I don't know if anyone in the world cares about this game outside of Cleveland and KC. Last year, these teams met late in the season. They gave us an entertaining game, but the bottom line was both teams were really bad. Expectations are still low in KC and Cleveland, but KC got a shot in the arm with a big win on Monday night against a perennial division dominating team: San Diego.
The Browns are coming off a disappointing game against another terrible 2009 team: Tampa Bay. But the Browns 2010 home opener is still very winnable. Let's see what the stats say...
As a refresher (taken from my first preview last year)...
A quick note about the stats I'm going to use in this regular column. The full explanation can be found here. Basically, Football Outsiders uses the data from every play and finds the league average (adjusting for yards gained in the redzone, touchdowns scored, and the down and distance- so a 3 yard TD run on 3rd-and-1 from the 3 means a lot more than a 3 yard run on 3rd-and-15 from your own 20.) Then it rates players and teams based on their relation to this league average. The result is meaningful rate stats. They are akin to league adjusted stats in baseball, like OPS+ and ERA+. DVOA is the most common stat they use and 0.0 is exactly league average. A 10.0% DVOA for a QB means a QB that is 10.0% better than average. -15.0% DVOA means 15% below average for a QB. For defensive numbers they are reversed, so negative numbers are better.
Got all that? No? Well, then trust me when I say, higher positive numbers are good for offensive players and lower or negative numbers are good for defenses. 0.0% is always average.
The biggest caveat with the numbers this early in the season is that they rely on 2009 numbers. Football Outsiders comes uses a stat called DAVE- basically DVOA, weighted to include their projections based of 2010 and a little bit about the first week of the season. (It is actually 10% last week, 90% projection this week). As the season goes on the projections will be less and less of a factor until it will be totally phased out in favor of purer 2010 stats. This makes sense, except it fails to fully appreciate offseason moves. Big time draft picks like Eric Berry, Joe Haden, TJ Ward, etc. can change the dynamics of a team quite fast. So can other moves (like the Browns changes at QB).
The other caveat is injuries. Jake Delhomme is assumed to be the QB, not Seneca Wallace.
That said, we should get a pretty good, objective, idea of where these teams stand based on the numbers.
When the Browns have the ball
The Browns had some flashes on offense last week in Tampa. Still, they lost their identity, made too many mistakes, and generally lost their way in the second half. Just looking at last week, they were 21st in the league in DVOA (-9.6%), which is blah. The reason to be less optimistic, besides the fact we don't have our #1 QB, is that factoring FO's projections, DAVE has the Browns as the #31 team at -28.4% (only SanFran is worse). Our passing offense was actually in the positive last week (11.7%, 15th in the league), but our rushing was terrible (-31.8%, 28th). Playing Romeo Crennel's bend-but-don't-break defense, the Chiefs held the Chargers to 14 points. DAVE and DVOA peg the Chiefs as average, or slightly worse (18th and 19th respectively).
The Browns offense passing game suffered from INTs, and predictable play-calling. Philip Rivers had a big day against the Chiefs. KC ranks 21st in pass defense, with a 16.9% DVOA. I know we want to establish the run, but let's not forget about the passing game, even with our backup QB.
The running game had some interesting aspects. Peyton Hillis was great with the ball- a success rate of 67% and a TD. But, he fumbled twice. Jerome Harrison held on to the ball and gained some yards, but had a bad success rate- basically suggesting he didn't get any important/difficult yards (22%). Whatever the result, I think all Browns fans believe the team just didn't run enough. KC was really good against the Chargers running attack: -25% for 10th in the league.
When the Chiefs have the ball
Guess what? Jamaal Charles is really good. Charlie Weis is going to want to throw the ball a lot, but given his personnel that makes no sense at all. Thomas Jones is a decent backup and Dexter McCluster gives you another interesting dynamic in the RB (I know he is playing a lot of WR, but that is not his natural position). Matt Cassel has never impressed me and the Chiefs' WRs are about as exciting as the Browns'. Generally, KC ranks 19th in DAVE at 1.8% The Browns rank 8th in DAVE (!) after a very good showing last week.
Cassel had a terrible game against the Chargers. The Chiefs ranked 24th in passing in DVOA last week as Cassel went 10-22 for 68 Yards. That is truly Sanchez-esque. Maybe Dwayne Bowe and 99-year-old Chris Chambers should scare me more, but they don't. The Browns upgraded secondary was average last week (1.8% DVOA, 18th)- which is a big upgrade from last year. I expect the unit to continue to gel and improve as Ward and Haden get more reps.
Without looking, do you know what Jamaal Charles averages per carry in his career? Did you guess 4.5 yards? Higher. 5.0? Higher. 5.5 Higher. Charles averages 5.9 yards per carry. Again, he is really, really good. He was 2nd in DVOA last year and 4th in DYAR in the entire league. In fact, he was probably more underused last week (11 carries, 92 yards) than the Browns' RBs. He was 5th in DVOA last week. For some reason, Thomas Jones got the same number of carries (11 for 39 yards). He is a perfectly average RB, and we can only hope the Chiefs are silly enough to continue to split carries between the two. The Chiefs overall last week were 11th in rushing DVOA. The Browns were 8th against the run last week.
The Browns have dominated Football Outsiders special teams stats since their creation. Josh Cribbs, Phil Dawson, Ryan Pontbriand, Blake Costanzo and company make this a complete unit in every aspect. But they showed nothing last week. On the other hand, KC hasn't been good on special teams since Donte Hall has made coverage units blush on a regular basis. But last week, Dexter McCluster had a huge return and they kept Darren Sproles in check. That was good enough to give them the #1 ranking from last week.
It is tough to draw too much from the small sample sizes and less-meaningful projections. I usually believe the running game is overrated, but not in this case. Whichever team successfully commits to the run and prevents big special teams plays will have the big upper hand. I think Charles has a big game, but Weis puts the ball in the air too many times: