What if I were to tell you that this Sunday your Kansas City Chiefs were squaring-off against a team that's starting its third quarterback this season? Would it interest you to know that this week's visitor to Arrowhead Stadium has ONE rushing touchdown on the season? Maybe you'd prefer to find out that we're playing a team that has fewer first downs, yards, takeaways, points, TOP and and and and and and and (basically everything) than their opponents in 2013.
Without further adieu, I'm thrilled to present the one and only, hapless and helpless Cleveland Browns.
Much like the Chiefs, the Browns (3-4) have a brand new staff this season. Head Coach Rob Chudzinski is a long-time tight ends coach and offensive coordinator with an exceptional track record. He coached the likes of Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow Jr at Miami, coordinated the 2007 Browns offense that saw Derek Anderson win 10 games and most recently is credited with tutoring Cam Newton and calling the plays during his rookie season explosion in Carolina.
Chud hired one hell of a staff, guys. Norv Turner is in charge of the offense but you can go ahead and forget all your Chargers jokes - dude can call some plays. In case you've forgotten, Norvell coached Henry Ellard during his best seasons with the Rams, won two Super Bowls as the coordinator in Dallas under Jimmy Johnson and has more than a decade of head coaching experience in the NFL. Former Cardinals coordinator Ray Horton is implementing his attacking hybrid 3-4 scheme from Arizona despite countless head coaching interviews over the past few seasons.
Jason Campbell will be starting at Quarterback on Sunday for the first time since he replaced Jay Cutler to the tune of a 32-7 whoopin' at the hands of San Francisco last season. Fun fact: Campbell is the 20th starter at QB for Cleveland since 1999. CHECK OUT THIS LIST, I BEG YOU. While I'd prefer playing against Brandon Weeden, Campbell doesn't present any specific challenges for the NFL's top-ranked defense, especially since the game is at Arrowhead Stadium.
After trading Trent Richardson - the fourth overall pick in 2012 - the Browns signed veteran Willis McGahee to be their starter. You have to hand it to GM Michael Lombardi for getting a first rounder from Indy in exchange for Richardson. McGahee might be averaging an atrocious 2.9 ypc this season, but Richardson is plugging away at just 3.1 ypc himself. Long story short: Cleveland's running game has not been a factor all season, so there's no reason to believe that will change this week.
Tight end Jordan Cameron has become one of the best at his position this season, posting a gaudy 45 catches through just seven games. His worst outing this year was a 3 for 36 line in their Thursday night victory over the Bills. His two games since? A combined 12 catches for 120 yards and a TD. Cameron will draw Eric Berry in what should be a marvelous battle between two studs in great form.
Josh Gordon is one of my favorite young playmakers in the NFL. Despite a stinker performance against Green Bay last week (2-21) and some of the worst quarterback play in the league, the 22 year-old Baylor product is averaging 90 receiving yards per game in 2013. Greg Little is the other outside receiver but he has been near the top of league in drop percentage each of his three professional seasons. Davone Bess is one of the true slot receivers in the NFL - he's small and slow but runs immaculate routes and catches everything thrown his way.
All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas is the definition of elite - he's played every offensive snap since he was drafted and been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his six seasons. Mitchell Schwartz (yes, Geoff's brother Mitch) is starting to come into his own at right tackle but will likely struggle against a talent like Justin Houston. Center Alex Mack is also graded as one of the tops at his position and should prove to be a very formidable opponent for Dontari Poe. Veteran guards John Greco and Shaun Lauvao round out the interior as merely average players but certainly make for decent starters on a pretty solid line.
How to Stop Them
In their four losses, the Browns have scored a measly 36 points. Compare that to the 85 they've tallied in their three wins and you see the difference between Brandon Weeden (0-4) and Brian Hoyer (3-0). We mentioned that Jason Campbell will start this week and I would imagine he'll land somewhere in the middle of the two previous starters.
Perhaps it has to do with playing from behind in losses and winning in shootouts, but Cleveland has thrown (296) almost twice as much as they've run (156) this season. By comparison, the Chiefs - who we all think should run the ball more often - have a 250-203 run-pass ratio.
Look: if I can be frank with you, the Cleveland offense will be lucky to score double-digits on Sunday. They have top-level starters in Gordon and Cameron but they're a one-dimensional team that will likely throw the ball a minimum of 35 times. Eric Berry has blossomed into one of the best at covering tight ends so Cameron will have a tough day. The unbelievable collection of corners that Bob Sutton employs should be able to slow down Gordon as well.
I suppose there's potential for big plays, but man, Kansas City's pass rush is relentless and there's no way you're keeping them quiet if you drop back that often. Turnovers are certainly possible but should prove unnecessary against this level of competition.
You may be surprised to learn that this is one of the sneaky-great units in the NFL. Cleveland has a truly magnificent front seven and lacks a glaring weakness at any position, hence being in the top 10 against both the run and pass.
The defensive line is anchored by big Phil Taylor at nose tackle, a man that can be damn near unblockable when motivated. Defensive End Ahtyba Rubin is a dominant run stuffer while Desmond Bryant has become difficult to ignore with his playmaking ability, specifically on passing downs.
Get used to seeing No. 52 on your television screen because D'Qwell Jackson is an old-school middle linebacker that seems to be involved in every tackle. Craig Robertson went undrafted in 2011 but has worked his way into a starting role next to Jackson inside. Paul Kruger was a major free agent acquisition in the offseason, especially considering he is just 27 and previously started for reigning Super Bowl Champion and division rival Baltimore. He plays opposite Jabaal Sheard, who recorded 8.5 sacks and 5 FF as a rookie in 2011 but saw his numbers decline in 2012 and has had a pretty slow start in 2013. Barkevious Mingo is a promising speed rusher that was the sixth overall pick in this year's draft, but to this point he's only splitting time with veterans Kruger and Sheard, primarily in the nickel package.
For my money, Joe Haden is up there with Richard Sherman as the best cover man you're likely to see. His instincts are second to none and he's truly gifted athletically. Buster Skrine and Chris Owens split time at corner and nickel and are two of the bigger question marks in Cleveland's starting lineup. But to be fair, the volume of throws that come their way because of Haden's prowess is extremely high. TJ Ward is an above-average starter at strong safety that excels against the run and holds his own in both man and zone coverage. Tashaun Gipson is another recently undrafted player that worked his way into the starting lineup this season. It's only been seven games, but Gipson is starting to look like a very well-balanced player at the back of the defense.
How to Attack Them
This is, uh, well, it ain't gonna be pretty. By a show of hands, how many of you feel confident about a gameplan that requires increased involvement from Donnie Avery and Dexter McCluster?
Running the ball will not come easy and Dwayne Bowe is going to be a $60 million decoy once again thanks to Haden's propensity to shut down the man across from him. Provided we remain patient and don't get too cute out there, it will be a hard-fought afternoon, but ultimately a successful one.
Jamaal will clearly get his touches, but don't be surprised if his rushing numbers are down once again. His streak of 100+ yards from scrimmage and a TD will be tested but it's hard to imagine the unquestioned focal point of our offense not extending that mark to eight straight games.
Last week against Houston was arguably the best game our offensive line has played and they face another very tough matchup Sunday. Keeping Alex Smith upright has been a challenge at times, despite his escapability. Keep a close eye on Eric Fisher, who will have his hands full with two savvy veterans in Rubin and Kruger.
Key Advantages for Cleveland
- Defensive Matchups - When kept fresh, the Browns defense can be lethal. Problem is their offense hasn't done them any favors this season. However, the Chiefs offense still hasn't rounded into form and they lack playmaking ability in the passing game. Jamaal Charles is one of the best in the business, but where will the rest of the production come from? Haden will suffocate Bowe, TJ Ward can shut down Fasano and the remaining skill players are inconsistent at the very best.
- Norv Turner - He hasn't squared-off against the Chiefs defense under Bob Sutton, but he knows the personnel as well as anyone. With a predictable veteran performer at QB in Jason Campbell, the Browns should be able to take a small step forward at the very least. Weeden was sacked 21 times in four games - Campbell should be able to get the ball out much quicker.
- Nothing to lose - The Browns have a predominantly young team with a first time head coach and a new general manager. They're guaranteed to have a new starting QB and RB next season. Already two games behind the Bengals for the division lead, their season is essentially over. Teams like this present a unique challenge as they play with reckless abandon and are willing to try almost anything week to week just to see what works.
Key Advantages for Kansas City
- Rusty vs Rambunctious - Jason Campbell, meet the best defense in the NFL. Have fun on third down, bro. The Chiefs are allowing their opponents to convert just 25% of the time.
- Discipline - Desperate teams make mistakes; I'd say the Browns definitely qualify. Did you know they've attempted 15 (!!!) 4th down conversions already?! Every week I use words like "methodical" and "patient" to describe the Chiefs, which translates to a +11 turnover ratio and an undefeated record. The Browns lack the skill to take the kind of chances necessary to come out on top and they can't play the Chiefs straight-up and hope to win.
- Arrowhead Pride takes Arrowhead - In Joel's absence, a sturdy team of HisDirknesS, KaloPhoenix, BJ Kissel and I are tailgating/sitting/standing/cheering/boozing and maybe even peeing together, provided we can find one of the troughs.
The Bottom Line
I was never a huge 311 fan, yet I can't help but think of "Beautiful Disaster" when talking about this Cleveland team. Their defense is malicious but their offense is, well, offensive.
I want so badly to call this thing a blowout, but the Browns defense (and our offense) should probably keep it close. This might be one of the more frustrating games you watch all season. I mean... is this really going to be a tight game at home against the freaking Browns? Unless the Chiefs can manufacture some points on defense and/or special teams - which is entirely possible, mind you - the answer is yes: this game probably won't get out of hand.
What do you think is an acceptable margin of victory? We're favored by 9 and the over/under is set at 39.5 - I'm the last person you should take gambling advice from, but I'd put a bunch of money on the under and the Browns to cover the spread. This one is gonna be a slugfest, kiddos.
Chiefs 16 - Browns 9 - Ryan 10 (drinks before noon, thankyouverymuch)
If you're interested in stopping by the tailgate, find any of us on twitter and we'll be happy to let you know where we are. A host of other notable Chiefs follows like Jinx Allessio, Sully Sparks, John Ames, Jeremy Sickel and many more will be in attendance, so I highly recommend you stop by for an adult beverage or three.
Don't forget to check out the Amateur Hour Postgame Show LIVE at 6:30 p.m. on Blog Talk Radio. We'll post a link on twitter (via @AHPKC) and there will be a short blurb right here on Arrowhead Pride with the web address also. Since Joel is in Mexico, we're hoping to take a ton of listener calls this week which should be pretty entertaining. The number is 347-989-1770. Don't be shy, my friends.