Editor’s note: As we head into the Sunday game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cleveland Browns, we welcome executive editor Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature — our sister SB Nation site covering the Browns — for Five Questions with the Enemy.
1) How have the Browns improved this offseason?
Aside from some depth, the offense returns intact with all of its firepower. The emphasis on improving the team came on the defensive side of the ball with three big additions: defensive end Jadveon Clowney, cornerback Greg Newsome II (the team’s first-round pick), and safety John Johnson III. Even though the defense didn’t rank overly bad defensively in 2020, anyone who followed that side of the ball last year knows that the group always had trouble getting off the field, stopping mobile quarterbacks, or being able to count on someone to make a big defensive play besides Myles Garrett (except for our first-round playoff win over Pittsburgh, where everyone had a hayday).
Besides those top three defensive additions, Cleveland has also added linebacker Anthony Walker, second-round linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and nickelback Troy Hill. The defensive tackle position is now the biggest question mark for the team, as they have a mix of veterans on 1-year contracts and young players who haven’t proven a lot. One shot-in-the-dark addition was defensive tackle Malik McDowell, who looked like a man among boys this preseason with his strength. Browns fans are looking forward to how all of these new defensive additions will impact the team’s defensive prowess in 2021, but until we see them in action, it’s hard to guess whether they’ll be an average defense or “click” to the point where they can be a consistent threat each week.
2) Do you expect the offense to run through Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt again?
It’s easier said than done for a coach to find the right balance of getting both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt the appropriate amount of touches each week, but head coach Kevin Stefanski found a great balance for that in his first year as the team’s head coach. The team’s run blocking is so good, keyed especially by right guard Wyatt Teller, that it makes sense to continue to run the offense through those two backs. Their threat still sets up plenty of pass play opportunities for Baker Mayfield and company — and what’s funny is that sometimes, the number of passes end up far out-weighing the number of runs if Stefanski predicts that teams are so locked in on the run that he can continuously utilize that threat off of playaction passes.
Cleveland added a third running back this offseason through the draft in Demetric Felton, although he is also billed as a wide receiver. Fans and coaches love his versatility and the belief is that he will get some touches on gameday too, but exactly how that can be achieved without diluting the touches that Chubb and Hunt get is still a bit beyond me — I’ll have to see it in action.
3) What will the addition of Clowney do for Myles Garrett’s game?
Myles Garrett was explosive last year, until he had COVID-19. When he returned from the illness, he still played, but just didn’t have that extra “oomph” for the remainder of the season to make those special plays that fans were accustomed to. The expectation is that he will be back and better than ever from that to kick off 2021, and the addition of Jadeveon Clowney is one that has fans very excited for not only what it does for those two players, but the rest of the defense. Disclaimer: I still think that no defense can stop the Chiefs unless the Chiefs are having an off day, so I’m not getting ahead of myself and expecting this group to shut down Patrick Mahomes. Back to Clowney, though — for the first half of camp, he dominated our strong offensive line in one-on-one matchups before being rested for the remainder of camp to keep him healthy. That domination day in and day out figures to translate to gameday. Normally, an offense would double team Clowney if he was indeed that effective — but you have to pick your poison when Garrett is the guy rushing from the other side. It’s hard to say whether Garrett’s game specifically, or Clowney’s game specifically, will benefit — it all depends on who opposing offenses decide to account for. The real benefactors could be the team’s defensive tackles and linebackers.
4) Do you think the playoff loss in January will have any bearing on Sunday’s game?
I’m sure the players will have it in their mind a little bit, but it’s not really in my mind too much. I think everyone, fans and players alike, know and respect how good the Chiefs are. And while our team hopes to be that next big threat in the AFC to take over the Chiefs, I think they’ll just try to stay focused for this week’s game — playoff loss or not, they’ll know that if Mahomes gets ahead by a couple of possessions, it’s darn-near impossible to claw back.
5) Do you believe that the Browns are up there with Kansas City and Buffalo as the class of the AFC — or are they in the next tier below?
Last year, their offense had the personnel to be right up there with Kansas City and Buffalo, but was still a bit less consistent than them for certain games — or it would be a case that the great offense didn’t translate to nearly the same amount of points that the Chiefs and Bills could put on the board. I think the continued maturation of Baker Mayfield, the offense being together for a second year in a row, and the return of Odell Beckham Jr. will elevate that site of the ball to be right on par with that group (with Buffalo and Cleveland still behind Kansas City). Defensively, as I harped on earlier, only time will tell, but a solid performance by that group could theoretically but Cleveland at the top of the AFC.