Clash of NFL's top 2 defenses when Browns, Ravens meet this week in key AFC North matchup

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Deshaun Watson's most recent view of Baltimore's stingy, snarling defense came from the safety of Cleveland's sideline.

This week, he'll be in harm's way.

Watson, who returned last week after missing four games — including a 28-3 loss to the Ravens on Oct. 1 — with a right shoulder injury, will be facing a Baltimore defense on Sunday that leads the NFL in several statistical categories.

And a few of the ones not topped by the Ravens are led by the Browns.

Baltimore's defense ranks No. 1 in points allowed (13.8), touchdowns allowed (10) sacks (35) and red zone (33%), while Cleveland is first in total defense (234.8 yards) passing (145) and third down efficiency (26%) with the Ravens right behind the Browns in the latter two metrics, respectively.

Watson doesn't have to pour over any stat sheets to know what he's up against.

“They’re very talented,” he said Wednesday. "They know exactly what they want to do. A lot of guys have played a lot of football, a lot of depth in that defense, and they make you earn everything. So they’re coached very well, very great players, and you got to go out there and try to earn each and every yard.”

Watson surprisingly missed the matchup last month with the Ravens. Although he was limited in practice leading into the game with what was initially called a bruised shoulder and became a strain, Watson was expected to start before experiencing some pain during an on-field workout hours before kickoff.

The Browns (5-3) were forced to play rookie backup Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who had no chance against the Ravens (7-2) in his pro debut.

Thompson-Robinson was sacked four times, intercepted three and finished with just 121 yards passing as the Ravens feasted on a young QB, something Baltimore's defenses have been known to do over the past two decades.

While that outcome was somewhat predictable, Baltimore's success against Cleveland's defense wasn't.

Ravens QB Lamar Jackson ran for two touchdowns (he was untouched on both) and had two TD passes as Baltimore humbled a Cleveland defense that was coming off a thrashing of Tennessee the week before.

Always electric, Jackson was also efficient in completing 15 of 19 passes for 186 yards. The Browns sacked him three times but didn't do enough and the Ravens, who now lead the league in rushing, rolled up 131 yards on the ground.

The Browns believe they learned some lessons that day, and linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. said it's pretty easy to identify what has to change this week.

“Not give up 28 points,” he said. “We've got to stop the run better, obviously that’s how we start every week focusing on stopping the run, be fundamentally sound and pass rush lanes and all that. Don’t let ’em get out the pocket and make a throw on the run. Just play overall better.”

Cleveland's defense can't play any better than it did last week.

Much the same way the Ravens overwhelmed Thompson-Robinson, the Browns were relentless against Arizona rookie QB Clayton Tune, sacking him seven times and holding the Cardinals to just 58 yards in Cleveland's first shutout since 2007.

Walker knows the key to stopping the Ravens is containing Jackson, who is 7-3 in 10 starts and has thrown his most TD passes (13) against Cleveland. However, this is also a chance for the Browns to see how they measure up against a proven defense.

“Yeah, we’re playing against their offense,” he said. “We understand that, but in some aspects we are playing against their defense. The way you win in football is having more points at the end of the game and our job is to hold them to less points than we have and their defense’s job is the same thing. So it is in that aspect, it's our defense versus their defense.”

As for Watson, he knows better than to make this about him and Jackson.

“I've got to focus on attacking this defense,” he said. “If I get worried about another quarterback, I’m not going to play well. I've got to focus on the two linebackers, the edge rushers and the secondary and what they want to try to present with us.”

“That’s my main focus, it’s the Ravens defense.”

NOTES: It remains to be seen who will protect Watson's back. With starting LT Jedrick Wills Jr. (knee) on injured reserve, Cleveland's line will have a look new against Baltimore's stout front. However, coach Kevin Stefanski isn't showing his hand. “We're working through our options,” said Stefanski. Rookie RT Dawand Jones (shoulder/knee) could slide to the left, but he missed Wednesday's practice. Swing tackle James Hudson filled in for 34 plays at left tackle after Wills got hurt, but began the week working at right tackle. ... CB Greg Newsome (groin), TE David Njoku (knee), WR Marquise Goodwin (concussion) and RB Pierre Strong Jr. (hamstring) also sat out.