1. Slow the pass rush
The Browns offensive line against the Broncos pass rush represents a strength-on-strength matchup. The Broncos boast two players with double-digit sacks this season in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, and the Browns allowed just their first sack since Week 9 on Sunday.
The last time the Browns faced a team with a dangerous double-edged pass rush was two weeks ago against Houston. They held the Houston pass rush to zero sacks, which left Miller incredulous.
“Texans didn’t have any sacks? Yeah, we have to pay attention to that, because (Jadeveon) Clowney and (J.J.) Watt are right there when it comes to sacks and they are extremely talented, as well,” Miller said. I”f the Browns did a good job on those guys, they can do a good job on anybody.”
The Texans still won handily against the Browns, though, in large part because the Browns turned the ball over four times. The Texans dropped more players into coverage than they had leading up to the game to complicate the passing game for Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield said the Broncos will occasionally drop Miller and Chubb into coverage, too, calling the strategy Denver’s “change up.” But the Browns would welcome the chance to pass without Miller and Chubb flying around the edges.
“I hope they drop ‘em back all day,” offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens said.
2. The evergreen focus
The Browns believe stopping the run is always a key to slowing down an offense, but this week, coach Gregg Williams is emphasizing it more than usual.
That’s because Phillip Lindsay is a top-five rusher and the Broncos lost their top wide receiver, Emmanuel Sanders, to injury in practice last week.
The Broncos think highly of Courtland Sutton, their second-round rookie receiver, but even he’s dealing with a nagging injury this week. That makes Lindsay the primary focus for the Browns this weekend.
“If someone gets out of a gap and he sees an opening, he has good vision,” linebacker Joe Schobert said of Lindsay. “He will plant his foot and take it right through there, and with his acceleration he can go through the line real fast. He has hit a couple of home runs for them this year, so always have to be aware of where he is at.”
3. Stay dangerous across the board
Kitchens doesn’t play favorites.
Since Kitchens took over as offensive coordinator, eight different players have recorded explosive plays (plays of 20-plus yards), and four different players recorded them last week, including Breshad Perriman with his 66-yard catch on the first play from scrimmage.
Clearly, Kitchens isn’t afraid to take chances, regardless of circumstance. And the chunk plays are obviously productive. But the variety of weapons who can make those plays is what’s made the Browns offense so difficult to solve.
“Last week, there were quite a few guys that had those chunk plays, and that is when your offense becomes tougher to defend,” Williams said. “(Defenses) can’t roll coverage to a certain person, slide a front a certain way, slide a blitz a certain way, because there is more than one person that you are happening to take care of.”
4. Break tendencies
Kitchens knew Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly knew the Browns playbook front to back, so he used Kuechly’s knowledge to the Browns advantage. Kitchens called for a fake jet sweep to Perriman he knew Kuechly would recognize from a few weeks back. Sure enough, Kuechly followed Perriman as the ball was snapped while Jarvis Landry breezed into the end zone.
“Kuechly is a good player,” Kitchens said. “And sometimes good players – they’re good players because they know the tendencies of offenses. We kind of played off of that a little bit.”
That’s a key going forward, too. The point of film study is to acclimate to what teams prefer to call in certain situations. The more the Browns tweak their play-calling philosophy, the harder they’ll be to stop.