The Browns outgained the Chiefs 318 to 183 net yards and outscored them 22-10 in the first half, the Chiefs defense seemingly missing the presence of both safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Frank Clark.
The defense looked much better in the second half, controlling the game by forcing a fumble in the third quarter and ultimately only allowing 139 yards. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid credited defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo for his halftime adjustments after the game but would not get into specifics.
“I’ll let [Spagnuolo] do that with you, but he did have some nice adjustments for the pass game part of it,” said Reid after the game. “Third downs were really the hammering point. We weren’t doing very well on third down in the first half, and he added a couple of things there, so I would tell you that was probably the biggest part.”
Defensive tackle Chris Jones stepped up with two critical sacks in the game, one at the end of the first half to finally curb the Browns and one for a loss of 6 after the Chiefs’ cut Cleveland’s fourth-quarter lead to two points.
The sack eventually led to the Chiefs getting the ball back for their go-ahead score.
“We just have to settle down as a defense,” said Jones at his post-game press conference. “I think we were all over the place. They were giving us a lot of different looks, especially with the play-action when we were expecting the heavy run and we’d expect a run and we’d get a play-action over the top or we’d expect play action and we got a run down the middle, so we just have to settle down as a defense, and once we got settled, we were able to get them off the field.
“I think we ended it with three straight drives going off the field, so we’ve just got to settle down earlier in the game. I don’t think we need to wait until halftime. It’s a growing phase. It’s always good to grow off a win.”
Spagnuolo finally had his chance to weigh in on his defense’s adjustments on Thursday.
“That stuff, I give credit to the assistants to be quite honest — I rely on them, I ask them, ‘What are they doing to us? What do we need to do differently?’ There were a couple of tweaks in there — probably the biggest one was we played a little bit more man (coverage), but there were some other things.
“You also got to credit — when we make a change — you got to have guys that can take that change and bring it out to the field, in which our guys did. If that doesn't happen, anything we do good in the locker room doesn’t make any difference, so I would credit the assistant coaches and what they did and really, what the players did in embracing it.”
The Chiefs will face a different challenge from the Ravens Sunday in offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s option-based rushing attack led by the ever-dynamic Lamar Jackson. This time, the Chiefs are expected to have both Mathieu and Clark to get them off to a stronger start.