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Browns making 3rd downs 'a big focal point' 

Cleveland knows third-down improvements are a must for Week 11 and the rest of the season

The Browns are addressing the mistakes that occurred last Sunday in a tough loss in New England, and the root of several of them can be traced to one specific situation on both sides of the ball.

Third downs.

Cleveland was simply not good enough on the "money down" with either its offense or defense in Week 10 and knows it must improve in that area to avoid a similar result the rest of the season. The Browns reached a first down on just one of 11 third-down opportunities last week, while the defense allowed New England to convert on all but two of their nine opportunities. 

The third-down stats reflected the lopsidedness of the game, which is precisely why it's become one of the biggest points of emphasis for both departments this week.

"We pinpointed some things," G Joel Bitonio said. "Third and fourth down have been really bad on both sides of the ball, so we're trying to figure that out. It's just little things like that where we're trying to be more consistent."

The offense ranks 27th in the league in third-down efficiency, while the defense ranks 28th. The Browns have also been one of the most aggressive teams on fourth downs, too, but rank 25th in the league with a 41 percent conversion rate. None of those numbers are close to the standards coach Kevin Stefanski envisioned at any point this season. 

"That is a big focal point for us," Stefanski said Wednesday. "We spent some time on that this week as a staff. We again are trying to be problem-solvers, find ways that we can improve, find things that we are good at and continue to do them."

The Browns can position themselves for more success on third downs by taking control of the game early rather than playing from behind. That allows the offense to utilize the play-action and run game blend that is the bread and butter of the offense, while the defense — which will be more well-rested when the offense can stay on the field — can be more aggressive and force the opponent to play on their heels. 

It's no coincidence that the Browns' best two wins in the last month against Denver and Cincinnati featured early leads from Cleveland and high third-down success rates. The Browns converted on 50 percent of combined third-down chances on offense, while the defense limited the opponent to a 36 percent rate. 

The Browns built two-possession leads in the first half of both games, which allowed both sides of the ball to play with more command on third downs and keep momentum on their side.

"When we're rolling is when we're in the play action, run action and keeper game, and it all ties together," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. "We have to be more consistent across the board."

When that happens, the defense plays better and can be more efficient on third downs, too.

"Our best three games in terms of third downs were Denver, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati," Woods said. "And for us to drop off like that (in Week 11) just caught me. I think I could definitely do a better job."

Everyone is striving to do a better job Sunday against the Lions, who are the only opponent with a record below .500 left on the Browns schedule. Detroit ranks 31st offensively and 23rd defensively in third-down efficiency, so the Browns have quite the opportunity to show growth in that category Sunday and build growth the rest of the season.

Capitalizing on that opportunity is a must for the Browns to stay afloat in the playoff race, and they're not looking to waste any time in doing that Sunday.

"We feel like we've addressed some of those areas," Van Pelt said, "and hopefully we can make some improvements moving forward."