The time has finally come. After a week off, the Kansas City Chiefs are a mere two days away from their first playoff game of the year. Hoping to get back to the Super Bowl and become the first team in 15 years to win it all in back to back seasons, Kansas City has even more confidence. But, so does this week’s opponent in the Cleveland Browns.
We have mentioned it throughout this week. Part of the intrigue for this playoff game, is that these two franchises endured painful stretches throughout their histories. Now, they meet in the playoffs for the first time. Most of the talking is all but over. We will soon get answers to our many questions. Here are our three keys to victory for both the Chiefs and the Browns.
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Kansas City- 3 Keys To Victory
1) Start Fast
Can the Kansas City Chiefs comeback from a playoff deficit? We certainly saw that many times last year en route to the Super Bowl victory. The Houston Texans once held a 24-0 lead in the Divisional Round and the Tennessee Titans were sitting pretty with a 17-7 advantage. Finally in the Super Bowl, the Chiefs escaped the depths of defeat down 20-10, to comeback and win in the championship.
So, this team is certainly capable of pulling off comebacks. It feels like this team wants to put that talking point to bed, however. Now that they have got more healthy and self scouted over the last two weeks, the Chiefs appear ready to reach another gear. And what better team to do that against than the Cleveland Browns? Sure, Cleveland had some high scoring outputs this season. They were up and down at times and even finished the season with a -11 point differential. If Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and company all come out a guns-a-blazing early, they will definitely instill fear in the opponent. This team also just looks so much more comfortable in a track meet. Whereas if the game is slowed down, the Chiefs almost end up squeezing themselves or shooting their own feet.
2) Bottle Up Backfield
The weakest part of the Chiefs defense is when they have to defend the run. Overall, they finished 21st in total rushing yards allowed. On the other end, you have not one, but two starting caliber running backs. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 1,908 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns during the regular season. Fast forward to the Wild Card round, both runners combined for 124 rushing yards on a mere 26 carries. Hunt averaged 6.0 yards per carry.
The Chiefs proved they can bottle up some of the elite runners this season, including Alvin Kamara. Let’s not forget about their tremendous showing against Derrick Henry in last year’s AFC Championship Game. The key against physical, hard nosed runners like Chubb and Hunt will be to fill and pursuit aggressively. Don’t let their rushing attack dictate the pace or the tone of the game. Having Anthony Hitchens back is of great importance to the Chiefs as well.
3) Red Zone Efficiency
We talked about the Chiefs red zone offense as an area of improvement needed for a deep playoff run recently. Of the 14 teams to enter this year’s playoffs, they were 10th in red zone scoring percentage (touchdown scoring only). The Browns happened to rank 3rd in that category.
With a possibly worn out or banged up secondary in Cleveland, Andy Reid may be more confident in attacking them with one on one opportunities. Allowing the speed and deceptiveness of the skill players to takeover, while also giving Mahomes more space to maneuver and fit balls into, the Chiefs will be better suited. Not letting the defense pursuit or move laterally into the action of the play is going to be notable, too. While the Browns are not the most high scoring unit in the league, the Chiefs have to be able to put seven on the board and not just three to take control of the contest.
Cleveland- 3 Keys To Victory
1) Let Baker Bake
Of course, the duo of Chubb and Hunt are dangerous. Baker Mayfield is going to be the big factor though, in how Cleveland’s offense is going to keep pace with the Chiefs or fall flat on their face. What makes the former Oklahoma quarterback so threatening is how he thrives in the underdog role. Mayfield has a never say die attitude and believes in himself more than any player in the league. And wearing that heart on his sleeve like he does, is a perfect match for the Browns.
Behind a dominant offensive line, Mayfield will attempt to stand tall against pressure. Do not count him out on attempting to match Mahomes with trying to complete difficult throws. From Cleveland’s perspective, they must continue to keep it simple with Mayfield. Use the play action and waggle action to manipulate the eyes and feet of the Chiefs defenders. Furthermore, the Browns should not be afraid to let number six take daring shots down the field.
2) Exotic Blitzes
This Browns defensive line is simply one of the deepest in the entire playoff field. Myles Garrett, Sheldon Richardson, Porter Gustin, Larry Ogunjobi and others have built a suffocating pass rush. They can win from wide angles or from the interior. Meanwhile, they have a fairly advantageous matchup on paper this Sunday.
The Kansas City blocking unit struggled with exotic blitzes against Atlanta and New Orleans over the last few games. Not only did this lead to wrong throws/reads, but it also led to short, stunted drives. With what the Browns have at their disposal, one would expect much of the same attempts that we saw from the Falcons or Saints. Twisting and stunting to confuse the Chiefs blockers could be used heavily. Cleveland may also find a need to increase additional pressure from defensive backs as well.
3) Stay Aggressive
Head coach Kevin Stefanski was obviously not there in person last week. His stint on the COVID list is now over and he will assume the sideline duties on Sunday. Media in Cleveland label the head coach as an aggressive minded game manager. Yet, it does not appear that it is well known nationally. Maybe it is because Stefanski is more consistent when staying aggressive than other coaches?
He just does not lean on it as religiously so to speak. This feels like a game where Stefanski may take that up a notch. Knowing they will have to score points is clear. The Chiefs have averaged 35.8 points per game in the playoffs with Mahomes. That is the highest in playoff games for a quarterback since 1950, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Thus, the Browns must be willing to stay on the attack and not sit back. Throwing some creative play calls in should not be turned away from. Finally, Cleveland must let their players execute by playing to their strengths.
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– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.