Coming off of an incredible five-touchdown performance from quarterback Baker Mayfield that culminated in a game-winning drive to beat the Bengals, the Browns offense is riding high heading into Week 8 against the Las Vegas Raiders. They are going to have to stay red hot again Sunday in what could be another high-scoring affair in the cold, damp weather at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Raiders are 3-3 thanks in large part to the great play of their quarterback Derek Carr, but they have lost three of their last four due to an overly generous defense that has allowed 32.8 points per game this season, second-most in the NFL. This will be another test for a Browns offense that will once again be without stars Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham Jr. and Austin Hooper. However, if there has been one consistent theme about this Kevin Stefanski-led team, it's that the next man up is always ready and comes through when needed.
As the AFC playoff picture has unfolded through the first seven weeks of the season, the Raiders are right in the mix with the Browns. Thus, this week has an even bigger importance than just a normal non-divisional game, so let's take a look at the Winning Mix to seal this big win.
1. Stay hot, Baker Mayfield: QB Rating > 100
Mayfield was cooking last week against the Bengals, at one point completing a Browns franchise-record 21 straight passes while leading the team on five consecutive touchdown drives (all of which ended in touchdown passes) to win the game. He finished that game with a quarterback rating of 135.6, the fourth time this season his rating has exceeded 100. The Browns are 4-0 in the games in which his quarterback rating tops 100 this year, and they have won 11 straight games dating back to 2018 when his rating is north of the century mark. In other words, the Browns go as Mayfield goes, and when he executes the way he did last week, well, they are basically unbeatable.
The Raiders have been incredibly generous to opposing quarterbacks this year, allowing 290 yards and 1.83 touchdowns passing per game on 65 percent completions with a quarterback rating of 99.7. The Raiders have allowed an opposing quarterback rating of 100-plus in two of their last three games, both of which were losses.
The main reason that quarterbacks have lit up the Raiders secondary stems from their lack of a consistent pass rush. Las Vegas has just seven sacks on the season and ranks 27th with a 25.8 percent pressure percentage. That means the opposing quarterback gets to operate from a clean pocket on nearly 75 percent of their drop backs, something that should bode very well for Mayfield. Without pressure this year, Mayfield is completing 70 percent of his passes, averaging 8.0 yards per attempt, while throwing for 14 touchdowns (fourth-most in the NFL) and posting a quarterback rating of 116.5 (eighth best in the NFL). This is an ideal matchup for another red hot game from Mayfield, which tends to lead to a big Browns victory.
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Las Vegas Raiders
2. Eliminate the big plays from the Las Vegas passing game
Nothing hurts a defense like a big passing play, and the big vertical shots have become the hallmark of an explosive Las Vegas aerial assault. Quarterback Derek Carr is having an incredible start to the 2020 season, posting career bests in completion percentage (72 percent), yards per game (287.7) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (13-to-2). It should also be noted Carr loves playing against the Browns, averaging 360 yards per game for his career against Cleveland, the highest against any opponent. While Carr has been exceptional in just about every aspect of quarterback play in 2020, the one area where he has been truly elite is the vertical passing game.
On passes of more than 20 yards in the air, Carr leads the NFL in quarterback rating at 142, yards per completion at 39.8 and yards per attempt at 23. The Raiders are eighth in the NFL with 23 pass plays of more than 20 yards and lead the NFL with six pass plays for 40-plus yards despite having played only six games. Las Vegas receiver Nelson Agholor leads the NFL with three touchdowns of 20-plus yards and the Raiders are 2-1 on the season when he catches a bomb for a score. It should also be noted that Agholor is averaging 19.5 yards per catch this season, tied for second among all receivers on pace for 30 catches this year, while teammate Henry Ruggs Jr. is averaging a ridiculous 26.5 yards per catch on his eight grabs this season.
Deep plays take a lot of time, so it will be critical for the Browns defense to generate pressure on Carr this Sunday. Carr's yards per attempt fall significantly when under pressure, but even more so do his completion percentage (-23 percent) and quarterback rating (-47 points) when compared to operating from a clean pocket. The Browns pass defense has surrendered 24 pass plays of more than 20 yards this year, tied for fifth-most in the NFL. However, they have only allowed two pass plays of more than 40 yards, tied for sixth-fewest in the NFL. The Browns will have to be very aware of the vertical passing game and can't allow a back-breaking bomb to go over their heads against the talented Raiders on Sunday.
3. Win the turnover battle
For the 2020 version of the Browns defense, taking the ball away has been critical to success. The Browns enter Week 8 with a league-best 14 takeaways and have produced a turnover in 13 of their last 14 games dating back to 2019. The Raiders, on the other hand, have struggled to generate turnovers, creating just three so far, which is the fewest in the NFL.
In fact, it should be noted that AFC Defensive Player of the Month, Browns DE Myles Garrett, has forced more fumbles (four) and is directly responsible for more turnovers (seven per NextGen Stats) than the entire Raiders team, which has one and three, respectively. Carr may have only two interceptions on the season, but has thrown one in each of his last two games.
Generating turnovers has been the hallmark to the Browns success on defense, and continuing that trend Sunday will go a long way to winning the game. After all, the Browns are undefeated this season when they win the turnover battle. The Raiders, on the other hand, are 0-3 when they lose the turnover battle and 3-0 when they either tie or win it. Taking care of the ball in the inclement weather will be even more important than usual Sunday.