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Browns Mailbag: How can Browns finish games even stronger?

Senior Writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week

The game might be scheduled for a different day, but we're keeping this week's Browns Mailbag in the same date and time slot.

It's a four-question Friday as we head into a weekend without Browns football. That wait ends Monday night against the Ravens.

Great win by the Browns on Sunday. Baker Mayfield played lights out and the defense looked great ... for a half. Are you concerned with the Browns' inability to put teams away? Or am I the only one concerned about it? — Brain T., Toledo

Based on this week's questions in the mailbag … no, you are not the only one concerned with it. That said, I'm filing this under "good problems to have." It sure beats falling into big deficits and needing to come back in the second half. We also wouldn't be talking about this if the Browns hadn't rattled off so many impressive first halves. Also, up to this point, it hasn't mattered because the Browns have won all of these games, even if there's been some unexpected drama along the way.

Blowing out opponents in the NFL is not an easy thing to do and it's not common. This isn't college football. 

"I honestly think it is kind of a common occurrence," C JC Tretter said. "There are a lot more games that go on like that where a team gets up to a big lead in the first half and it gets closer in the second half … I think most of the time, you see the team slowly come back and chip away as the second half goes on. It is something that we can always grow from and you do not want to see it, but the other side being prideful and is going to keep competing to the last second so you know they are going to keep fighting to keep clawing back. 

"It is something that we do not want to see happen all the time, but again, you come out of there with a win and I will always take a 31-point lead at half, whether it gets close and winning the game. I will be fine with that."

Still, the Browns want to avoid endings like last week's if they can, and there were plenty of things they could have done better against the Titans to avoid needing an onside kick recovery in the final seconds to seal it. Tennessee scored too quickly on its opening possession of the second half. The Browns committed a costly penalty on the ensuing drive. A dropped pass early in the fourth quarter led to another punt.

Even though there were a lot more factors at play, Mayfield put this week's ending on himself. His fumble in the final moment kept the Titans alive longer than they should have been.

"We have to finish better, and it starts with me, 100 percent," Mayfield said. "There is no doubt about that. It is tricky when you get up by that much of staying aggressive or calling the dogs off type mentality. You want to run the ball to take the clock away to give them less opportunities, but at the same time, you don't want to go away from what is working. It is tricky, but we just have to make those plays. Obviously, if I hold on to the dang football, then it is not going to be close or as close as it should have been."

Was glad to see the Browns throw the deep ball to Donovan Peoples-Jones! Will we see more deep throws in an effort to keep the opposing team's defense honest to help with our running game by removing those eight-nine defensive man fronts? — Phil H., St. Clairsville

I can't predict how teams will defend the Browns on a week-to-week basis, but it's hard to see them completely moving away from a "stop the run at all costs" mentality because the tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt requires it. They've thrived even in the face of heavy fronts. Devote any fewer resources to the Browns' run game, and that may just lead to longer Browns scoring drives that take more time off the clock and produce the same result.

I also can't predict if the Browns will be throwing it deep more often, but it's safe to point out the team has taken advantage of opposing defenses the past two weeks with its passing game. Over the past two games, Mayfield is 44-of-62 for 592 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. The Browns have attacked these defenses by going through the air early and often. It hasn't always meant going deep but it has meant keeping defenses on their toes and eliminating their ability to sell out against the run. A play like the deep ball to Peoples-Jones comes as a result of a defense falling for a particular tendency, and the Browns doing the opposite. That's the goal of Kevin Stefanski's offense: Keep the defense guessing.

"We are going to do whatever it takes to win," Stefanski said. "We are looking for the right play at the right time, and then to the players' credit, they are executing at a high level." 

The Browns defense will gauge their improvement from Week 1 in this game against the Ravens' legendary Lamar Jackson? — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia

Week 1 wasn't a good time for any phase of the ball, and the defense is very much included. They didn't let Jackson run for a bunch of yards but he didn't need to. He had plenty of time to throw and he had open receivers all over the field, resulting in a 20-of-25, 275-yard, three-touchdown performance.

Cleveland's defense, though, has had more good days than bad in the weeks since. Though the players on the field Monday mostly will be the same ones who started Week 1, the Browns are simply playing better, and that's been shown through a more consistent pass rush and opportunistic turnover-causing plays.

"I think we have come a long way just in terms of figuring out what we do well," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. "I just felt early on we just did not perform well. I did not feel like I had a great game calling it, so just looking back at it, you can see the areas that we did well and you can see the areas that we can clean up and I feel like we have progressed just in terms of what we are doing. I feel like this game will be a little bit better prepared to play these games."

Having legitimate playoff aspirations in the middle of December is quite the pleasant change of pace for longtime Browns fans. As we enter the fourth quarter of the regular season, should we simply be content with this newfound joy in winning with regularity, and consider a playoff appearance as a success, or should Browns fans genuinely believe in the team's ability to achieve more than that, with the potential to make a deep playoff run? — Nick D., Wayne, West Virginia

I'll let Mayfield take it from here.

"(Fans) need to reset their expectations because we all need to reset the standard," Mayfield said. "That is what I have been saying is there is a new standard and there is a foundation you have to continue to build on and improve. That is just the way we need to handle things, and I think we are trending in the right direction."

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