Almost every opponent the Browns have faced in 2015 can serve as an object lesson in how to run a team (as opposed to how the Browns do it). This week’s opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs, demonstrate:
- How to address a weakness by raiding a former team.
- How to pull out of a tailspin
Kansas City finished 9-7, and the reason was pretty clear. The Chiefs were third in defense (17.6 points allowed) but only 16th in offense (22.6 points scored).
Alex Smith held down the quarterback position capably, if not spectacularly. RB Jamaal Charles had his seventh consecutive season (a) averaging 5.0 yards a carry or more and (b) battling injuries.
Charles, who has four Pro Bowl berths and two All-Pro selections, might make the Hall of Fame someday. He would be an almost certain pick had injuries not kept him out of 17 games and limited him to part-time duty in 31 others.
At receiver, the Chiefs had spent three years hoping that Dwayne Bowe would regain the form he’d shown in 2008, 2010 and 2011. They told him that to look for a new team and made a 5-year, $55 million offer to Jeremy Maclin of the Eagles.
Browns, for reasons nobody else could comprehend, decided a 31-year-old receiver who hadn’t caught a single touchdown in 2014 was just what they needed. They offered $12.5 million, nine of which was guaranteed. Bowe, whose work ethic has always been hit-or-miss, apparently decided to take the money and retire on active duty.
2015 started acceptably for Kansas City, with a 27-20 win over Houston.
They lost game two 31-24 to Denver, turning the ball over five times. Embarrassing, but anyone can have a game like that.
Then they lost 38-28 to Green Bay. It was the Packers; the game was in Green Bay on Monday night. But it was two straight losses with #3 defense giving up over 30 points.
Then they lost 36-21 to Cincinnati. The Bengals were undefeated; it was also on the road. But it’s three straight weeks of 30+ points.
The next week they held Chicago to 18 points– but scored only 17. And in the game, Charles went down for the year.
When they lost 16-10 to Minnesota, I put game 15 back into the “win” column for Cleveland for four reasons:
- Teams with playoff hopes that start 1-5 usually don’t turn things around.
- In 2014, the Chiefs had run 420 times and thrown only 493; they were missing their #1 running back.
- The 2014 Chiefs, despite turning the ball over only 17 times (fourth-best in the league) had finished with a -3 turnover ratio, because the defense had only 14 takeaways. After six games of 2015, they were -2. Only 8 turnovers– but only 6 takeaways.
- The 2014 Chiefs gotten 46 sacks. They had only 13.
Since that point, the Chiefs are 8-0. Except for a 10-3 win against the Chargers and a 30-22 win against Buffalo, they’ve won every game by at least 10 points.
- The offense still doesn’t turn the ball over– it has only 4 during the streak (two against Oakland; two against the Chargers). But the defense has gone nuts. They’ve forced 21, to boost the ratio to +15. Their #1 pick, CB Marcus Peters, has seven interceptions and a forced fumble.
- When a team gets turnovers in bunches, it is almost always due to pressure. The Chiefs have 28 sacks in the last 8 games. LB Justin Houston (who had 22 sacks last year) only has 7.5, but his teammates have more than picked up the slack.
- Rather than toss the run out the window– having Smith throw more, and pretending that lateral passes (like the Browns use) are the same as running between the tackles– the Chiefs went “next man up.”
Second-year back Charcandrick West didn’t have any carries a year ago. He had only 21 for 81 yards in the first six games. But he has 112 for 457 (4.1 per carry) in the last eight games. The reason he isn’t getting more work is that Spencer Ware (who’d been on the practice squad until Charles went down) has 51 carries for 312 yards (that’s 6 yards a carry).
Smith, who always has been able to run, is carrying the ball about 50% more. And whether it’s a veteran rising to the challenge or Maclin (79 catches on 113 targets for 985 yards and 6 scores) and TE Travis Kelce (65-93 for 822 yards and 4 TDs) giving him more reliable deep threats, Smith isn’t dinking and dunking as much as he used to. His 7.6 yards per pass is the second-highest of his career.
I’ve never thought Andy Reid was that great a coach– his teams usually fall short for reasons that seemed entirely obvious in pre-season. But being able to hold the team together– then turn it around– is a remarkable performance. Winning when everything goes right is pretty easy. Avoiding disaster when it’s staring you in the face is much, much harder.
Happy fun times continue. C Alex Mack gets voted to the Pro Bowl for the third time– two weeks before he can opt out of his contract. And when he’s asked, he supplies the next best thing to a Samuel L. Jackson-style, “Awwww, haayyyyeeelllll no!!!!!” reply:
“I will say that winning is really important to me.”
It’s not surprising in the least– he tried to leave the team two years ago. The Browns matched the offer– and then didn’t get any better. What else should a player who wants to win do?
Notice, by the way, that WR Travis Benjamin still hasn’t gotten his contract extension. At this point, he’d be insane to sign one.
Meanwhile, Danny Shelton can’t understand why prancing around the clubhouse singing a medley of “Don’t Worry Be Happy / Hakuna Matata / Walking On Sunshine” goes over like a lead balloon. The team loses 30-13, it allows 182 rushing yards (5.1 yards a carry) to a bunch of guys who weren’t on the Seattle roster on opening day and the high #1 pick who was supposed to prevent that is struggling to outplay Jamie Meder.
Shelton’s reaction to criticism– he’s ripped the fans and media on a half-dozen occasions– tells you that he’ll probably never make it. Great players tend to be their worst critics– they couldn’t care less about individual achievement if the team loses. Players who get defensive when someone points out that:
- He has 33 tackles in 459 snaps (last year Ahtybe Rubin had 28 and Billy Winn had 31– both in the same amount of playing time)
- He doesn’t have a sack.
- The Browns have gone from allowing 4.5 yards per carry a year ago to 4.6
generally don’t make it big. Shelton sounds like Gerard “Big Money” Warren… and while he does seem to be trying harder, he isn’t doing better.
Notice, in the article how his coordinator enables him. Meanwhile the head coach is saying that last year’s #1 pick is on the verge of maybe not sucking too badly sometime.
It wouldn’t be terribly productive if the players were ripping each other and getting into constant fistfights. But it would be evidence that they realize that their record is unsatisfactory and that it is due to their performance.
The Chiefs are 9.5. The Browns are 3-11.
Kansas City is in a three-way tie (Pittsburgh, the Jets) for the Wild Card. The Browns 3-11 and tied with Tennessee for the #1 overall pick (since they beat the Titans, they’d pick second).
The Chiefs can run (fifth in the league in rushing average). The Browns can’t stop the run (29th).
The Browns can’t run (28th in rushing average). The Chiefs can stop the run (9th).
The Chiefs are +15 in takeaway/giveaway ratio. The Browns are -8.
The Chiefs make sacks. The Browns allow them. And now they have both starting guards hurt, a center who has announced his imminent departure (and a right tackle whose contract is about to expire).
Because Mike Pettine loves to keep injured players on his 53-man roster for 4-6 weeks before he puts them on injured reserve (as he just did with Andrew Hawkins), the Browns are always undermanned. He accentuates this problem by bringing players off the practice squad, playing them for a game or two and then cutting them (like Darius Jennings, who just got re-signed).
The Chiefs will be missing their secondary target, since Kelce probably won’t play. The Browns’ receiving corps– Benjamin, Taylor Gabriel, Jennings, Marlon Moore, Bowe and Terrelle Pryor— looks like an arenaball roster.
The Chiefs are at home.
The only thing going in the Browns’ favor is that Kansas City won’t have Houston. It won’t be enough.
Game Outcome: Kansas City 34, Cleveland 6