Preview of Game #8 – Browns @ Chiefs
Following a pair of defeats, the Browns head west to face the 7 – 0 Kansas City Chiefs. A new head coach and quarterback helped transform this franchise from the league’s worst to one of the best in one season. The home team’s defense has been tremendously consistent, and the offense has been both balanced and efficient. This is another contest where all three phases of the team must play flawlessly if the Browns want to score the upset. It is highly unlikely, but anything can still happen in the NFL.
Offense: With the inconsistent and horrid play, my faith in in the quarterback position has been greatly diminished over the past few weeks. I could try to find solace in the fact that Case Keenum (in his first ever NFL start) had 271 passing yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs last week. However, there are usually positive signs I can find on a weekly basis that give me hope that the quarterback for the Browns can have a good day – but usually that does not occur. The home team has been racking up sacks; they have thirty-five so far (an average of five per contest). Their defense is also ranked third in yards allowed through the air; I anticipate another rough outing for the Browns’ passing attack. Perhaps the change at quarterback will bring better results, but I have my reservations. Over 250 yards and zero interceptions is the best-case scenario for Jason Campbell; however I would not be surprised by a couple turnovers and under 200 yards.
Although they are ranked sixteenth in rushing yards allowed per game, the clamps will be out for Willis McGahee and Chris Ogbonnaya. Tamba Hali has rejuvenated his career, after a couple of disappointing seasons – while the same could be said for Derrick Johnson and Dontari Poe. That being said, the Browns will probably limit the opportunities (once again) for these guys to get stops on running plays. I think McGahee can pick up third down conversions when they are perceived to be easy (two yards or less) – this was on display last week. In the passing game, Ogbonnaya must shake off his drops from last week and expect a couple tosses his way. I want to see a couple of plays that can move the sticks, not an unrealistic hope for a game-breaking touchdown.
It’s hard to gauge the psyche of the wide receivers of the visiting squad; there has been demotion, talks of trade, dropped passes, and visible signs of frustration on the field. Greg Little has been playing better as of late – I do not see a future with this team for the athlete, but he can still contribute in games. Josh Gordon had a miserable outing last game and admitted the trade rumors are still on his mind. There are really only two options the coaching staff and front office have with this. They can tell the star (directly) he will not be traded and tell him to go out and execute, or they can simply trade him immediately and give him a fresh start. Davone Bess’s play has weakened in the past few weeks; perhaps a couple early short throws will instill confidence. Knowing that the quarterback may have a shaky game should not be an excuse to give less than 100% effort all the time – they must follow in the footsteps of Jordan Cameron and continue to perform despite multiple distractions.
The sacks by the home team come from all three levels of their defense; as a result, the Browns’ offensive line must be on the lookout from pressure from all directions by multiple players. Fortunately, the Packers beat none of the five badly or regularly. It may take two defenders filling the same gap to get by the offensive linemen. Shawn Lauvao has not been exceptional since returning from injury, but hopefully he can continue to improve as the season progresses. The only issues the tackles have been incurring is being penalized; both Thomas and Schwartz must work hard to curb these mental lapses. Arrowhead Stadium will be loud and rocking, as always, so good communication is imperative for the offense to have any success.
Defense: This is a game where the defensive line needs to get back on track; the Chiefs feature a running attack that includes multiple players. Both Jamaal Charles and Dexter McCluster are speedy backs that can blow by defenders in open space. Throw in the shiftiness of Alex Smith, and the front of the Browns’ defense must be on the lookout of guys carrying the ball. Phil Taylor has been holding his own, up the middle, but is a ways from dominant. Both Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant have had their moments stuffing the run this year, but the duo has been inconsistent as of late. While Billy Winn has missed time with a leg injury, John Hughes has stepped up – however a healthier roster is always a good thing. I think the defense rises up and limits Charles and the running game in terms of yardage, but the back will still find the end zone.
I am pulling for Quentin Groves to come back close to full strength in this contest. The outside linebacker rotation has been forced to alter itself, and players have suffered as a result. Paul Kruger must get back into the swing of things and notch a sack or two – I believe this will galvanize the entire defense going forward. Barkevious Mingo has not been performing to his capabilities, but perhaps lining up over rookie Eric Fisher (who has also struggled) will give him opportunities to make plays. Ray Horton will likely change up coverage schemes in the middle of his defense, as Craig Robertson could use help from the safeties on tight ends and running backs. Injuries have decimated the Chiefs’ tight end position however, and veteran Anthony Fasano may be the only obstacle for the inside linebackers.
Unlike a few of the opponents the Browns have played this season, the home team’s passing game is spread around to multiple targets as opposed to one guy like Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green. Joe Haden will likely cover Dwayne Bowe, which should be a good matchup but fans of the visiting team expect the cornerback to win that battle. Donnie Avery has had some excellent games this year; he is quick and can breeze by defenders. I expect him to put up some good numbers against the tandem of Buster Skrine and Chris Owens. Last week, Bowe had a catch for twenty-one yards, but none of the other wide outs registered a catch that long. The home team’s home run hitter is McCluster; the Browns may want to alter their coverage when the back is in the slot or goes in motion.
Special Teams: Although Fozzy Whittaker had a few nice kickoff returns last week; I would like to see Travis Benjamin get some opportunities as well. He has shown an ability to return punts exceptionally, and kickoffs provide him with more time to find lanes to run through. The rest of the special team units are reliable; the Browns must eliminate penalties in these situations however. One main issue is returner Dexter McCluster; the Chief continues to be one of the best and has found the end zone multiple times when returning kicks.
Coaching: The Browns’ coaches must get this team better prepared than they did in the prior outing. It is a hostile environment, and the offense will have difficulty hearing play calls. Defensively, there are a lot of options to defend – hopefully the scouting department figures out the best way to stop Alex Smith and the offense. No matter what types of offensive and defensive schemes are employed, the visitors must limit their infractions.
Prediction (My Record: 4 – 3): Unfortunately, I see this outing as one similar to the Packers game. The Browns will fall behind (due to mistakes and turnovers), attempt to comeback in the second half, only fall short late. The Chiefs remain unbeaten and win by the score of 24 – 13.