(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the interview with Tony Grossi, fast-forward to 5:20 of the following attached audio: https://www.spreaker.com/user/fullpresscoverage/20210112-1128-recording)
The Cleveland Browns aren’t given much of a chance of pulling the upset this weekend and beating Kansas City in the AFC playoffs. Of course, they weren’t given much of a chance in Pittsburgh last weekend, either … and look what happened.
But this is different. These are the defending Super Bowl champions, the best team in the NFL, and a 10-point favorite to end Cleveland’s season. Plus, they’re the team with Patrick Mahomes.
So where’s the hope?
Well, look at where the Chiefs struggle, and it’s defending the run. Opponents this season average 122 yards a game and 4.5 yards a carry. Now, look what the Browns do best. It’s run the ball with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Put the two together, and you have a game plan. If you’re Browns’ coach Kevin Stefanski, you call for 35 carries, feature Chubb and Hunt, run the clock and keep Mahomes off the field.
Makes sense, right? Yes. But according to Tony Grossi of 850 ESPN Cleveland and FOX SportsOhio, a Hall-of-Fame voter who’s covered the Browns since 1984, it’s not going to happen.
“It’s not in Stefanski’s DNA to do that,” he said on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast. “He does not do that. The Browns’ defense is their weakness. I don’t know how many teams play (great) defense, but this one gives up a lot of points and yards. In acknowledgment of that, his theory is to throw as many points as you can early in the game, just like he did against the Steelers.
“He’s done it against the Cowboys and Tennessee. They were up 38-7 at halftime against Tennessee. That’s his DNA. And (then) just hang on, and use Chubb, Hunt and the running game in the second half to ice the game. I have not seen him yet come out and try to play a conservative, possession-type game.”
This might be a good time to try, and I cite the 2018 AFC championship game as a reference. The New England Patriots went to Kansas City for an expected Brady-Mahomes shootout, but it never happened. The Patriots ran 48 times for 176 yards, scored four rushing TDs and had the ball for 43:59. Kansas City had it for 20:53.
Result: New England 37, Chiefs 31 in overtime.
The Patriots proved you can run the Chiefs to death. Maybe the Browns should try to prove it, too. They have the weapons. Now they have the opportunity.
“I have advocated that all season long against certain teams,” said Grossi, “and (Stefanski) just doesn’t do it. And you can’t argue with it. They’re 12-5.
“The (Gary) Kubiak system … bootleg and play-fake, play-action … Baker’s (quarterback Baker Mayfield) developed amazingly in it. (But) They do have a potent offensive team, too, in addition to just Chubb and Hunt.
“So it’s amazing that he is relentless. In every script to start a game he comes out firing. And I expect him to do it again against Kansas City.”
Given that, Grossi was asked for a realistic assessment of the Browns’ chances Saturday. He didn’t rule out an upset.
“(There’s) something about them,” he said. “We’ve all had a season where we’ve covered a team that just seems to have some magic dust around it. And that’s what this team is now.
“I don’t know how far they’ll go, but at the beginning of the year I’d say, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s going to be a horrendous day for the Browns.’ I don’t think that anymore.
“I think the point spread is fair, accurate … 10 or 11, whatever it is. But this team has been through so much. They keep getting stronger because of it … It’s working for them somehow, and I think partly it works because you don’t expect it.”