Stumbling into Week 6 at 0-5, Cleveland Browns fans have this home game against the Bengals circled as a potential win to stop the current 11-game losing streak, which dates back to November 27th of last year.
Ironically enough, it was the Cincinnati Bengals, who started the Browns current skid with a 23-20 victory.
The slides that follow map out 10 things the Cleveland Browns must do in the game to break into the win column.
It's a passing league now, everyone says it.
Some intriguing stats (taken from www.teamrankings.com) show that the top 10 teams in terms of rushing attempts per game have a combined record of 33-20. The combined rushing attempts per game percentage of those teams is 49.9 percent, or a near-balanced offense.
The Browns went out and invested the third overall draft pick in power runner Trent Richardson, and yet they rank 30th in rushing attempts, a per game percentage at 30.82 percent. What's more perplexing is that they rank 13th in the league in yards per carry at 4.1, so when they do run the ball, they do have some success.
Meanwhile, rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden is second in the league in pass attempts at 202 on the year.
The thought process when drafting Richardson third overall and Weeden 22nd overall was surely to give Weeden a safety net so he wouldn't have the pressure of creating offense all on his own. As it stands, Weeden is throwing the ball 40.4 times per game compared to Richardson's 16.2 rushing attempts per game.
The Bengals are ranked 17th overall against the run and a much more imposing ninth overall against the pass. It should be noted that Trent Richardson's lone 100-yard game came against the Bengals where he ran for 109 yards.
The Browns must make a commitment to running the ball for multiple reasons, the main one, highlighted in this slide, is obvious. It is a weakness of the Bengals defense.
The next few slides that follow will support the need to run for different reasons.
Cary Williams 53 yard Int Return for a touchdown
It is a generally recognized fact that if a team turns the ball over less than their opponent, it more often than not equates to a win.
Branden Weeden has thrown 9 interceptions this season.
His nearly two picks per game is good for 31st in the league. Of those interceptions, one went for a pick-six and two occurred in the red zone.
While Weeden had his best game as a pro against Cincinnati (322 yds, two TDs, and no interceptions), his turnover potential is much greater when he airs it out as opposed to when he hands the ball to Richardson, who has not fumbled the ball as a pro and never fumbled the ball in college.
Running a more balanced offense and playing high-percentage football, in other words, running the ball more, should limit the turnovers and therefore points given up from turnovers.
The next slide will touch on this last thought in greater detail.
What now comes to light is the true liability of the Cleveland Browns this season, their defense.
The Browns pass defense is ranked 26th overall and 28th in passing touchdowns per game at an average of 2.4. They are ranked 26th in rushing yards per game, giving up an average of 142.4 yards per game, an average per carry of 4.7(fifth worst in the league).
One way for a team to better their odds in a game is to ensure the opposing team gets limited opportunities with the ball in their hand. This is especially true for the Browns, whose defense has become regulars on the wrong side of highlight reels.
Keeping the ball on the ground eats up more time than passing. It likewise limits the possibility of turnovers. The longer the Browns offense stays on the field, the higher their chances to come away with a win.
The Browns must protect the red zone.
A difference between a touchdown and a field goal is crucial. While the Bengals red zone touchdown percentage is only 44.4 percent (good for 22nd), they are ranked 10th in the league in red zone attempts at 3.6 per game.
The Browns defense ranks 25th in the league, allowing teams red zone opportunities nearly four times a game (officially 3.8). Of those 3.8 opponent red zone visits, 52.6 percent (ranked 16th) of them go for touchdowns.
If the Browns don't limit the Bengals trips to the red zone, it will be a recipe for disaster.
Conversely, the Browns offense must turn red zone visits into touchdowns.
They are currently ranked 30th in red zone TD scoring at only 33.3percent. That is leaving a lot of points off the board. The Browns must take advantage of a poor Cincinnati red zone defense which ranks 28th in the league and allows red zone touchdowns nearly 63 percent of the time.
To do this, they must limit costly mistakes by keeping the ball on the ground and sticking with high-percentage pass plays. Another important factor is to eliminate penalties when in the red zone, which ties into the next slide.
The Browns must limit their penalties, not only in the red zone but throughout the game.
They are currently ranked 27th in the league in penalty yards, gifting opponents an average of 70.4 yards per game. They also give up an average of 9.8 yards per penalty. That's nearly first-down yardage every time yellow comes on the field in the opponent's favor.
The good news is the Bengals are not statistically much better than the Browns pwith penalties, giving up an average of at 9.7 per penalty, although they are giving up nearly 20 yards less per game in penalty yards.
The Browns can't afford to lose the penalty battle if they expect to come away with a win this coming Sunday.
The slides that follow will focus in greater detail on specific strengths and weaknesses of both teams that the Browns must focus on to finally put one in the win column.
The Browns pass rush has netted 13 sacks this season, good for 12th in the league. Unfortunately, they've had only two sacks in their last three games. In their first outing against the Bengals, the Browns sacked Dalton six times, three of which came from D'Qwell Jackson, who left last week's game against the Giants with a concussion and did not participate in Wednesday's practice.
It is still to be determined how much, if at all, he will play this coming Sunday against the Bengals.
The Browns pass rush must take advantage of a porous Bengals line that has given up 15 sacks (ranked 30th in the league). The Bengals will likely attempt to pick on the league's 26th-ranked passing defense whose secondary is weakened by injuries.
Dimitri Patterson, Ray Ventrone, T.J. Ward, and Tashaun Gipson are all dinged up.
Considering the state of the Browns defensive backfield, even Haden's return still means the unit is a liability. The Browns must get at Andy Dalton to throw off his rhythm.
If he has time in the pocket, it's going to be a long day for the Browns defense.
The Bengals have been absolute monsters this year on defense.
They are ranked first in the league with 18 sacks. The Browns have done a decent job keeping Weeden clean, giving up nine sacks on the year (ranked 8th), the offensive line will have their work cut out for them.
One way to limit sacks in passing situations is to use play-action. In order to properly sell play action, the Browns will have ensure they establish a ground game (mentioned earlier in the article). Another way is to make use of quick timing patterns and screens.
This ties into the next slide
This must be a mantra of the Browns for the remainder of the season, but it is particularly important in this game.
Brandon Weeden may have limited opportunities to get the ball to his receivers, so his targets must take full advantage of those opportunities.
The Browns currently rank 27th in the league with 13 drops (unofficial stat located on washingtonpost.com). These drops are often drive-killers and have taken points off the board.
The Bengals are dealing with some dinged-up defense backs of their own. Jason Allen, Dre Kirkpatrick and Terrence Newman have all been limited in practice with various injuries. If, come game time, the injuries linger, the young Browns receivers should be able to take advantage of this and get open, but they must be able to hold onto the ball in order to make that factor.
Speaking of receivers, the next slide focuses on the Bengals biggest offensive threat.
No, I'm not referring to bounty-gate maneuvers, but the Browns must make Green a non-factor.
While the Bengals are not void of talent aside from Green, he is clearly Dalton's favorite and has been targeted 56 times (fourth most of any receiver in the league) this season. Green also averages 13.7 yards a catch and has 493 yards (fifth most in the NFL) and four touchdowns (third most for receivers in the NFL) on the season.
They must keep Green in check, whether it be by an effective pass rush damaging the pass game as a whole or by double teaming him all game long. if he has a good game, it spells almost certain doom for the Browns this coming Sunday.
The final key to the game is based on scoring trends thus far.
The Bengals are currently 3-2. In both of their losses, they scored under 14 in the first half.
It should be noted that in both Bengals losses, they scored only 13 points. Digging deeper into their scoring trends, you learn that they score the bulk of their points in the first half, regardless of the outcome of the game.
The Bengals first-half points average on the year is 14.8, which is ranked fourth in the league. They are particularly effective in the second quarter where they average 8.8 points and dominate time of possession (ranked third with 58.20 percent time of possession share for the second quarter).
In the second half the Bengals numbers drop considerably to an average of 10.2 points (ranked 23rd). They are particularly flat in the third quarter this season, scoring only 10 points all season in the third quarter.
This, of course, requires the Browns to buck their scoring trends of 8.8 points average in the first half (ranked 21st) and an average of 4.6 points(ranked 20th) in the third quarter.
Opportune scoring when in the red zone and deferring the opening kickoff so the Browns start with the ball in the second half may just be enough if the Browns are able to hold the Bengals to under 14 in the first half.
This coming game against Cincinnati is a winnable one for the Browns.
If they are able to accomplish the 10 keys to the game mentioned in the article, they should see their first victory of the year.