3TFO: Browns @ Chiefs, Week 8
After a surprising three-game win streak, the Cleveland Browns have now lost two in a row, and they’ll look to turn things around this week with Jason Campbell now taking over at quarterback. The defense has performed quite well overall this season, but Cleveland has struggled to sustain drives and has scored just 12 offensive touchdowns through seven games. It doesn’t get any easier from here, as the Browns head to Arrowhead to face a fierce Chiefs defense that has played as well as any unit in the league thus far.
Kansas City knew they had more talent last year than their 2-14 record showed. They sent six players to the Pro Bowl and still have many of the same core players as a year ago. Although a popular sleeper team, not many people would have envisioned a 7-0 start while allowing less than 12 points per game. The defense has completely taken over games, allowing the offense to take a more conservative approach and control the clock. The Chiefs will likely utilize that same recipe for success this Sunday. Let’s examine some of the key influences on the outcome of this game.
Kansas City’s Front Seven
To this point in the season, the Chiefs’ front seven has played at a ridiculously high level. In terms of our grading, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are ranked 1st and 4th among 3-4 outside linebackers, Mike DeVito and Tyson Jackson are 4th and 5th among 3-4 defensive ends, Derrick Johnson and Akeem Jordan are the 3rd and 5th ranked inside linebackers, and Dontari Poe sits 10th among defensive tackles. Houston and Hali have combined for 19 sacks already, but they have also added 10 QB hits and 68 hurries, placing them in the top two slots in Pass Rush Productivity at their position. All three starters along the defensive line have excellent grades in run defense, and the inside linebackers have both excelled in multiple facets. Altogether, it spells trouble for the struggling Cleveland offense. Three different starters on Cleveland’s offensive line have struggled mightily with run blocking, and the team is in the midst of a quarterback change. Expect the Chiefs to play an extremely aggressive style in order to put their stars in position to create havoc and force turnovers.
Jason Campbell vs. Kansas City’s Coverage
Unfortunately for Cleveland, the Kansas City’s front seven can also cover and their secondary has made big plays all year. Brandon Flowers actually has the lowest coverage grade of all of the Chiefs defensive backs, largely due to his struggles against Dez Bryant in Week 2, but if history is any indicator he’ll bounce back over the course of the season. Eric Berry (+6.8) and Marcus Cooper (+6.3) each rank in the top 10 in coverage grades at their respective positions. Sean Smith has rejuvenated himself with KC and is allowing only a 43.9% completion rate into his coverage, as well as a 62.4 QB Rating when targeted.
Jason Campbell will need everybody around him to be at the top of their game in order to dictate the flow of this game. During the preseason, Campbell actually handled pressure from the pass rush very well, going 12-of-15 with 132 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, and a 125.6 QB Rating. However, this was a small sample size and more often than not pressure causes problems for quarterbacks. We’ll see how well he can handle it against a team that can bring the heat from a variety of sources. Fortunately, Campbell has talented receivers in Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, both of whom provide a large catch radius due to their size and athleticism. At least one of them will need to have a big game in order to keep the chains moving for Cleveland and keep Kansas City from controlling time of possession.
Cleveland’s Pass Rush
The Browns have plenty of talent on the edges to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Jabaal Sheard turned in a dominant performance in Week 3, but has been hampered a bit by injury since then. Desmond Bryant has been productive on the interior, with four sacks, six hits, and 13 hurries, but the rest of the defensive line has provided little help. Although the Browns have produced a good amount of sacks (20) and total pressure as a team, Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo have not yet lived up to their lofty expectations. Both have negative pass rush grades for the season, and neither has taken over a game thus far. That said this week would be a great time for both to deliver clutch performances, because Alex Smith has struggled against pressure this year. When pressured, he has completed just 42.9% of passes (compared to 64.7% without pressure), and his yards per attempt drops by 1.7 with pressure. Cleveland could really use some big defensive plays if they are going to have a shot at upsetting the lone remaining unbeaten team.
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