For the third straight week the Browns found a way to win and now sit at 8-3 on the season after a 27-25 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Browns offense was firing on all cylinders and carried the team to the win. Baker Mayfield threw for two scores and had a quarterback rating in excess of 100 (the Browns have won 12 straight games in which Mayfield's quarterback rating has topped the century mark), Jarvis Landry had his best game of the season with 143 yards and a touchdown on eight catches and the Legion of Zoom (Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt) once again combined for over 200 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground.
The Browns offense will have to remain hot against a high powered Tennessee Titans offense that is strikingly similar in its approach.
The Titans are the team that got the Browns' 2019 season off to a bad start and rode their momentum all the way to the AFC Championship. They enter Week 13 sitting atop the AFC South with an 8-3 record and once again have Super Bowl aspirations. Unlike last year, however, the Titans have been led by a potent offense that ranks in the top 10 in just about every single offensive category thanks to a great ground game and devastating play-action passing attack. Derrick Henry is once again the NFL's leading rusher, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been about as efficient as anyone in the league with a knack for hitting big plays down the field. Tennessee has scored 30-plus points six times, 40-plus three times and are on pace to be the first team in the Super Bowl era to average 225 yards passing, 150 yards rushing and less than a turnover per game.
This one won't be easy, but the Browns can notch a big win on Sunday by following The Winning Mix.
A close up look at the cleats and the foundations represented by our players for this years My Cause My Cleats campaign
1. Limit the Titans' big plays in the (play-action) passing game
Of course, Henry has to be the primary focus of the Browns defense in Week 13, as I detailed in the Matchup to Watch earlier this week. Focusing on stopping the NFL's leading rusher will require all 11 members of the Browns defense, as defensive coordinator Joe Woods said at his weekly press conference. It will also require tremendous discipline because the Titans' play-action passing game is arguably as dangerous as Henry.
Tannehill utilizes play action on 35 percent of his drop-backs, the highest percentage in the league. He ranks first in the NFL with 1,198 play-action passing yards, second with nine touchdowns and third with an average of 9.8 yards per attempt. His top two receivers, the dangerous A.J. Brown and Corey Davis, are averaging 20.5 and 20.2 yards per catch, respectively, on their play-action targets this year. They both rank in the top 12 in receiving yards on play-action targets as well.
The play-action passing game is a huge reason why Tannehill ranks second in the NFL with nine completions of more than 40 yards this year, trailing only Aaron Rodgers. To its credit, the Browns defense has allowed only three such pass plays against them, second-fewest in the NFL. The Browns gave up a big play last week to the Jags and can't afford to do so again this week. The Titans are going to get their points, but make them matriculate the ball down the field, where the Browns' ninth-ranked red zone defense can turn sevens into threes. The best way to prevent the big plays on play action is with pressure, and the Browns generate pressure on nearly 25 percent of play-action passes, ninth-most in the league. You could not have asked for a better time for the return of Myles Garrett, who should severely disrupt the Tennessee play-action game.
2. Beautiful Baker
It certainly seems that, of late, Mayfield detests throwing interceptions as much as he detests skim milk. Mayfield has the second-longest interception free passing streak in the NFL. After the opening interception against the Bengals, Mayfield has been blemish-free with seven touchdown passes across what is basically a full five-game span. That streak likely will have to extend to a sixth game against a Titans team that has only five giveaways all season. So, in order to win the turnover battle this week, the Browns and Mayfield will have to play with a clean sheet.
Last year against the Titans, Mayfield threw three interceptions in the Week 1 loss to the Titans, including a pick-six to Malcolm Butler. History shouldn't repeat itself Sunday, as Mayfield has evolved into a different quarterback. He is taking great care of the football and making huge plays on third and fourth downs. Mayfield has also been thriving from a clean pocket or without pressure on his play-action keepers. For the year, Mayfield is completing 67 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 110 when not under pressure. That matches up very well with a Titans defense that is dead last on third downs, allowing a 53 percent conversion rate, and struggles to get to the quarterback. For the year, the Titans have just 14 sacks, which is the fourth-fewest in the NFL.
Mayfield should have time to throw behind the incredible Browns offensive line and pick apart what has been a beleaguered Titans back seven. If he does that and takes care of the football, his quarterback rating is likely to top 100 this week, and you know what that means. Amazingly enough, the Browns are 8-0 and are averaging 30.8 points per game when Mayfield's quarterback rating is better than 70. Fun fact for this week is the Titans have allowed 10 of the 11 quarterbacks to face them to produce a rating in excess of 70, seven at 90 or better and three over 100.
3. Get out to a fast start and run our offense for 4 quarters
The Browns are undefeated this year when leading after the first quarter, leading at halftime or leading after three quarters. In seven of the team's eight wins, the Browns were up at the half and handled their business to earn the win.
Getting out to a quick start Sunday is, perhaps, more important than ever. The Browns want to be able to run their offense and utilize an effective ground game combined with play-action passing to put points on the scoreboard. They do not want to have to go to more of a drop-back oriented passing attack and chase points. Plus, Chubb and Hunt are the best fourth quarter closers in the NFL, and you need the lead to be able to feed your superstar running backs. In the fourth quarter, Chubb has rushed for 276 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 12.5 yards per carry. Hunt has chipped in 306 yards and two scores of his own at 5 yards per carry.
Furthermore, the Titans feel the exact same way about the need to have a quick start on their side. They want to feed Henry, utilize play-action passing and play their style of offense. The Titans, like the Browns, do not want to chase points as a drop-back passing team and likely believe they have the best fourth quarter closer in Henry. In the fourth quarter and overtime, Henry has rushed for 431 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 6.7 yards per carry.
The team that starts fast and is able to play their game on offense for the full four quarters is the team that will win this heavyweight slugfest. The Browns have followed their formula for success all year and need to do so again in arguably their toughest challenge in more than a month.