Preview of Game #13 – Chiefs at Browns
This week’s matchup pits a 4-8 team against a 2-10 one; there are several parallels between the two organizations. Both have had struggled over the past few seasons (and obviously this is the case in 2012) but each are coming off wins. Unfortunately, the Browns and Chiefs are also dealing with deaths within their organization (from last week). The visitors had a tribute before their recent home contest, while the Browns were on the road (I would assume the team will follow suit on Sunday). Additionally, Romeo Crennel, Scott Pioli, Brian Daboll, Brady Quinn, and Peyton Hillis all return to Cleveland – they have been a part of the Browns organization in some respect. This is another contest where emotion will be running high for those involved.
Offense: Although Brandon Weeden threw two interceptions; the rookie did pass for a career-high 364 yards against the Raiders. His second interception was partly due to poor protection; otherwise the quarterback may have eclipsed the 400-yard mark. This week, he will face a team who is coming off a game where they only surrendered 232 yards though the air. However, the Panthers did have three touchdowns against the Chiefs – by three different receivers. I anticipate Weeden will continue to spread the football around to multiple wide outs in this game; this has been one of his strong suits. Also, there is a great chance that the signal caller will dial up his top target (Josh Gordon) regularly – Steve Smith finished his last contest with five grabs for 120 yards and a score. I think this game is a great opportunity to display the growth of Brandon Weeden and to see whether he can improve on aspects of his game that have been less than great. Cam Newton and the Panthers did not turn the ball over against the Browns’ upcoming opponent – hopefully Weeden and the offense can accomplish the same feat.
The running game for the Browns will probably have similar results to those of the past few weeks. Their total yardage will not be gaudy, but the team should be able to get important gains and control the contest. If Trent Richardson gets around twenty carries and five catches again this week, I have confidence he can have a big day against the Chiefs (who are ranked 23rd against the run). It appears the Browns have limited their running attack to two athletes, and Montario Hardesty will likely get around five carries a game. This combination has been working well this year and there’s good chance this will continue on Sunday. The issue of not being able to pick up short yardage has dissipated as of late – exemplified by Richardson’s three yard touchdown run (to put the team up by two scores). The offense will, more than likely, flex their muscles and attempt to convert key first downs by rushing the football.
Much like the secondary of the Oakland Raiders, the Chiefs do not have any intimidating players who will shut down the Browns’ receiving threats. Brandon Flowers is a great player, but is in the middle of a mediocre season. Safety Eric Berry seems to be involved more in the running game than the passing – he too should not be feared by Weeden and the wide outs. I want to see Gordon and Little get a majority of the pass opportunities; they continue to impress me on a weekly basis. The tandem not only has displayed an evolution into sure-handed targets (something that could not have been said earlier in the season), but they also demonstrated an ability to get up the field and create long plays. It’s felt like forever (well, at least five years) since Browns’ fans have been able to say that about one wide receiver – let alone two. The additional contributions by Mohammed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin should not be understated as well. These two athletes may only haul in a reception or two, but their role may lead to an ever-important score for the offense. The tight ends continue to be involved in this offense. Neither Ben Watson nor Jordan Cameron found the end zone last week, but both had multiple grabs to set up touchdowns. Look for this trend to continue against the Chiefs – I do not see Brandon Siler, Derrick Johnson, Justin Houston (or any another defender) being able to blanket the pair of tight ends.
The defensive line for the opponent includes several top draft selections (i.e. Dontari Poe, Tyson Jackson, and Tamba Hali), but their output has yet to match their potential. Hali has played the best of the three this season, with forty-one tackles and six sacks. Veteran Tyson Jackson has had a decent year – the LSU athlete has been a part of thirty-five tackles and a pair of sacks. Rookie Dontari Poe has struggled up to this point (twenty-three tackles and no sacks). I believe the Browns’ offensive line should be able to hold their own against their counterparts. Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz have (all season long) contained pressure off the edge, which came from players like James Harrison and DeMarcus Ware. Shaun Lauvao is the only lineman that causes me concern from time to time – he plays well a majority of the games but can get beat thus killing the offense (i.e. a forced turnover). The running game should be able to pick up several yards at a time – the Panthers averaged over seven yards facing the Chiefs. Hopefully the coaches continue to pound out yards all game long; the offensive line and the running backs can help seal the game. This is, obviously, provided that the Browns have a lead to lean on.
Defense: After taking a step back last week, I want to see the Browns’ front four win the battle at the line of scrimmage. Brady Quinn was only sacked once (for four yards) last week; the Browns must do monumentally better than this against the Chiefs. Granted the opponent has a fine group with draft picks like Branden Albert and Jeff Allen, as well as a top free-agent acquisition like Eric Winston, but the unit has allowed their quarterback to be sacked at least twice in each of their three games prior to the Panthers contest. Juqua Parker appears to be the only consistent pass rusher for the team – the Browns desperately need another one of the ends to generate pressure on the opposite side. Containing Jamaal Charles is a tall order; the University of Texas rusher has gained more than one hundred yards on the ground in four of the last five contests. The Browns have done a fantastic job in not allowing these occurrences though. Should they bottle up the rusher, there is a good chance for victory as the Chiefs’ playmaker is a substantial part of their offensive output.
This week’s game includes another solid tight end in Tony Moeaki; like Brandon Myers of last week, he is not a top-ten player at his position but can have multiple catches for a fair amount of yardage. Against the Panthers, Moeaki was able to find the end zone en route to a four catch and fifty-four yard performance. At times, the tight end is the security blanket of the quarterback – covering him tightly forces the signal caller into more difficult decisions. Therefore the linebackers of the Browns must continue to be active. This relates to the running game as well, as Jamaal Charles will hit the second level regularly on rushing attempts. D’Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson, and Kaluka Maiava must wrap him up to ensure the running back does not get into the open field. Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly combined for twenty tackles, a sack, and a hit on the quarterback when facing the Chiefs – the two linebackers proved this position could be successful against the upcoming opponent. Kuechly is the team’s first rounder, but Davis is an eight-year veteran – regardless of who is playing linebacker for the Browns, they should be able to accumulate respectable numbers.
Second-year pro Jon Baldwin has had a rather poor season this year with only eighteen grabs for 261 yards. Meanwhile, Dwayne Bowe is fairing a little better with fifty-seven catches and 731 yards. The top two receivers for the Chiefs have been inconsistent all year long (along with the erratic quarterback play). I have all the faith in the world Joe Haden and even Sheldon Brown can limit these two to modest days. Bowe has only eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark twice this year, so while the big-play must be guarded against, the odds of the opposition actually converting one is rather slim. Buster Skrine, Dimitri Patterson and Usama Young will share the important responsibility of covering Dexter McCluster in the slot position (in passing formations). The hybrid running back/receiver can make people miss in space, as well as getting behind defenders in his routes.
Special Teams: This is another contest where special teams will likely not determine the outcome of the contest. Opposing kicker Ryan Succop has made twenty-five of his twenty-eight attempts – compared to Phil Dawson’s twenty-three out of twenty-four tries. Browns’ punter Reggie Hodges is trailing his counterpart Dustin Colquitt in punting average (forty-six to forty-two yards). In the return game, the Browns must focus on covering veteran Dexter McCluster. The speedster is capable of breaking a long run and even a touchdown; the Browns cannot let that happen if they want to be victorious.
Coaching: Maintaining the run-pass balance should be kept in mind by the Browns’ coaching staff during this game. I believe both aspects can be successful, but the team should not try to force one (over the other) during the contest. Defensively, the primary focus should be on stopping the Chiefs’ running attack. They have some playmakers and can have a big day if the Browns do not limit them early. I would also like to see very aggressive play calls in passing situations; I have no faith that Brady Quinn can beat the pass rush and blitzes routinely and have a good game.
Prediction (My Record: 8-4): I believe the Chiefs are due for a letdown after an incredible win last week. Brady Quinn and Peyton Hillis will come out and try to show up their former team; the two will each have moderate success, but it will not be enough. The Browns defeat the visitors and 27 – 16 and get that elusive third win in a row.