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Keys to the Game

Keys to the Game: How the Browns can beat the Cardinals in Week 9

Cleveland looks to bounce back from loss in Week 8 and win at home over Arizona

Keys to the Game Week 9

The Browns have lost to the Cardinals in their last five matchups, dating back to 2003. They will look to change that on Sunday as they host Arizona at Cleveland Browns Stadium at 1 p.m. ET. 

Let's take a look at three keys to the game for the Browns to beat the Cardinals on Sunday in their Week 9 matchup.

Shore up their run defense

As an overall unit, the Browns have been a pretty dominant force defensively. They've allowed the least amount of passing yards this season at 1,143, as well as the least amount of passing completions at 107. Opposing offenses have only made 36 successful third-down conversions this season. Yet, they have had some miscues in their run defense, especially in the red zone.

"I think the biggest thing is we have to stop people from running the ball across our goal line," DC Jim Schwartz said. "If we're going to take pride in being a physical defense that starts with run defense and it gets accentuated in the red zone, the field shrinks a little bit, and we have to do a better job of stopping the run. I think that's probably the biggest thing."

On Sunday, the Browns will face a Cardinals rushing attack that is ranked fourth in rushing yards per game with 137.8, and fourth in the league in total rushing yards with 1,102. They average 5.1 yards per carry, which is second in the league.

LB Anthony Walker Jr. said that fixing any concerns in their run defense comes down to the fundamentals and technique, with standard gaps and coming downhill as linebackers, set the edge, get off blocks and make tackles. From their secondary, S Grant Delpit said they know that the Cardinals like to run the ball, so their goal is to stop them and make them one dimensional.

Use their running backs in the run game

On the other side, the Browns rushing attack also has a chance to play a prominent role in Sunday's game. In Week 8 against the Seahawks, the Browns rushed for 155 yards. Cleveland ranks second in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 148.6.

They have been using RB Kareem Hunt, Jerome Ford and Pierre Strong Jr. as a committee in the run game and have found success in using all three backs. OC Alex Van Pelt said he's been impressed with their running back room.

"Everybody's going to get their touches. I see all those guys as one A, one B. They could all come in and be productive, which they've shown," Van Pelt said. "Kareem right now is running extremely hard. He had some great runs that weren't there and got three yards and stuff that we had free rushers. So really proud of the way he's running with the physicality. Pierre (Strong) has the speed and the vision. He can get on the edge. Did some good things in the wide zone game as far as the perimeter game as well. And then Jerome, that's the sweet feet where he can cut on a dime and make the move."

The Cardinals have allowed a total of 1,045 rushing yards this season, which is 29th in the league, giving up an average of 4.4 yards per carry. They are last in the league in rushing first downs with 70 this season, and Arizona has also given up 11 rushing touchdowns this season, which is 30th in the league.

Check out photos of the team working to prepare for the Arizona Cardinals

QB Deshaun Watson to command the offense

The biggest question heading into Sunday's matchup was about the Browns starting quarterback. That question was answered on Friday as HC Kevin Stefanski said that Deshaun Watson would start against the Cardinals.

Watson returned to practice this week, first as a limited participant on Wednesday and Thursday, and then as a full participant on Friday. Stefanski said that Watson had a good week of practice, which gave them confidence in him being able to start and play on Sunday.

As he returns the field for the first time since Week 7 – when he started the game against the Colts and in the first quarter, sustained a hit to the shoulder that kept him out for the remainder of the game – Watson will have to take charge of the Browns offense.

"Deshaun's one of the elected captains of this team," Stefanski said. "He's one of the leaders of this team. He brings the energy when he's out of practice and in the game, in the meeting rooms, et cetera. So that I'm sure gives the team a boost when you have your leader out there."

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