After a rough opener for the Browns, they got their 2020 season kicked off with a Week 2 victory over the Bengals on Thursday Night Football. That started a four-game winning streak that unfortunately came to a halt last Sunday against the Steelers. Once again, the Browns have the opportunity to bounce back with a big win over the Bengals, who enter the Week 7 showdown at 1-4-1 on the season.
The Browns will have a big opportunity to rebound Sunday against an explosive Bengals team led by Joe Burrow. To ensure the season sweep against the Bengals, the Browns need to follow this week's winning mix.
1. Clean game for QB Baker Mayfield
Baker Mayfield is 9-2 as the Browns quarterback when he does not throw an interception. In 2020, Mayfield is 2-0 as the starter when he has not thrown an interception and the Browns' only losses both featured a Mayfield interception on the team's opening possession.
Mayfield is 4-1 against the Bengals for his career, completing 62 percent of his passes for 1,232 yards, 12 touchdowns, six interceptions and a quarterback rating of 102.2. In his two interception-free games against Cincinnati, Mayfield has thrown for seven touchdowns, is undefeated and the Browns have a point differential of +23. In the three games with an interception thrown, Mayfield is 2-1 but has five touchdowns, six interceptions and the point differential is just +3.
The Browns are very tough to beat when Mayfield takes care of the ball, regardless of the opponent, but it is especially true against the Bengals. When you are the better team, as the Browns are this week, taking care of the football is absolutely critical to ensuring you end up with the win after 60 minutes of action.
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Cincinatti Bengals
2. Get back to a punishing rushing attack
The last two weeks for the Browns have seen the team forced to play without star RB Nick Chubb while taking on two of the best rush defenses in the NFL by both traditional and NextGen statistical measures. It is no surprise the Browns struggled to run the ball against both the Colts and Steelers, rushing for 199 total yards on 3.6 yards per carry in those two games. They are the only two games in 2020 in which the Browns have not rushed for at least 138 yards or averaged at least 4.8 yards per carry.
The Browns still have the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL and are taking on the 27th-ranked run defense of the Bengals this week. Back in Week 2, the Browns ran 35 times for 219 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 6.1 yards per carry agains the Bengals. Kareem Hunt rushed for a season-best 86 yards in that game on only 10 carries and is expected to see a much bigger workload this week as the No. 1 back.
Getting back to the dominant ground attack will not only lead to more conversions on first and second downs as we saw early in the season, it will also keep the Browns out of third and long situations that have been difficult for them this year. Last week, the Browns converted just one of their 15 combined third and fourth down opportunities. Shorter third downs will lead to more conversions, more yardage gained and, ultimately, more points. It should be pointed out that the Bengals are 0-4-1 when their opponent rushes for more than 125 yards, and a strong ground game will put the Browns in the best position to get the win on Sunday.
3. Quick start followed by a full 60-minute performance
The Browns are 2-0 this year when they strike first on the scoreboard and are 4-0 when leading at halftime. Getting out to a quick start always sets the team on the right course, and that is especially true in the division, where the Browns are 1-2 this year and have not scored first in any of the three games. They were able to overcome that against the Bengals, answering an early Cincinnati field goal with a Chubb touchdown to take a 7-3 lead; one they would not relinquish all game.
The Browns have yet to play a complete 60-minute game as a team, but that is especially true on the offensive side of the ball. Through six games, the Browns point breakdown by quarter is as follows: First Quarter: 23, Second Quarter: 79, First Half Total: 102, Third Quarter: 24, Fourth Quarter: 37 and Second Half Total: 61.
The Browns need to be a faster starting offense right out of the gates and a better second half team, which will allow them to fully control games against teams they should beat, while being able to come from behind in the second half when necessary.
Defensively, the points allowed by quarter breaks down like this: First Quarter: 51, Second Quarter: 41, First Half Total: 92, Third Quarter: 40, Fourth Quarter: 55, and Second Half Total: 95.
When you look at both sides of the ball together, the Browns are running a significant -28 point differential in the opening quarter of the game and a -18 point differential in the final quarter of the game. The second quarter has been the magic one for the Browns, as they have outscored their opponents by 39 thus far. In a shocking stat, Mayfield has thrown eight of his 10 touchdowns in quarter No. 2 with only one interception. Smoothing out that kind of production over four quarters will lead to many comfortable victories, regardless of the opponent. Consistency is key, as head coach Kevin Stefanski says, and this week would be a great one to see the Browns take it to the Bengals on both sides of the ball for the full 60 minutes, thereby making a real statement on the road.