Browns believe first-half leads are critical

Cleveland Browns general manager Mike Lombardi recently spoke about the team's focus on building first-half leads.

"If you can't effectively throw the ball, if you can't get the lead ... early in the game, if you can't rush the passer, then you're going to have a hard time winning," Lombardi told The Plain Dealer. "One of the most critical statistics in football today is first-half point differential. The top five teams that lead at halftime ... typically are always going to be playoff-caliber type of teams."

This goes back to the old Indianapolis Colts strategy of jumping out to a big lead on the arm of Peyton Manning and then unleashing pass-rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis on the quarterback. The Browns have certainly done their part on the defensive side of the ball. They stocked up on pass-rushers this offseason, signing Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves in free agency and drafting Barkevious Mingo with the No. 6 overall pick. The challenge for coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner is jump-starting Cleveland's offense.

Cleveland didn't score a touchdown in the first quarter until the fourth game of the season and finished with 50 points in the first quarter for the season, which was the fifth-fewest in the NFL last season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only the Philadelphia Eagles (31), Oakland Raiders (35), Dallas Cowboys (36) and Kansas City Chiefs (42) had fewer first-quarter points than the Browns.

Those struggles can be traced back to quarterback Brandon Weeden. As a rookie, he threw for 730 yards in the first quarter (an average of 45.6) with two touchdowns and three interceptions. His 39.3 Total QBR in the first quarter ranked 28th in the NFL.

As a result, Cleveland managed five leads at halftime and was just 3-2 in those games. The Browns' biggest halftime lead was 13-0 at Dallas, and they ended up losing that game in overtime. Overall, the Browns were outscored in the first half, 180-139.

In other words, Lombardi wants to turn a major trouble spot for the Browns last year into a strength this year.