#1 - A Weapon Named Jamaal Charles: Unquestionably, the best player on the offensive side of the ball on either team is Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. He has owned the Browns' defense the two times he's faced them in his career, rushing for 368 yards (6.8 YPC). Statistically, his rushing average is actually down this year to 4.2 YPC in 2013 (his career average is an amazing 5.5 YPC), and he only has one run above 20+ yards this year. The lower average might actually be concealing a key factor of the Chiefs' offense: rather than Kansas City just preying he can "break the big one," he is being efficient in simply helping to move the chains in smaller doses, a big reason why the Chiefs are 5th in the NFL in time of possession.
Charles' work as a receiver complements his game very well. Charles has caught 36 passes for 337 yards this year, putting him on pace for 82 catches for 770 yards. That would shatter his previous career high of 45 receptions for 468 yards in 2010. He has also joined O.J. Simpson as the only running back in NFL history to start the first seven games of the season with 100 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in each game. Their backup running back, Knile Davis, only averages 2 carries per game, so expect to see a healthy dose of Charles on Sunday.
#2 - Alex Smith's Track Record vs. Horton: Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton was the defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals from 2011-2012, so his unit got to face Alex Smith three times. You could argue that out of all the quarterbacks we have faced this year, Smith is the guy who Horton has studied the most. Here's a brief snapshot of their history:
2011 - Horton's Defense on the Road: The Cardinals lost 23-7. Smith was 20-of-38 for 267 yards, 2 TD's, 1 INT, 0 sacks. Smith and the 49ers were held to just three field goals in the first half, though.
2011 - Horton's Defense at Home: The Cardinals won 21-19. Smith was 18-of-37 for 175 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 5 sacks. This was Smith's worst game against the 49ers, and San Francisco really struggled on third down (3-of-17 for 18%).
2012 - Horton's Defense at Home: The Cardinals lost 24-3. Smith was 18-of-19 for 232 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT, 4 sacks. Those are incredibly efficient numbers.
Horton's results against Smith have been a mixed bag. It's good to see nine sacks, but with a good 49ers team last year, Smith was able to be incredibly efficient. This year, statistically, Smith is actually having a down season -- he is completing 58% of his passes, and his QB rating of 79.3 is his lowest since 2007. He is winning in the game management department, though, and that's why Andy Reid and the Chiefs went out and got him to be their guy. He also runs the ball a lot more in Kansas City: he has 31 rushes for 218 yards, an average of about 31 yards per game. Considering Cleveland's struggles with mobile quarterbacks this year, Smith will certainly take advantage of any opening he sees in front of him.
#3 - The Difference Between Good and Elite: There are good defenses and then there are elite, difference-making defenses. Cleveland falls into the first category, while the Chiefs fall into the latter one. Although the Browns can cite some impressive statistics with their unit (2nd in the NFL in yards per play), take a look at how these two teams compare in some of these other defensive categories:
Sacks per Pass Attempt: Chiefs (1st), Browns (17th)
Interception Rate: Chiefs (4th), Browns (22nd)
3rd Down Conversions: Chiefs (1st), Browns (29th)
Red Zone Scoring: Chiefs (1st), Browns (29th)
Points Per Game: Chiefs (1st), Browns (16th)
The highest point total the Chiefs have allowed this season is 17, and they are allowing an average of just 11.6 points per game. Against an offensively-challenged Browns team, that makes this look like a big time mismatch. Kansas City has playmakers at every position you turn. Justin Houston has 10 sacks and Tamba Hali has 9 sacks from the outside linebacker position; hell, we're still waiting for Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard to get over 1.5 sacks each! I wish I could point out some weaknesses in the Chiefs' defense, but I can't. If Cleveland wants to have a chance, they need to have outstanding execution offensively and have luck on their side.
#4 - Taking Advantage of an Easy Schedule: If there is one knock someone can make against the Chiefs -- and this will probably drive their fans crazy -- it's the fact that they've had a pretty easy schedule. Before you continue reading, keep this disclaimer in mind: the Chiefs deserve credit for doing what they are supposed to do with an easy schedule (avoid the upset), and their defense has been off-the-charts in terms of being consistently good. So far, the Chiefs have defeated:
- The 0-7 Jaguars, who were led by QB Blaine Gabbert.
- The 1-6 Giants, a team that has looked pathetic this season.
- The 3-4 Titans, with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick starting (injury replacement)
- The 2-4 Raiders, who are led by QB Terrelle Pryor
- The 2-5 Texans, with QB Case Keenum starting (injury replacement)
The Chiefs' also beat the 4-3 Cowboys and the 3-4 Eagles, both of whom play in what is considered to be the worst division in football. The only good quarterback they've faced is Tony Romo. Sounds good, right? It does until you realize that the following bullet point fits right in with the rest of the ones listed above:
- The 3-4 Browns, with QB Jason Campbell starting (benching replacement)
#5 - Special Teams Overview: The Chiefs have had near-identical production from their special teams units as the Browns this year. Their kicker is Ryan Succop, who gets a touchback on kickoffs 68.4% of the time. He has connected on 12-of-14 of his field goals this year, with both misses coming from beyond 50 yards. His career long is 54 yards, and in the two previous seasons, he was 5-of-5 from beyond 50 yards. The Chiefs have Dustin Colquitt at punter; he has been there since 2005 and is very stable for them.
The Chiefs' kickoff returner is Quintin Demps. He only has nine return attempts this year, but is averaging 33.2 yards per return with two attempts going beyond 40 yards. Their punt returner is utility player Dexter McCluster, who is averaging 11.3 yards per return but has a league-leading 31 return attempts (the next closest is 21 attempts). 5 of McCluster's returns have gone for over 20 yards, and he has only made 3 fair catches. It sounds like he's willing to take a chance on a return even if people are close in coverage.