The Browns sit at 7-7 following a gut-wrenching, 16-14 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on a last-second field goal. Despite overcoming incredible adversity and playing with such passion, Hollywood botched the ending that the Nick Mullens-led Browns deserved.
The loss hurt everyone who is associated with the Browns as well as the millions around the globe who support this team. The team had to bury that hurt and channel it into competitive fire and determination because they had a very short week to prepare to play the NFL's winningest team, the 11-3 Green Bay Packers. The Packers are currently the No. 1 seed in the NFC, are undefeated at home and have won 11 straight regular season games at Lambeau Field, the longest such streak in the NFL. They are led by multiple-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is playing some of the best football of his career and currently has thrown 30 touchdowns with only four interceptions on the season. The Browns will have their starting quarterback Baker Mayfield (albeit without a single practice in the last two weeks) and Coach Kevin Stefanski back for this game, but they still will be without many key players due to injury and/or COVID-19. The stakes could not be higher for the Browns, who remain one game out of the AFC North division lead and have two division games remaining after their Christmas matchup with the Packers.
They have no choice but to win this game, so let's look at how they can do that in this week's Winning Mix.
*1. Clean Sheet on Offense *
While going through the Packers official press release, there were more than a few stats that jumped out at me. However, a couple of stats relating to turnovers and the turnover battle during the Matt LaFleur tenure were absolutely jaw-dropping. Since LaFleur became head coach in 2019, the Packers are 33-1 in games in which they force at least a single turnover. 33-1! That says nothing about whether or not they also turned the ball over or who won the turnover battle. Simply, if you commit a turnover against the Packers over the last three seasons, you have had a 97 percent chance of losing the game. So, yeah, you absolutely can't turn the ball over against them on Christmas, and that needs to be top of mind for Mayfield and everyone else who touches the football for the Browns. The Browns had a clean sheet against the Raiders but have committed a giveaway in each the four games prior to Monday. That can't happen Saturday against a Packers team who has produced at least one takeaway in every home game this year.
Adding to the turnover stats, it should be noted the Packers are 29-0 under LaFleur when they win the turnover battle, so that must be avoided at all costs. It should also be noted they have won the turnover battle in 10 straight regular season games at Lambeau Field.
Taking the football away from the Packers is also very difficult. The Browns have generated two or more takeaways in four straight games and five of their last six, as the defense has played at an elite level. They will need to try to extend that streak Saturday, but it has to be noted the Packers have had 26 games without a single giveaway since the start of the 2019 season, which is the most any team has had in a three-season span in NFL history. Over their last four games, the Packers have just one giveaway, which is the fewest in the NFL since Week 11. Rodgers has 21 games with multiple passing scores and no interceptions since the start of the 2020 season, and that is the most in NFL history in a two-season span. To have a chance to pull off the upset, the Browns must play a clean game on offense and find a way to disrupt Rodgers and take the ball away from the protective and potent Green Bay offense.
Check out exclusive photos from the practice fields at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus of the Browns preparing for their Week 16 game against the Green Bay Packers
2. Score 30-plus
In the two games the Packers have lost with Rodgers at quarterback this year, their opponents scored 38 and 34 points, respectively. Since Week 11, the Packers are averaging 35.8 points per game, most in the NFL, but they are also giving up 31 per contest, so they have played in multiple shootouts of late, including the 34-31 loss to the Minnesota Vikings (who run a very similar offense to ours). The last time the Browns topped 30 points was in the glorious 41-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals back in Week 9. Since then, the Browns have not produced 30 points in a game and have scored seven, 13, 10, 24 and 14, respectively. That will not cut it against Rodgers and the Packers, who are 49-1 at Lambeau Field when holding their opponent to 17 or fewer points.
The Browns must extend drives and cap them with touchdowns rather than field goals. If there has been one silver lining in the offense of late it has been the red zone performance. The Browns have scored on every single Red Zone trip since Week 11, and that 100 percent touchdown rate is tops in the NFL. The problem for the Browns has been not enough red zone trips, and that must be rectified on Christmas. The Browns will have to be aggressive on fourth down and have critical execution in all drive-extending situations. It is going to take at least four touchdowns to have a chance, so every possession is absolutely critical to keep pace with Rodgers and the Pack.
3. Get Out To A Fast Start
One thing is for certain, and that is it's very difficult to have a come-from-behind win against the Packers in 2021. In fact, you could say that it has been impossible so for this year, as the Packers are 8-0 when leading at the half and 11-0 when leading after three quarters. So, the Browns must take a lead into the half and find a way to extend it into the fourth quarter because if there has been one surprising weakness of the Pack this year, it has been their inability to make second-half comebacks. Green Bay is 2-0 when leading after the first quarter and 6-3 when trailing after the first quarter. The 9-0 when tied or with the lead at halftime is matched by a 2-3 record when trailing at the half. So the Pack has been behind at halftime in all three of their losses this season. Furthermore, the 11-3 Packers are 11-0 when leading after three quarters and 0-3 when trailing headed into the final stanza.
So, that is the most direct way to a win for the banged-up and depleted Browns, who have a very tall task against the league's best team, but it is a realistic path to victory. We need to have one of our best offensive performances of the year, take care of the football, snag a takeaway whenever we can, score at least four touchdowns and get out to the lead so we do not have to chase points. The playoffs do not hinge solely on the results of this game, but for the Browns to have the highest odds of controlling their own destiny, they must win and play their best football of the season with their backs fully against the wall in the most hostile of environments. If they can do that, the Browns may just deliver us all the best Christmas present of the year!