3TFO: Chiefs @ Browns, Week 14
Coming off their second win of the season, the Kansas City Chiefs will look to build on a solid victory and finish the season on a better note than it began. After performing terribly on offense throughout most of 2012, the Chiefs turned in their most competent effort of the season against the Panthers. The biggest surprise of that game was unquestionably quarterback Brady Quinn, who had a career day as his +4.1 PFF grade shows. Kansas City has the rest of the season to find out if that performance was just an anomaly, or if Quinn has what it takes to be a starter in the NFL.
Much like the Chiefs, the Cleveland Browns will spend the rest of their season evaluating their roster with both eyes focused on the future. The Browns’ greatest asset has to be their excellent offensive line. Led by standout left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack, Cleveland’s line ranks third in the league with an 84.8 Pass Blocking Efficiency, and the unit has allowed just nine sacks. If Cleveland can continue to upgrade its offensive skill positions in the offseason, the Browns’ offense has the potential to be significantly more potent than we are accustomed to seeing.
Joe Haden vs. Dwayne Bowe
Perhaps because of the time he has missed due to suspension and injury, cornerback Joe Haden has not performed quite at the level we have seen in the past. Despite the missed time, Haden has been solid, if not spectacular. He is targeted regularly (5.9 Cover Snaps/Target) but has held his own in coverage. Opposing quarterbacks have a poor passer rating of 74.6 when throwing in his direction. He is still a playmaker (three interceptions and seven passes defensed), but Haden excels at limiting yards after the catch, missing just two tackles in the passing game. Though he allowed completions on six of the seven passes thrown at him last week, Haden surrendered a mere 41 yards, and only 7 yards came after the catch.
Dwayne Bowe’s production has undoubtedly been adversely affected by the Chiefs’ ineffective quarterback play, but he remains Kansas City’s best weapon in the passing game. Bowe has still been fairly productive, picking up 1.87 Yards per Route Run. He has dropped six out of 63 catchable passes. While he probably hoped that his contract season would turn out differently, Bowe is on pace for his third consecutive 1,000-yard season and has not been part of the problem in Kansas City.
Jabaal Sheard vs. Eric Winston
After a strong rookie campaign (especially in the pass-rushing department), defensive end Jabaal Sheard is mired in quite the sophomore slump. In 2011, Sheard ranked 14th at his position with an impressive Pass Rushing Productivity of 9.4. This year has been a completely different story, and he sits near the bottom of our rankings with a PRP of just 5.3. He has been especially dismal in his past three games, grading out at -8.7 as a pass rusher. Sheard is still a talented player, but he will have his work cut out for him this weekend against one of the league’s best tackles.
Chiefs right tackle Eric Winston pairs with Branden Albert to form what could be the best set of tackles in the NFL. Winston has been the better run blocker of the pair, and has allowed just 25 combined pressures in 2012. The matchup clearly favors Winston and his consistent track record (zero negatively graded performances this season), but that is why they play the games.
Brandon Weeden vs. Chiefs Pass Defense
Given the stellar pass protection provided by his offensive line, it would be easy to say that quarterback Brandon Weeden has been disappointing. He ranks dead last in our PFF QB Ratings (76.10) and has graded worse than -3.0 five times, a ridiculous total. However, his PFF accuracy percentage of 72.0, which factors in dropped passes and throwaways, ranks in the middle of the pack and is better than more accomplished passers including Matt Stafford and Eli Manning. This suggests that Weeden can be, at the least, a serviceable player if he has a better cast of skill players surrounding him.
Weeden is another Browns player who has his work cut out for him on Sunday, as Kansas City boasts a pass defense that is strong both in pass rushing and in coverage. Linebacker Tamba Hali is the team’s biggest name on defense, and he continues to rush the passer at a high level. However, it is linebacker Justin Houston, Hali’s partner in crime, who has been the Chiefs’ defensive MVP this season. Houston leads all 3-4 OLBs with a 12.9 PRP and looks like a true Pro Bowl talent. Cornerback Brandon Flowers leads a defensive secondary filled with high draft picks, and he ranks in the Top 10 at his position in nearly every PFF metric. Opposing quarterbacks have a QB Rating of just 60.1 when throwing against him, despite the fact that he is targeted just once every 5.8 snaps in coverage. This is an extremely talented (and underrated) defense that could easily feast on Weeden this Sunday.