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Seahawks RB Chris Carson
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John Clayton: Seahawks need run game, pass rush to shine vs Browns

The Seahawks have handed the ball off to Chris Carson 49 times over their last two games. (Getty)

The AFC North has played a big role in the fast starts of the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams this season.

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Those top three teams from the NFC West have a combined 6-0 record against AFC North opponents. Three of the undefeated 49ers’ four wins have come against that division, though we still have to find out how good they are in their own division. The 4-1 Seahawks have wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals, while the the 3-2 Rams beat the Browns in Cleveland.

Sunday’s game in Cleveland should be interesting for the Seahawks. The Browns were the talk of the league during the offseason. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was coming off a great rookie season, the team traded for Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon, and Sheldon Richardson was added to the defensive line. Many thought Cleveland would win the AFC North.

Well, the Browns are 2-3 and have been a disappointment. Still, the Seahawks can’t take them for granted. Seattle’s two wins against AFC North teams were both by one point, and that includes a victory over the Steelers when Ben Roethlisberger could only play a half.

Let’s look ahead to Sunday’s game.

• The game plan will be to run the ball for the Seahawks. No surprise there. The running offense is their personality and it’s starting to pick up. Chris Carson has had back-to-back 100-yard games, and the running offense may be a little ahead of where it was last year after five weeks.

The Seahawks have rushed for 613 yards this year, an average of 122.6 yards per game. That could be a reason why the Seahawks are 4-1 at the same point in the season when they were 2-3 last year.

The Browns, despite having one of the most talented defensive lines in football, have surprisingly given up 754 yards and 5.2 yards a carry this year.

The Seahawks need to run the football Sunday.

• You would have to figure second-year running back Rashaad Penny will be getting more action now that he’s back from his hamstring injury. Carson had 49 carries in a five-day stretch that included two games. Carson is also third on Seattle’s reception list with 15. Penny, meanwhile, has rushed only 22 times this year. He should rotate in a little more Sunday.

• It will be interesting to see how the Seahawks defend Mayfield. He has the ability to successfully execute run-pass options, and the Seahawks might be in more man pass coverage because of it. The reason for that is when you match up defensive backs or linebackers with pass-catchers, it takes away some of the passing options.

Mayfield has struggled in his second season. After winning seven games and leading an offense that scored 22.4 points a game in 2018, the Browns are 2-3 and the offense is averaging only 14.4 points – and that includes a Baltimore game in which Mayfield and the Browns put up 40 points.

Defensive coaches have been trying to get Mayfield to throw on the run to his right, and he’s had trouble with those tosses. The Browns have also been in a lot of long down and distance situations because of penalties and sacks, forcing Mayfield to throw the ball more downfield. Those lower-percentage throws has dropped his completion rate to 55.9%.

• This is a game where the Seahawks must get sacks. They have only 10 sacks on this season, and the Browns have a troubled offensive line that has allowed 16 sacks, committed 10 false starts and been flagged for eight holding penalties.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has stressed finishing on pass-rush plays. Rookie defensive end L.J. Collier, Seattle’s 2019 first-round pick, is expected to get more playing time, and Ziggy Ansah and Jadeveon Clowney should be on the field at the same time a lot to rush Mayfield.

• There will be a lot of pressure on cornerbacks Tre Flowers and Shaquill Griffin, particularly if they have to play more man coverage against Beckham and Jarvis Landry, two Pro Bowl receivers.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton on Twitter.

More Seahawks coverage

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Seahawks still have concern about their defense despite 4-1 record
• Why Russell Wilson will end up getting more respect nationally in MVP race
• Seahawks’ Jadeveon Clowney making impact even with only 1 sack
• Seahawks injury update: D.J. Fluker (hamstring) ‘not ready to go’
• Wyman: How Hawks can get run game going early
• Heaps: Why DK and Dissly are feasting in the Seahawks’ offense

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