Less than a full week after it angrily tossed them, the Browns get back on the horse when they host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
It’s been a short week for the Browns but also a timely one, as they’re offered another opportunity to find success Sunday, this time at home. They’ll greet NFL MVP candidate Russell Wilson and his band of navy, grey and lime green-clad teammates, who are 4-1 and are riding a wave of momentum after taking down the division rival Los Angeles Rams 30-29 in a nationally televised Thursday night affair.
Can the Browns stop their recent success? Here are the three key ingredients to create a winning mix for Cleveland on Sunday.
1. Stop the run
Is this a point every week? Yes, but for good reason, especially against teams that have excelled in the run game. That includes the Ravens, 49ers and now, the Seahawks.
We saw Monday night what can happen when a team runs the ball freely. It opens up all facets of an offense and makes for a long night for a defense. The Browns had an unusually long night Monday.
Stopping the run, though, also helps against the pass. It forces a team to become one-dimensional, relying almost exclusively on the pass as the only method to attempt to move the ball. It also allows the defense to focus on getting after the passer, which coaches refer to as “teeing off.”
Myles Garrett is very good at teeing off. He’s ready to do it Sunday.
“I want to get back to rushing the passer, so that means we have to stop the run,” Garrett said Friday. “We have to snuff it out before it grows into something that they view as something that’s able to hurt us. We don’t want to have the ability for them to get to the play-action pass. If we snuff out the run, they won’t view it as ‘we can do this because we’ve had success all day.’ Well, if you haven’t had any success, then nobody is going to fall for that play action. I feel like if we get that out of the way, then we can get back to having some fun, causing forced fumbles and big plays.”
Garrett is right. When the Browns took away the run against the Rams, it forced Los Angeles to focus on the passing game, which allowed for Garrett and his teammates to get after quarterback Jared Goff. That produced a strip sack late in the first half, which stopped the Rams from potentially taking the lead before halftime and ended up earning the Browns three points via an Austin Seibert field goal.
And ultimately, when a defense forces turnovers, it wants to turn them into touchdowns.
That starts with playing disciplined football, and doing so by playing within oneself. The Browns have proven they are good at this, as long as they don’t get too cute with what they’re doing defensively. Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and Garrett all admitted this week the defense was guilty of doing so in the lopsided loss to San Francisco.
They can avoid that by playing simple, disciplined and aggressive football.
“It is just gap integrity. Lining up correctly, No. 1. That is the start,” Wilks said this week. “Then two, everybody doing their job and staying in their gaps. This is a good football team as I mentioned. (Running backs Chris) Carson and (Rashaad) Penny, they run hard. Then you have the element of the play action, the same thing we saw last week with the 49ers. Great eye discipline across the board. We have to do a great job of recovering in the hole off of play action with our linebackers and we got to do a great job of staying over the top of No. 16, (wide receiver Tyler) Lockett.”
If they can manage to stop the run Sunday, the Browns’ chances of victory will increase significantly.
2. Get comfortable with the ball — and the lead
This is going to require something everyone wants and a sequence of events we’ve seen three times from the Browns in 2019, including preseason play: Start fast.
A fast start does a number of positive things for these Browns. It can inspire confidence, excite the home crowd and help the offense get comfortable with the football. An early lead allows the Browns to work through their gameplan instead of frantically attempting to dig themselves out of an early deficit. We saw what can happen to them when they fall behind early. It happened in Week 1, and it happened Monday. Both games produced undesirable results from the offense, starting with quarterback Baker Mayfield.
The best way to help a second-year quarterback get comfortable? By putting early points on the board and providing the entire team with a bit of a cushion to work with.
“Yeah, I think definitely momentum for us,” Mayfield said. “You can also look at in-game momentum and being able to take advantages of defense and our defense getting turnovers and then you talk about the big picture of once you win, what did you do well, what mistakes can you eliminate and just realizing who you are. I said I think we found out who we are as an offense identity-wise and I think we need to continue to do that. Get the ball out quick, playmakers make plays. Offensive line, it makes it easy on them, run game has holes for them. It takes a little time, but consistency is the key. That is why the momentum for us, the ups and downs, is hurting us a lot.”
3. Match wits with Russell Wilson
Coaches and players alike kept saying the same word this week — “plaster” — meaning when Wilson escapes, they need to plaster themselves to the nearest receiving threat through the end of the play. It’s the best, and perhaps only way to ensure Wilson doesn’t hit them for a big play.
But if he does hit the big play, it’s on the Browns to match that to keep pace and hopefully win the ultimate race to victory.
This will require composure and persistence, as well as a commitment to sticking to who the Browns are offensively. They can’t afford to get outside of who they are as a unit, or else risk the game spiraling out of control.
It begins with making plays on the offensive side of the ball. But no one has a perfect game, so they’ll have to weather the storm Wilson and his teammates create in order to stay in the game and come away victorious.
“First of all, bad football loses before good football wins,” offensive coordinator Todd Monken said Thursday. “You do not even give yourself a chance, so let us just start with that. There are times when you overcome that and someone makes and they are not as big of a factor in the play. You can have a receiver on the backside of a play screw up and you can still have a successful play; they are not a factor. You can have the same thing on defense where you have a bust on the perimeter but you get good pass rush and you never get exposed.
“The bottom line is, everyone is going to have their fair share of mistakes. It is shrinking those so it looks like what you want it to look like. Stacking plays that look like what you want it to look like.”
Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Seahawks Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey