1. Cut back on turnovers
Baker Mayfield’s track record with ball security was excellent until last week.
That’s when the Browns learned how quickly a game can slip away when their rookie quarterback loses his grasp on the game. They trailed 23-0 at half, and though a better break on either of Antonio Callaway’s long catches could’ve sparked a comeback, playing a perfect half shouldn’t be the standard for victory.
The Panthers, who have lost four straight, enter Sunday’s game with the reverse of that momentum, but that’s all the more reason not to give them extra possessions. The Browns need to force the Panthers to work out of their own funk.
“You can’t turn the ball over in the league,” wide receiver Jarvis Landry said. “When we turn the ball over, bad things happen.”
2. Stay patient with the run
The Browns fell behind 10-0 before they’d even converted a first down last week, and that deficit only grew throughout the first half.
For that reason, the Browns relied on their passing game in an attempt to close the gap. It’s the most time-sensitive way to complete a comeback of that size, but offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens still wishes he would’ve stuck with the run game a little longer.
“There were a couple of times there that I would have ran the ball if I had to do it over again in the first half,” Kitchens said in self-critique Thursday.”
If all goes as planned, the Browns won’t be forced to throw as much as they were last week. Much of the offense’s success the past two weeks came with the run game as the foundation. But even if they do fall behind again, Kitchens will look to stay patient with his rushing attack.
3. Slow Down McCaffrey
As safety Jabrill Peppers put it, Christian McCaffrey brings “everything” to the Panthers offense. McCaffrey leads the team in both rushing and receiving, and, overall, has accounted for 34 percent of Carolina’s offensive yardage.
He’s played 97 percent of Carolina’s offensive snaps, too (including 100 percent since week 10), and the Panthers need him more than ever now that tight end Greg Olsen is on injured reserve. That means the Browns need to be cognizant of where McCaffrey lines up at all times.
“They just get the ball into his hands and try to get him in space and he uses his explosion to create explosive plays,” linebacker Joe Schobert said. “You just have to be aware of wherever he is at all times.”
4. Don’t assume Cam is limited
It seems like the perfect time to play Cam Newton; he threw four interceptions last week and he’s battling a shoulder injury.
Browns pass rusher Myles Garrett said Newton’s shoulder appears to be hindering Newton’s ability to throw downfield. Garrett believes Newton is exerting himself more than usual on deep throws.
“But we still have to treat him like Super Cam,” Garrett said.
Yes, Newton struggled last week. It’s possible his shoulder hurts. But he’s still one of the greatest athletes to ever play quarterback, and he’s still playing one of the best seasons of his career. His completion percentage and passer rating are higher than they’ve ever been.
For that reason, the Browns aren’t assuming anything based on Newton’s health.
“He’s a gamer,” Peppers said. “We know he’s gonna come out and put his best foot forward.”