Chiefs vs. Browns: Drawing Up a Game Plan for Cleveland
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The Cleveland Browns have more than a fighting chance to extend their current win streak to three this Sunday when they host the two-win Kansas City Chiefs. If they do so, they surpass their win total from last season and put together their first three-game win streak since the end of the 2009 season—both are major milestones for a team that's been desperate to find some evidence of progress for the past two years.
Despite Kansas City's two wins, it should still not be taken lightly. There are ways the Browns can be bested by this team, but as long as Cleveland plays a full four quarters, as it did in its previous two wins, it shouldn't be too difficult a contest. Here's a two-step game plan for how the Browns can pull off their third straight victory.
Beware the Run Game
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Though the Browns can find themselves punished should they ignore completely the Chiefs passing game, the biggest threat Kansas City poses offensively is when running the ball. Cutting off the run as much as possible will be a major key for the Browns this week, and that means containing Jamaal Charles.
With 1,055 yards, Charles is currently the sixth-best back in the league, while his Chiefs are running the ball the fourth-most of any team, with an average of 32.7 attempts per game. He also has three touchdowns on the year, which ties him with receiver Dwayne Bowe for the most of any Chiefs non-quarterback player.
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The seemingly only way the Chiefs can reliably and repeatedly get into scoring position is via Charles' legs—his 48 first downs leads the team—so clearly, Cleveland's defense needs to focus on limiting his effectiveness from his very first touch.
The Browns rush defense has been pretty strong in the past three weeks if you look only at the numbers. None of their previous three opponents put up more than 85 rushing yards against them; however, there's more to their run defense's success than simply making stops.
Two of their recent opponents—the Dallas Cowboys (without DeMarco Murray) and the Oakland Raiders—haven't had strong rushing offenses this year, while the third—the Pittsburgh Steelers—turned the ball over eight times, four times by running backs. When they've faced rushers of Charles' caliber—the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw and the Ravens' Ray Rice, for example—they've allowed well over 100 rushing yards to their opponent.
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The Browns defense will have to stack players in the box and keep Charles from moving laterally and escaping containment. This does leave them susceptible to passing plays, but it does help keep Charles from breaking off huge runs.
The Chiefs average only 2.4 red-zone scoring attempts per game, and when they do, they score touchdowns a mere 34.48 percent of the time when they get there (and a totally dismal 23.08 percent of the time when on the road).
No, the Chiefs aren't putting up many points, but there's no doubt that when they do, it's because Charles' running has gotten them there. If the Chiefs cannot get past midfield, their touchdown percentage drops to zero—that should be Cleveland's focus this week, and stopping Charles is how it makes it happen.
Run the Ball
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Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden has been shaky as of late, either throwing for under 200 yards or, like last week, going for over 300 yards but also throwing two picks. With the Chiefs defense fairly stingy when it comes to the passing game, giving up only 219.9 passing yards on average per game, it makes sense for the Browns to come at the Chiefs by using their run game.
Granted, the passing yards against the Chiefs are so low in part because teams aren't throwing against them—at 27.9 attempts per game, they are the least thrown-against defense in the league at present. But teams haven't needed to pass against them—they're pulling out to early leads and protecting it by clock control, which means running the ball. And the run game is simply getting enough done that passing isn't necessary.
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Presently, the Chiefs defense ranks 26th against the run, allowing 129.3 yards per game, while the Browns have put up at least 100 rushing yards in each of their last five games. Leading the way is rookie running back Trent Richardson, who has had at least 72 rushing yards per game in that span, as well as three rushing touchdowns.
Just as the Chiefs will have to rely on their run game on Sunday, so will the Browns, though the Browns appear to have the upper hand. The Browns are more capable of putting up points, and their running back is more capable of putting them up single-handedly. That's more than can be said about the Chiefs or Charles.
Though Weeden will have his moments—as will Brady Quinn for Kansas City—this game is all about the run and trying to stop it. With the Browns having more talent on both sides of the ball, it seems as though they're better-poised to run well and to stop the Chiefs, which is the perfect formula for Cleveland to notch its third-straight win.
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