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This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 16 of the regular season. To help preview this week's game, I reached out to Joel Thorman from Arrowhead Pride and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Ginley: "Following a 1-5 start, the Chiefs have burst to eight straight wins. Can anyone beat the Chiefs? If so, how?"
Thorman: "Yeah you can beat the Chiefs. They're not the 2007 Patriots where they're so obviously better than everyone. They're just playing smart, sound football. Totally one of those "they won't beat themselves" sort of thing. The Chiefs offense has been efficient but they also capitalize on the fact that the defense forces turnovers. The teams in the AFC I'm most worried about are the Patriots and Steelers because I think they have the best offenses. If a team can put up 30-plus points and not turn the ball over, they have a good chance to beat the Chiefs. If you have a struggling quarterback or an offense that isn't very explosive, the Chiefs defense will dominate."
Ginley: "Since week seven, the Chiefs have the best turnover margin (+17) in the NFL (source). How have turnovers figured into the Chiefs' success down the stretch this season?"
Thorman: "It's been huge. Probably the stat that says the most about this team. The Chiefs have had eight games this year gonig plus-two or more in the turnover category. The offense and Alex Smith in particular do not turn it over. Sure, there are going to be throws that are missed and an explosive element missing from the offense. But they're not going to turn it over and they will make you go 80 yards every time. The defense had a pathetic six interceptions last year; they' have 20 this year. The offense has done a great job of complementing the defense by scoring off of those turnovers. It's really been a team effort but the defense has been the clear strength."
Ginley: "Alex Smith is enjoying arguably his best pro season with his typical low-risk approach. What has been the key to his success this season? Can the Browns stop him?"
Thorman: "Alex Smith had the second longest streak in NFL history of pass attempts without an interception. He has been mostly the usual Alex Smith with a low-risk approach but with an explosive part of the offense missing. Except this year the Chiefs swapped out Dwayne Bowe with Jeremy Maclin, who fits Smith's style so much better. Smith has also flirted with throwing downfield more often with Maclin on board. If they can figure out a way to do that consistently the Chiefs really would be a different team. The other thing is that this is the first time that Smith has been in the same system with the same coordinator for three straight seasons. That's significant as well. How many quarterbacks can say that?"
Ginley: "Jeremy Maclin has developed into Smith's favorite target, particularly on deep passes. How can the Browns limit the Smith-to-Maclin connection?"
Thorman: "Maclin's speed is the difference maker. You have to cut off the over the top routes. Alex Smith has shown in recent weeks that he will throw the ball deep to Maclin. In fact, Smith's first interception in 312 attempts came on a deep pass to Maclin. Since it's Maclin's speed we're watching out for, remember the slant routes. Maclin is a really good route-runner. He has games of 7, 6, 9 and 9 catches in the past month. There was a time when we thought the Maclin deal may not be a good one because Smith historically didn't feature his wide receivers but that has started to change this year."
Ginley: "The Chiefs' defense has held eight of its past 10 opponents to fewer than 20 points. Several notable names stand out on the Chiefs' defense, but who is your unsung hero of the defense, and why?"
Thorman: "Geez, it's difficult to pinpoint one but I'll highlight CB Marcus Peters. He was the Chiefs first round pick this year and has started every game this season. The second cornerback is what the Chiefs defense had been missing the past two seasons. Not only that but he is a ball hawk with seven picks this year. That's more than the Chiefs had all last season. The Chiefs have Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, who are among the league leaders in pressures, and one of the top inside linebackers in the league in Derrick Johnson and the greatest story in sports in Eric Berry ... But Peters is the one that first comes to mind for me."
Thanks again to Joel for taking the time to answer my questions.