We’re doing everything on our part to try to be better and try to get those wins. I think you’ve seen promise the last quarter of the season, but unless we get a win result, it matters, but it doesn’t matter on the win-loss record.”
Roethlisberger had success throwing the ball against the Ravens because his pass protection was excellent. Baltimore should find an easier path to Kizer, especially around the edges where Spencer Drango plays left tackle and Shon Coleman plays right tackle. For that reason, the Browns might swipe a page from the Packers’ playbook and design plays so Kizer delivers the ball quickly before the protection breaks down.
“(Kizer) looks good,” Harbaugh said. “He’s developing and running the offense that (head coach) Hue (Jackson) has put in exceptionally well. He’s done a great job with the big plays — big play passes and big play runs. He looks very explosive.”
Kizer is also more of a running threat than Roethlisberger, who runs only when necessary. Kizer is second on the Browns in rushing with 315 yards and a team-high five touchdowns on 61 attempts.
For Kizer, Cleveland’s last home game of the season is about more than trying to knock off Baltimore. His first goal is beating the Ravens, but he is trying to establish himself for next year and quiet the talk of the Browns taking a quarterback with the first pick in the draft.
“Every time I step out onto the field, whether it be practice or whether it be a game, it’s about doing whatever I can to prove to my teammates and to this organization who I am as a quarterback and as a competitor,” Kizer said. “I look forward to being in Cleveland for a long time and I look forward to winning for a long time. Every time I step out there and every rep that I get, it’s about making sure everyone knows exactly who I am.”
The Browns are going into the 14th game of the season relatively healthy. Cornerbacks Briean Boddy-Calhoun (knee) and Jamar Taylor (foot) did not practice Wednesday.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace (ankle) is the only player that did not practice for the Ravens.