Normally when breaking down a match-up, statistics are extremely important. Highlighting a team’s specific strengths and weakness is easiest when it can be quantified. Predicting match-ups and specific outcomes is most possible when the measuring sticks that are statistical models are available.
However, it is the NFL’s first week of action, and therefore there are not very many helpful statistics. Pre-season statistics are essentially useless due to the nature of competition in the pre-season. Sure, last year’s numbers are available, and those will be referenced a bit, but when talking about a team like the Kansas City Chiefs that have changed significantly since last season, those statistics also become useless.
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The Last Meeting
The Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns are two completely different teams since their last encounter.
The Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns came into Kansas City in January with quite a bit of wear and tear. Myles Garrett’s health was limiting his snap counts. Odell Beckham Jr. was inactive with his own health issues. The entire offense was still recovering from a brutal battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns had not had a week off from football since early November.
The Browns are much healthier now than they were in that playoff game. The team has had a full, uninterrupted, offseason with head coach Kevin Stefanski. They added some young talent to the defense in the draft in the form of Greg Newsome II and Jeremiah Owusu-Kormoah. This is a better team today than the one that lost their season in Arrowhead.
They did not change much in terms of personnel, but they did not need to. This team was a few plays away from an AFC Championship game.
The Kansas City Chiefs
Then there are the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that has changed so much over the last six months, they are barely recognizable.
The offensive line has been completely rebuilt. Long-standing anchors in the line in Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher were released. Joe Thuney and Austin Blythe were brought in through free agency. Brett Veach shocked the football world by convincing the Baltimore Ravens to trade Orlando Brown Jr. for the value of a second-round pick. Lucas Niang returns from a season opted out. The Chiefs land two of the best offensive linemen in the draft in Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith. Even long-term team leader, This is a new, and vastly improved offensive line.
Defensively, the team found deep talent in unexpected places. Former first-round picks Deandre Baker and Mike Hughes seem to be playing like they have something to prove. Nick Bolton was an overlooked linebacker in the draft who is fitting in well with Steve Spagnuolo’s defense. Tarran Reed finally gives the Chiefs the help inside the defensive line they needed to let Chris Jones bump outside to the defensive end.
The Chiefs found their weaknesses in the 2020 season and fixed them in the 2021 offseason.
Again, without statistics, neither team is very measurable with numbers. So much of the analysis of the matchups will have to come from previous performances and subjective data (like PFF).
Chiefs’ O vs. Browns’ D
The Kansas City Chiefs offensive line will get their first major test at the start of the season in Myles Garrett. Garrett is a top-five defensive end in the league, using his blazing speed and superhuman strength to bully his way into disrupting the passing game. Teams across the league have to spend significant time and resources scheming for Myles Garrett.
The problem for him however is that his arch-nemesis happens to have come to Kansas City this offseason. No one has manhandled Myles Garrett in the NFL quite like Orlando Brown Jr. and that might continue this weekend. Garrett’s best option this weekend will be shifting to the right side of the line. The problem there: Trey Smith and Lucas Niang are not the double team anyone should want to rush against.
The Brown’s defensive front four lacks playmakers outside of Myles Garrett. Olivier Vernon left the team in the offseason with an Achilles tear. Sheldon Richardson was cut during the offseason. They even released Marvin Wilson, one of their best run stoppers. Without multiple playmakers upfront, the Browns’ defense does not work schematically.
The Browns defensive scheme is beyond simple, but effective with the proper personnel. Make teams sacrifice blockers to cover Myles Garrett, which frees up another talent along the defensive line to get to the ball. The pressure forces offenses to play fast or out of the pocket, which helps everyone on the defense. Without that potential for constant pressure, offenses can play at whatever tempo they see fit and quarterbacks get to pick apart the Browns’ weaknesses.
This leaves the Chiefs with near-infinite options offensively.
Running the ball away from Myles Garrett on first and second down would open up the entire playbook. Once the linebackers start leaning towards the line, the play action and RPO become deadly. The Browns’ linebackers are their largest weakness, which means a big day for Travis Kelce.
If the run is successfully established, then Denzel Ward will find himself on an island with Tyreek Hill, which inevitably ends with a peace sign and a touchdown. With an established run, the Browns will have to keep either Troy Hill or John Johnson III off the field to bring in an extra linebacker, which means someone is not being covered.
This is not a matchup that the Browns can win, even on Myles Garrett’s best day.
Browns’ O vs. Chiefs D
If the Browns want to win this game, it has to be right here.
Much like their defense, the Browns’ offense is locked in on one objective: run the ball. They achieve this by utilizing their dangerous two-headed rushing attack.
First up, the premier back, Nick Chubb. When Nick Chubb has the ball, his goal is to go through you and anybody behind you keeping him from the endzone. Chubb is a downhill runner with the lower body strength and explosive upper body strength to go be extremely successful. Once Chubb breaks through the defensive line, he is all but guaranteed 20 yards. He is not a route running back like many modern backs, but he is very effective when utilized in the screen game.
Then there is the former Kansas City Chief, Kareem Hunt. Kareem Hunt is a hybrid back that runs like someone half his size. His balance is phenomenal. The toolbox of moves he utilizes to make defenders miss seems bottomless. He accelerates better than many wide receivers and his top gear speed is scary fast. He is great at running the ball, but he is also great at catching the ball and running routes, a side effect of being drafted into an Andy Reid offense.
If the Browns want to win this matchup, they have to successfully run the ball.
The biggest problem the Browns had in January was that the Chiefs challenged the run effectively and then ran up the score before the Browns could adjust. They need to run straight at Frank Clark as much as possible, then mix in some screen passes to catch the defense off balance. Mix in the occasional play-action pass, and this could be a great day for the Browns’ defense.
Unfortunately for the Browns, that may be easier said than done. The Chiefs stopped this Browns’ running attack with a much worse defensive front seven. They have only made improvements on that front since then.
Nick Bolton’s biggest strength is his ability to stuff the run. Combine that with Anthony Hitchen’s knack for doing the same thing, and the second level becomes a legitimate obstacle for Chubb and Hunt. Add in Tarran Reed, Tershawn Wharton, and Khalen Saunders at defensive tackle on first and second down, and the Chiefs might actually be built to stop the run for the first time in recent memory.
Baker Mayfield passing the ball in clutch time is extremely suspect at best. If the game comes down to passing the ball to keep up, the Browns have already lost.
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The Keys to Victory
There are five steps the Kansas City Chiefs can take to guarantee victory on Sunday.
1: Keep Running The Ball
Hand the ball to Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Then hand the ball to Clyde Edwards-Helaire. If you need to bring in a third option, it is to hand the ball to Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Ideally, make sure Clyde runs in the opposite direction of Myles Garrett, and this is a five yards-per-carry type game.
CEH and the rotational backs should have a fantastic game on Sunday if the Chiefs commit to running the ball.
2: Be Patient Offensively
If the Chiefs will be patient with the run, the entire playbook will open up. The linebackers will start to crowd the line pre-snap. The slot corner or second safety will be subbed out for an additional lineman/linebacker. The linemen will wear out from the run block.
Then, it is time to strike. Find Tyreek Hill on an island in single-high safety. Watch Travis Kelce burn Jeremiah Owusu-Kormoah and grab that twenty yards. This should be the easiest game of Patrick Mahomes’ career.
3: Slam The Gas
Running up the score is generally considered a bad thing to do in the NFL. However, if you refuse to score on a team because of common courtesy, you are just leaving them an opportunity to come back. Andy Reid and the Chiefs need to keep punching the Browns until they can guarantee they are down for the count. Fourteen-point leads are nothing. Push the lead to three or four touchdowns, then let off a little.
With the score pulling away, the Browns will have to abandon the run game. Without their rushing attack, the Browns have no chance to win the game.
4: Give Nick Chubb/Kareem Hunt A Shadow
Daniel Sorenson’s job on Sunday should be to go wherever the running back goes. If the running back is in the backfield, Sorenson should be in the linebacker box. When Chubb rolls out on a screen, Sorenson should be the first one to see it and should be breaking that play up. If Hunt goes to the slot, Sorenson should be pressed upon the line to jam him.
The Chiefs are going to blitz and blitz a ton. It is the Spagnuolo guarantee. The Browns are going to attempt and weaponize that by running screens at every possible opportunity. This shadow will keep those plays from breaking out, and may even weaponize those plays in the other direction.
Sorenson has already shown a nose for breaking up screens, which makes him perfect for this role.
5: Just Send One More Guy
It has already been established that the Chiefs are going to keep blitzing. It is what Spagnuolo does.
However, this should not be the basic Spags’ blitz tendencies. Every single play, Spags should find a way to send an extra defender after the ball. Whether that is a corner, a linebacker, or a safety does not matter. The Chiefs should make Baker Mayfield scared every time he asks for the ball.
Blitz out of every possible formation as well. Baker is not an inexperienced quarterback, but he is not some extremely elite veteran either. Give him too many things to think about and capitalize on the mistakes he is bound to make.
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