It was not a performance fit for primetime, but it was a winning performance, and that is all that mattered Sunday as the Browns downed the Detroit Lions, 13-10, at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Browns got a massive boost from the returning Nick Chubb, who rushed for 130 yards on 5.9 yards per carry and added a touchdown reception to boot. They were able to grind one out against the Lions, but they will have to be better Sunday Night in a massive game against the AFC North-leading, 7-3 Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens have been a clutch team all year long, repeatedly finding ways to win games late in the fourth quarter. Former MVP Lamar Jackson is having the best pure passing season of his career, and the explosive Ravens are more of an aerial team than they have been in previous years. They have battled through numerous significant injuries to key members of their team on both sides of the ball and are coming off a shocking, late-game win over the Chicago Bears despite being without Jackson (illness).
The Browns know the one clear path to the playoffs is through the AFC North, and the four remaining games in the division, including two with the Ravens, start Sunday in a game with huge playoff implications. The Browns will have to play a complete game, and if they do, they should leave Baltimore with a great division win.
Here is a look at just how to get that done in this week's Winning Mix.
*1. Clutch Up *
Right now, the Ravens are the most clutch team in the NFL. Every week, it seems they overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to pull out a miraculous victory, just as they did against the Bears in Week 11. In fact, the Ravens are currently 5-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer and 4-0 in games decided by three points or less. They have trailed going into the fourth quarter in six of their 10 games this year and yet are 4-2 in such contests, which is unheard of in the NFL. Another measure of their clutch meter comes from their defense, which is No. 1 in both third down defense (30.5 percent conversions allowed) and red zone defense (42.9 percent touchdown rate allowed). They are the personification of a team that just finds a way to get the job done and on Sunday night, the Browns need to steal that mojo and be the clutch team when it matters the most.
The Browns have been able to take the lead into the fourth quarter in an incredible nine of their 11 games. They are 6-3 in those contests but need to be better for this final six-game stretch, especially against the comeback-happy Ravens. It should also be noted that all three of those losses have come in one-score games as well, so the Browns have to become the team that makes the critical plays in the critical moments. To do that, the Browns will need to play clean, start fast (the Ravens are 4-1 when leading at the half) and then execute in the money situations of third down and in the red zone. Last week, the Browns offense continued to struggle on third downs, going five-of-13 (38.5 percent), but they delivered touchdowns on both red zone trips, and getting sevens instead of threes enabled them to get the win.
Check out exclusive photos from the practice fields at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus of the Browns preparing for their Week 12 game against the Baltimore Ravens
2. Generate Takeaways
The Browns have generated 10 takeaways this season, and nine of them have come in the team's six wins. They have but one takeaway in their five losses. The Browns are 5-1 this season when generating just one takeaway as a defense, and in their last two wins, they have five takeaways combined. In fact, the Browns are 3-0 in 2021 in games with multiple takeaways and, under Kevin Stefanski, are 9-0 in such games. The Browns defense needs to get after Jackson (three interceptions, 46 percent completions when under pressure) and force turnovers to set up some short fields for the Browns offense. Jackson, himself, has thrown five interceptions in his last four starts with two multiple-interception games. Believe it or not, and due in large part to his eight interceptions in nine games, Jackson has only had a quarterback rating of more than 100 once all season. The Ravens have turned it over 13 times in 10 games (1.3 per game) and have produced multiple giveaways five times in Jackson's nine starts. Generating those takeaways and capitalizing on the turnover-worthy plays that Jackson consistently produces would be a major catalyst for a Browns win.
It should also be noted the Browns need to once again be clean on offense. The Browns sit at 10-1 all-time under Stefanski in games in which they do not turn over the ball. The Browns have unfortunately turned it over in four of their last six games. They are 2-0 in the two games without a single giveaway and 1-3 in the four with one. Keep the sheet clean in Baltimore and go get that W.
3. Aerial Assault
There's a new saying in the NFL that you throw to score and run to win. The idea is you have to have success through the air to build a lead and then the ability to run it out to preserve it. The Browns have been struggling to score of late, and that is in large part to their struggles in the pass game. When the Browns and Baker Mayfield are both efficient and explosive in the pass game, this offense scores points in bunches. When the pass game struggles, so do the Browns when it comes to the scoreboard.
In the Browns' five highest scoring games this year, they are averaging 33.8 points per game. In those five games, Mayfield is 96-for-133 (72.1 percent) for 1,303 yards (9.8 per attempt and 260.5 per game) with six touchdowns and only two interceptions. His quarterback rating was 97-plus in all five games with three games at 100 or better and an average rating of 111. It should be noted that for his career with the Browns, the team is 18-2 when Mayfield has a quarterback rating of 100 or better.
In the Browns other five games Mayfield has started, they are averaging just 11.6 points per game. In those contests, Mayfield is 80-for-142 (56.3 percent) for 863 yards (6.1 yards per attempt and 172.6 per game) with four touchdowns and four interceptions. In those five games, his quarterback rating topped 80 just twice and was in the 50s on three occasions with an average quarterback rating of 71.5.
The Ravens boast the No. 2 run defense in the NFL, allowing only 88.6 yards per game. They do, however, have the 31st-ranked pass defense, surrendering a whopping 281.1 per game. Their secondary has suffered significant injuries, most notably the loss of CB Marcus Peters, and have been vulnerable to big plays through the air. The Ravens have allowed an explosive pass play on 17 percent of their opponent's pass attempts, the third-highest percentage in the NFL. The Browns must unlock their passing game and hit the big plays that have fueled their best offensive performances in 2021. The Browns will have to score to beat the Ravens, and the aerial assault will be the key to a RAW POWER scoreboard explosion.