During the first half of the season, the Cleveland Browns posted a 3-5 record against teams that have combined for 34 wins, including the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs (8-0) and AFC North Division-leading Cincinnati Bengals (6-2).
In each of the first six games, the Browns held a lead at halftime, and were within striking distance in the fourth quarter of both the Chiefs and Green Bay Packers over the last two weeks.
And during that eight-game stretch, the Browns learned the importance of approaching each play, practice and game in the same manner.
“We’ve had a tough stretch against some very good teams here,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “I think the guys have learned that when we are on our game and playing consistently, we can compete and go toe-to-toe with anybody.
“Whether it’s a half, whether it’s a quarter, whether it’s a couple series or three quarters of a game, we’ve played very well at times. It’s a matter of consistently putting it together for four quarters. That’s what the mission is that we’re on right now.”
“We try to do it, from a coaching standpoint, in the plays and things that we’re doing and running,” Chudzinski said. “From the player standpoint, we’ve talked a lot about having the same mindset at all different points in the game.
“We’re going to approach it the same way we do every week. We go into every game approaching and expecting that we’re going to win. We’re focused on one game at a time, and we’re focused on each guy, each person, coach, player getting better every week. That’s what I want to see, that sort of improvement every, single week.”
In the setback against the Chiefs, the Browns gave up 281 yards and 16 first downs in the first half. However, after halftime, the Cleveland defense limited Kansas City’s offense 50 yards, four first downs and registered five of their six sacks of quarterback Alex Smith.
“It’s something we’re taking a hard look at,” Chudzinski said. “As you break it down, you look for the execution. In yesterday’s game, our early execution wasn’t good, defensively or offensively. You go to the specific plays. You look at the first drive, we had a 15-yard penalty that hurt us, and just some breakdowns, some individual breakdowns. We had a multitude of those in the first half, and we cleaned them up for the second half and were able to play better.
“Whether it’s looking at other games where we played better in one part of the game or the other, it’s been different points in the game. The thing that I like about our guys, when you focus them on something to improve, they respond and make the corrections. That’s what we’ll have to do in this case.”
Chudzinski also knows the Browns have to start faster offensively, as they had 130 yards and three first downs during the first half. Factoring in the Browns’ three longest plays of the half, a 39-yard touchdown to wide receiver
“We’ve been working on that,” Chudzinski said. “You look at this game, and the specifics of this game, we had a couple of identification issues from a mental standpoint that caused some problems there.
“We had some opportunities to make plays, whether it be a throw or catch, that we didn’t make. It’s about execution, and that’s what our focus is on this week, executing and doing a good job early.”
SUCCESS UP FRONT
Kansas City had an NFL-best 35 sacks for 244 lost yards entering Sunday’s game against the Browns, but the offensive line held the Chiefs to one sack of Campbell for a 10-yard loss.
“I thought they played the best game they have as far as protection goes,” Chudzinski said. “It was a big challenge. We knew that a lot of times they were going to single up, and they had to man up in this game. They did that, and I think the tight ends, the backs and Jason getting the ball out were all factors in that.”
RUNNING THE BALL
The Browns rushed for 57 yards on 15 carries against the Chiefs, but accounted for minus-one yard through the first half of play.
Chudzinski felt the running game’s second-half success came from prolonged drives, as the Browns’ defense spent nearly 23 minutes on the field in the game’s first two quarters.
“It was better execution, converting on third down and being able to get in a rhythm and get some drives going,” Chudzinski said. “We had three straight three-and-outs. Then, we had a drive where we had two plays and a touchdown, and then, we had a two-minute drive. There weren’t a lot of opportunities to have any runs.
“We have to do a better job of executing early, getting to where we get the ball moving, get some third downs converted and I think you saw that in the second half. When we have that, we can get a mix, a good balance going and get into a rhythm.”