After a back-and-forth competition between two powerhouse squads, the Kansas City Chiefs pulled yet another comeback against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. The narrow 33-29 victory revealed some key takeaways from both sides of the ball.
Continuing last season’s success
This game was a classic example of what quarterback Patrick Mahomes and this offense can do on a weekly basis. With set formations designed to focus on all-pro duo Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, the Browns defense was just unable to prevent big plays.
Even when he was facing one of the best pass rushers in the league in Myles Garrett, Mahomes was still able to make electric plays like the bombastic throw to Tyreek Hill to shorten Cleveland’s lead in the fourth quarter.
If Kansas City can continue their winning formula offensively, while adding some new facets to the game plan, then this team will be hard to beat.
New offensive line
After a horrendous Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chiefs were left dazed and confused on what to do with the offensive line. Knowing general manager Brett Veach’s ability to stay aggressive in the offseason, he rebuilt the trenches.
Against a solid Browns defense, the line was able to keep Mahomes clean for most of the game. Of course, there were some issues. Orlando Brown allowed a ton of pressures from Myles Garrett. There were some bad holding calls and false starts, and this was a performance that left much to be desired. Look for them to build up on this performance next week.
Patient offense can lead to victory
Kansas City is known to have a fast, bombs away offense that seemed impossible to stop in the past. However, as defenses begin to recognize this, the Chiefs have begun to develop a new phase to their game by staying patient.
This concept has worked for so many teams in the past. Hell, it was working for the Browns during the first half. After seeing that success, the Chiefs finally decided to take it slow and chew up as much time as possible.
Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire did his job by gaining yards on every carry possible while Mahomes made some great short yardage throws. This is the offense that the Chiefs need to follow 24/7.
If they can take some time away from the opponents while making the casual big play every now and then, it could lead to huge success this season.
The Kansas City Chiefs defense struggled early in the game, but late game heroics saved the game.
Missing players create difficulties
Hours before the game started, the Chiefs announced safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Frank Clark would not play against the Browns. Mathieu missed significant time in practice after testing positive for COVID-19 two weeks prior, and Clark was not healthy enough to see action after suffering a hamstring injury during training camp. On top of their absences, linebacker Willie Gay Jr. also missed the game.
The Chiefs finished 2020 as the 12th ranked rushing defense, but with key players being out, Cleveland’s powerful rushing attack proved to be a handful.
Using a healthy mixture of running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, the Browns controlled the pace of the game. As a team, the Browns rushed for 157 yards and averaged nearly six yards per carry. All four of Cleveland’s touchdowns came via rush.
The next time the Chiefs defense took the field, it showed its first signs of life. Linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Nick Bolton forced Chubb to fumble the ball, and linebacker Ben Niemann recovered the ball for Kansas City. The play netted the Chiefs three points, with Harrison Butker kicking a field goal on the ensuing drive.
Following the momentum-shifting 75-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill, the defense responded with new-found energy. On the Browns first offensive snap the following series, Chiefs’ defensive end Chris Jones swallowed Baker Mayfield for a six-yard sack. This allowed Kansas City to force the first three-and-out of the game.
Browns punter Jamie Gillian then lined up to punt, but he fumbled the snap and frantically scrambled until the Chiefs swarmed him, taking over on downs. The timely stop set up the Chiefs’ go-ahead touchdown to take the lead.
Cleveland should have been able to lean on Chubb and Hunt to run down the clock and score, a tactic that worked for them in the first half, with only 7:04 left in the game. Yet, the Chiefs made a defensive statement with the game on the line.
Bolton, the rookie linebacker from Mizzou, pierced through the offensive line and dropped Chubb for a loss on a second-down run. Mayfield followed up with an incomplete pass on third down, and the Browns were forced to punt.
The Browns did get the ball back with 2:49 remaining in the game, and the Chiefs needed the defense to close the game. Cleveland’s drive started with promise, but Mayfield’s luck had run out.
On second down, safety Dan Sorensen tripped Mayfield as he threw the ball. Cornerback Mike Hughes took advantage of the off-balance throw and secured the game-winning interception.
Stopping the run has been a weakness for the Chiefs defense for the last several seasons. Sunday’s game seems to indicate there are still holes that need to be patched.
Mathieu’s return will not only bring a physical player back to the defense, but also a veteran leader. Nick Bolton certainly showed flashes of greatness in this game, and the Chiefs hope to develop him into the middle linebacker the team has been seeking.
Anthony Hitchens injured his elbow and his status will be evaluated this week.
The Chiefs will face off against the Baltimore Ravens next week on Sunday Night Football, and Kansas City’s defense will have the task of slowing down one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league in Lamar Jackson.