The Browns are looking to get to 2-1 against the visiting Washington Football Team, which heads to Cleveland after losing 30-15 to the Arizona Cardinals in the Valley of the Sun. A win for the Browns would put the team over .500 in the regular season for the first time since 2014.
The battle for a playoff spot in the AFC is going to be intense, and if the Browns want to stake their claim to it, this is a game they need to win. Now let's take a look at three keys to securing this important victory in this week's Winning Mix.
1. Protect Baker Mayfield
The Washington Football Team may have the most talented defensive line in the entire NFL. It features five first-round picks and has been the catalyst for a Washington defense that leads the NFL with 11 sacks. In fact, they wrecked their Week 1 opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles, with a total of eight sacks in the Football Team's lone win of the season.
No. 2 overall pick Chase Young has been spectacular so far, leading the NFL with 2.5 sacks so far. The veteran on the D-Line, 2011 1st rounder Ryan Kerrigan, has two sacks of his own. The other three first-rounders, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen and DaRon Payne, have chipped in a total of two sacks as well. You also have to pay attention to backup Matthew Ioannidis, a fifth-round pick in 2016, who has 1.5 sacks of his own.
All told, the Washington defensive line has produced eight total sacks in two games, which would be more than 30 of the other 31 teams in the league have tallied so far.
The Browns offensive line has been spectacular in their own right, surrendering just two sacks in two games, which is tied for third-fewest in the NFL. They have allowed a total of nine pressures in two games, according to Pro Football Focus, which is also third-fewest in the NFL. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has produced a quarterback rating of 103.6 when kept clean, so stifling the Football Team pass rush will go a long way to a repeat of the 35-point, five-touchdown effort from the Browns offense in Week 2.
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Washington Football Team
2. Dominate Defensively
The Browns have allowed 30-plus points in each of the first two weeks, but that trend should needs to come to a stop in Week 3. Through two games, the Football Team ranks 30th in passing offense, 24th in rushing offense, and 31st in total offense at 277.5 yards per game.
The Football Team's leading rusher is rookie Antonio Gibson, who has 91 yards on the season and has yet to produce even 60 yards rushing in a single game. The Browns are holding opposing running backs to 58 yards rushing per game on just 2.9 yards per carry, which are the third- and fourth-fewest in the NFL, respectively.
Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins has not thrown an interception this year but is completing only 56.3 percent of his passes — lowest among all two-game starters — and has taken seven sacks, third-most in the league. It will be important for the Browns to pressure Haskins, who is completing just 23.5 percent of his passes when under duress, by far the worst rate in the NFL.
3. Win the Turnover Battle
The Browns have yet to win the turnover battle in a game this year, and Week 3 would be a great opportunity to start that trend. The Football Team is second in the NFL with four takeaways through the first two games and beat the Eagles in Week 1, when they won the turnover battle (plus-3). In Week 2, the Football team lost the turnover battle (minus-1) to the Cardinals and were beaten by double-digits.
The Browns are still looking for their first interception, and Haskins has yet to throw one. Perhaps a lot of pressure from the Browns pass rush will burst that pipe, and the Browns defense can make a game-changing play. Again, take care of business on the offense, ball seek on defense and the Browns will be well on their way to a 2-1 record.