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The Winning Mix

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The Winning Mix: 3 keys to a victory over the Chicago Bears

Browns look to win their 2nd game in a row at FirstEnergy Stadium

The Browns enter Week 3 at 1-1 on the season following a 31-21 victory over the Houston Texans. While it was not always as pretty as the Browns would have wanted, they did what they had to do to get the win, which is all that matters. 

Nick Chubb put the game away late with a 26-yard touchdown scamper and has now scored a rushing touchdown in eight straight games. The Browns continue to be efficient on offense but need to clean some things up.  Defensively, the Browns came up with some big plays against Houston but ultimately need to really tighten up, especially on third downs. 

The Bears come to Cleveland fresh off of a dominating defensive performance that saw them beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 20-17, to even their record at 1-1. The Browns are once again the better team on paper and need to follow this week's Winning Mix to earn their second straight victory.  

1. Win The Turnover Battle

In 2020, the Browns were 10-0 when winning or tying the turnover battle. In Week 1 of 2021, the Browns lost the turnover battle by two to the Chiefs and lost the game. Last week, the Browns still had two giveaways but they evened it out with two takeaways of their own to finish neutral in the turnover battle. They also won the game.  It is a ridiculously simple key to victory, but when the Browns are the better team on paper it can be the one great equalizer. The Browns have not lost a game under Kevin Stefanski when they have produced at least two turnovers in a game (7-0), nor have they lost a game when they did not have a single giveaway.  

The Bears were soundly defeated in Week 1 by the Rams, 34-14, when they lost the turnover battle (minus-2). In Week 2, they beat the Bengals and won the turnover battle (plus-3). Chicago has thrown an interception in each of the first two games this season, and the Browns need to capitalize on their takeaway opportunities while posting a clean sheet on offense for the first time this season.

Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Chicago Bears

2. Quick Passing Game

Baker Mayfield is off to an incredibly efficient start to his 2021 season. He currently leads the NFL in completion percentage (81.6 percent) and is second in the league in yards per attempt at 10.9. It should be noted this is not the result of a dink and dunk offense either, as Mayfield's average depth of target, per Pro Football Focus, is a very robust 8.1 yards per attempt, which is right in the middle of the pack.   

Where Mayfield has been absolutely elite in 2021 is in the "quick passing game," which are plays in which the ball is out in fewer than 2.5 seconds. On those quick passing plays, Mayfield is getting the ball out in an average of 1.83 seconds, which is critical to neutralizing an effective pass rush, such as the Khalil Mack-led Chicago Bears. On such plays, Mayfield is 24-of-25 (96 percent) for 260 yards (10.4 yards per attempt) and one touchdown. He leads the NFL in both completion percentage and yards per attempt on quick throws, and it should be noted that only Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes are even producing 10-plus yards per attempt on such quick-hitter throws.  

This level of efficiency speaks to Mayfield's complete command in Year 2 of this offense. He is able to quickly decipher where the coverage and play call should lead the ball to go and he is delivering it on time and accurately at an elite level. That should slow down the Chicago pass rush, which pressured Joe Burrow into four sacks and three interceptions in Week 2, and keep the ball safely in the hands of our playmakers Sunday.

3. Aggressive Defense – Blitz, Raw Power Bull Rush and Get off the Field

Other than the Malcolm Smith interception of Davis Mills, the unquestioned defensive highlight of Week 2 for the Browns was Grant Delpit's sack and forced fumble on an incredibly well designed blitz. That blitz came against an inexperienced rookie quarterback and totally befuddled him on a play that nearly led to a turnover. With Justin Fields making his first start for the Bears on Sunday, I expect defensive coordinator Joe Woods to crank up the heat on the young quarterback. Against the Bengals, Fields was blitzed on 6-of-19 dropbacks. On those plays, Fields completed just 2-of-6 pass attempts for 13 yards with an interception and he was sacked twice. That means that on three of the nine blitzes the Bengals notched either a sack or a turnover. Three of the other blitzes resulted in incompletions and the other three plays saw two small completions and one scramble for a first down. Coming after Fields should lead to a high success rate for the Browns defense and provide the opportunity to cripple the Bears offense in the young quarterback's first NFL start. 

Even without a blitz, the Browns should be able to pressure Fields, but they will have to maintain their rush lanes to prevent his dangerous legs from making big plays on scrambles. The Browns have allowed a scramble touchdown in each of the first two games and must avoid the hat trick Sunday. Getting pressure up the middle and collapsing the pocket while Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney and Takkarist McKinley fly around the edges will go a long way toward ensuring that happens. For the season, 14-of-17 pressures allowed by the Bears offensive line have been allowed by the interior of their offensive line (the two guards and the center). This should be a standout game for the two Maliks, Jackson and McDowell, and if it is, it will be a long day for the Bears offense. 

A combination of effective blitzing and collapsing the pocket up the middle should lead to sacks, turnovers and most importantly getting off of the field on third downs, something that has been an Achilles' heel for the Browns defense thus far.

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