Last week, after a horrendous start to the game, the Cleveland Browns challenged the New England Patriots for the better half of their matchup. In the first quarter, the Patriots outscored the Browns 17-0. In the rest of the game, the Browns outscored the Patriots 13-10.
This week, the Browns travel into the Mile High City to square off against the Denver Broncos.
Under the former Chicago Bears’ defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, the Broncos started the season 2-6.
Joe Flacco is out with a herniated disc in his neck, making this a winnable game for Cleveland.
Here are four keys to the game that increase the likelihood of Freddie Kitchens and company moving to 3-5.
1. Limit Turnovers
The Browns are tied for third-worst in the NFL in turnover differential (-9), behind the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins.
Nick Chubb, aside from his two-fumble performance against the Patriots, takes care of the ball. With only three fumbles on the season, a majority of the Browns’ turnovers come through the air.
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) October 29, 2019
The Browns are tied for last in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in interceptions. This is due to a combination of Mayfield struggling to efficiently read the field, the Browns’ offensive line allowing too much pressure, and Kitchens failing to call the right plays at the right time.
The Broncos’ defense excels against the pass, especially in terms of QB pressure. Cleveland could be in for a long game if adjustments aren’t made this week.
2. Limit Penalties
Penalties are the quickest way to ruin an offense’s momentum, and the Browns do it well. This season, the Browns rank second in penalties called against with 70. The Arizona Cardinals currently have 73, but the Browns played in two less games! The second highest penalties called against count with only seven games is the New York Jets with 60.
The Browns’ penalty problem stems from poor offensive line and poor defensive secondary play. When Eric Kush and Justin McCray get beat off the line, holding is the only option to stop the pass rush. When Greedy Williams and Terrance Mitchell are out of position defensively, pass interference is the only option to stop the opposing passing attack.
Kitchens must put his players into positions in which they can excel. The players must do their jobs without penalties.
If the Browns continue to surrender 10 penalties per game, their losing record will only get worse.
3. Listen to the Analytics
The added tight end helps to better protect Mayfield in the pocket, and the rushing attack benefits as well.
Getting Ricky Seals-Jones more involved in the passing attack will help open up the run against a tough Denver defense.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 29, 2019
Nick Chubb averaged over six yards per carry against the fourth-best run defense in the league. He needs to put his fumble woes behind him and carry the Browns to an advantage in time-of-possession.
4. Pressure Brandon Allen, and Stop the Run
As previously-noted, Joe Flacco is out for the foreseeable future with a herniated disc in his neck. Brandon Allen is taking over as the starting quarterback for the Broncos.
Allen played quarterback for the Arkansas Razorbacks, starting from 2013 to 2015. The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted him in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
The Broncos claimed Allen off waivers on September 1, 2019. He has not had enough time to learn the playbook, and the Browns must take advantage.
If the Browns pass rush can pressure Allen early, it will open up turnover possibilities. As his confidence fades, the Browns’ chances to win the game increase.
However, if the Browns continue to struggle against the opposing rushing attack, Allen will gain confidence. Cleveland is currently fourth-worst in the league, allowing over 140 rushing yards per game.
Stacking the box and ensuring that Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay struggle is essential to a Browns’ victory.
If the Browns successfully eliminate turnovers and penalties, listen to the analytics and put their players into positions to make plays, and limit the Broncos’ rushing attack, their record should improve to 3-5. That is a big if.
Bonus Key. Reignite Mayfield’s Connection with Rashard Higgins
Rashard Higgins is starting as the Browns’ third-string wide receiver this Sunday, replacing Antonio Callaway. Callaway struggled to find his groove early, and his drops hurt Mayfield’s offensive production.
Mayfield had a quarterback rating of over 115 when targeting Higgins in 2018. The connection is already established. It only needs to be reignited.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) October 7, 2018
Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are the focal point of this offense. However, if the Browns continue to operate out of 11 personnel, Higgins should see significant playing time. He can stretch the field, and Mayfield trusts him in the red zone.