We Want More!
That was the mantra as the short-handed Browns headed down the road to Pittsburgh to battle the Steelers in the Main Event of Super Wildcard Weekend. Despite not having head coach Kevin Stefanski, multiple other coaches, All-Pro LG Joel Bitonio, Pro Bowl CB Denzel Ward and numerous other important players, the Browns went into Heinz Field and whipped the Steelers from the game's opening play. A record-setting 28-0 lead after the first quarter carried the Browns to a comfortable 48-37 win over their rivals and propelled them to the Divisional Round of the 2020 playoffs and a date with the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. In case you were wondering, the goal remains the same for the Browns — to go 1-0 this week because "We Want More!"
The Chiefs are looking to become the first team in AFC history to host the conference championship game in three consecutive years. They are led by legendary head coach Andy Reid and former NFL MVP QB Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs have the No. 1 ranked offense in the NFL and their top-ranked passing attack centers on Mahomes, WR Tyreek Hill (the league's premier vertical threat) and arguably the greatest receiving TE to ever play the game, Travis Kelce. The Chiefs are dynamic, explosive and rarely lose. With Mahomes as their starting quarterback, the Chiefs have only lost nine times total over the past three seasons including the postseason. In doing some research, however, I found some commonalities in the majority of those nine losses and those findings, along with the undefeated Browns formula, will make up this week's Winning Mix. If the Browns can hit on all four of this week's keys, they could cruise to victory as they did last week when they went four-for-four against the Steelers. Even without a perfect record, just one of these keys might be enough.
1. Get out to a fast start
We will continue to roll with this one all postseason long as the Browns have proven to be unbeatable when they get out to the proverbial fast start. Now, a repeat of last week's historic start might be difficult, but the Browns will have to try to jump on a Chiefs team that could be a little rusty after sitting its starters in Week 17 and having the bye week last week. The critical pieces of the Chiefs will not have played football in 20 days before taking the field Sunday, and we saw early miscues from a couple of rusty, rested Steelers in C Maurkice Pouncey and QB Ben Roethlisberger that helped the Browns sprint to the lead.
After all, the Browns have won 12 games this year. In 11 of those wins, the Browns raced out to a lead by halftime and went on to win the game. That's right, the Browns are 11-0 this season when they lead at the half, as they remain the best closing team in the NFL. So, it makes sense that we would want to do that again this week against the defending Super Bowl Champions.
2. Win the turnover battle
By this point, I am sure those of you who read the Winning Mix are quite used to seeing this key to victory following the opening key. Well, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Just as the Browns are now 11-0 this year when leading at the half, they are also 11-0 when neutral or winning the turnover battle. The Browns defense did more than enough last week by generating five turnovers against the Steelers and will have to be just as aggressive in seeking the ball this week against the Chiefs, who typically don't turn it over.
You can't lose the turnover battle if you don't turn it over yourself. The Browns were flawless in each of the last two games and need to make it a clean sheet for the third straight week against the Chiefs defense. With Baker Mayfield playing at an MVP level of late — 19 touchdown passes and only one interception since the opening drive of Week 7 — the Browns offense has protected the ball as well as any in the NFL.
3. Dominate time of possession and limit the Chiefs offense to 25 minutes or less
The old expression that sometimes the best defense is a good offense is very relevant for the Browns on Sunday. Of the Chiefs' nine losses with Mahomes over the last three years, six of them have come when the Chiefs offense had to spend the majority of the game on the sidelines. In the eight games in which the Chiefs have been limited to 25 or fewer minutes of possession, they are 2-6 over the last three seasons. When they possess the ball for more than 25 minutes, they are 39-3 during that span.
In one of their most convincing wins of the season, the Browns were able to limit Tennessee to fewer than 25 minutes of possession and will need to look to repeat that feat in Kansas City. That can be best accomplished by long drives that end in touchdowns. You will need to control the ball with an efficient passing game and rely on your dominant running game as well. I would expect Stefanski to be very aggressive on fourth downs as well because the Browns need to maximize every time they have the ball and limit the chances for the Chiefs' potent offense.
I mentioned the Browns running game, and this one feels like it needs to be a monster day for Nick Chubb and the extremely motivated Kareem Hunt. The Browns duo is now just the fourth in NFL history to both have produced 1,200-plus total yards and 12-plus touchdowns in the same season (including playoffs). The Browns are undefeated this year (6-0) when rushing for more than 150 yards, and six of the nine Chiefs losses have also seen their opponent run for more than 150 yards.
The Browns' ability to convert on their third- and fourth-down chances, engage in long drives that result in touchdowns against the 32nd ranked red zone defense of the Chiefs and limit the opportunities for the league's top-ranked offense will be massive to pulling off the win at Arrowhead Stadium.
4. Generate more big plays (20-plus yard pass plays and 10-plus yard run plays) than the Chiefs
Winning Mix Key No. 3 seems to indicate a game plan in which the Browns control the clock, control the game and ultimately win a game that would probably not be called a "shootout." The beauty of the 2020 Browns is they have multiple paths to victory each and every week, and they are very capable of winning a shootout against anybody, as their four games of 40-plus points can attest.
The game within the game however will revolve around "big plays," which is actually a real leading indicator of wins and losses for both the Browns and the Chiefs. The Browns are 9-0 this season when they produce more big plays than their opponents. Six of the Chiefs' nine losses with Mahomes at quarterback the last three years have come in games in which their opponent produced more big plays than they did.
Eleven big plays seems to be a magic number to keep an eye on Sunday. The Browns are 3-0 when they hit that threshold, and the Chiefs are 4-4 when an opponent produces 11-plus big plays against them. When they hold their opponent under 11 big plays, they are 37-5.
So while you want to control the ball and keep Mahomes and Co. off of the field, the Browns still need to take advantage of big play opportunities when they present themselves and do their best to contain the chunk plays of the Chiefs.