1. Slowing Mixon more important than ever
Cincinnati’s offensive weaponry is as thin as any group in the league this week. The Bengals are missing their starting quarterback, their top two wide receivers and their best tight end.
Gregg Williams’ answer was simple when a reporter asked about Cincinnati’s injuries.
“Where’d they list Joe Mixon?”
Mixon is Cincinnati’s lone first-string weapon, and he’s averaged 30 touches per game in his last two games. That was with a healthy Tyler Boyd, who is out Sunday with a knee injury.
The lack of other proven threats should help the Browns defend Mixon, but Mixon is good enough to make plays in any scenario.
“You can have everything sound, you can have everything gap sound, force sound, and then all of a sudden he runs over your face or he is able to cut and run through two people,” Williams said.
2. Continue red-zone efficiency
The Browns have scored touchdowns on 15 of their last 16 red-zone trips, a key reason why they jumped out to such a large lead in Cincinnati in Week 12. Repeating their red-zone success will be key to repeating the outcome against Cincinnati.
Kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns is a surefire method to allow a lesser team to hang around in a game they shouldn’t win. Red-zone inefficiencies proved crucial in losses to the Saints and Buccaneers early in the season.
The Browns have been the best red-zone team in football lately, though, and if they continue that trend, it bodes well for their prospects Sunday.
“Once you get into that area of the field, you know that you can get points,” offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens said. “You know that you have got points and you are trying to get touchdowns. I think it goes back to players executing in critical situation.”
3. Contain the return game
Another way the Bengals can make up for their personnel losses is in the return game, where Alex Erickson ranks in the top five in yards per punt and kick return.
Meanwhile, the Browns are a bottom-10 team in defending punts and kickoffs. The Browns need outperform their reputation to bottle up Erickson.
Special teams coordinator Amos Jones said Erickson is an aggressive returner who tries to make a big play on every return. Lane discipline and sure tackling will be the keys to slowing him down.
“You have to keep (Erickson) edged in and bottled in so everybody gets a shot to put something on him,” Jones said. “You have to tackle him. He can break tackles.”
4. Learn from last time
Cincinnati will be the first team Baker Mayfield plays twice, meaning that for the first time, he’s preparing by watching himself on film. Mayfield led the Browns offense to four unanswered touchdown drives in the first meeting, so he can gleam plenty about the Bengals’ defensive struggles.
But of course, the Bengals have an entire game’s worth of film on Mayfield playing against their defense. They can see where they failed and correct their mistakes. So it’s on the Browns to balance implementing new concepts with staying true to what worked the first time.
“It’s a great advantage to have,” Mayfield said. “Obviously, they have the same thing and they get to watch themselves, as well. They will get to look at what we did, what worked, what did not work and then also why and what type of gameplan they came into it with. Just to see how we can use that stuff again but also mix it up and break some tendencies and do things like that.”