Before we get into the matchup between the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs, let’s talk about last week’s Pittsburgh Steelers-Baltimore Ravens game.
Wait, I’m going somewhere with this. I promise.
No one gave the Steelers a chance against the host Ravens last Sunday. Pittsburgh was coming off an eight-turnover performance in Cleveland after Charlie Batch gave his best Spergon Wynn impersonation. No way the Steelers can win in Baltimore against that defense.
Steelers 23, Ravens 20
After the game, many focused their praise on Batch for leading Pittsburgh to the victory against a supposedly vaunted Baltimore defense.
Funny. A week before he didn’t look so hot against the Browns. Was it Batch’s fault he played bad? Was it the fault of the Steelers running backs that they fumbled so many times? Dud they improve that much in just one week?
How about it was because the Browns defense is good?
Yeah, that’s right. Good.
The Browns are plus-seven in the turnover margin and are allowing 115.6 yards rushing per game. The latter is outstanding when you consider how bad the Browns have been against the run since 1999. For all their faults, the inability to stop the run was one of the most troubling.
We saw the defense’s potential at times last season. The Browns defense kept the team in a lot of their games, but the offense was so incompetent it was unable to take advantage. Things are changing with bona fide playmakers at wide receiver, running back and, yes, quarterback.
Sure, the Browns defense has their holes - one of which rhymes with Muster Spleen. But to not credit the Browns defense for dismantling a decimated Steelers offense, an offense in which its only touchdown was set up by a desperation throw and a pass interference call, is upsetting.
Another Browns' victory later, the Chiefs come to town as one of the league’s worst teams. It’s simple: for a majority of the season, they failed to hold a lead. Last week’s game was unique, as Kansas City beat the Carolina Panthers 27-21 a day after the Jovan Belcher tragedy to improve to 2-10.
Now, the Chiefs have to take to the road. Yes, the team won last week, but it was evident their minds were still on the events of Saturday, Dec. 1. There is no past history to compare and help predict what shape the team will be in mentally when they take the field against the Browns on Sunday.
What we do know is that the Chiefs employ former a Browns head coach, quarterback and running back and no doubt they will be looking for revenge against their former team. But after what they went through last weekend, will they be able to concentrate on the task at hand?
It is up to the Browns defense to shut down two players who could produce strong revenge game numbers in quarterback Brady Quinn and running back Peyton Hillis. On and off the field, Quinn was impressive in his leadership last Sunday. He finished 19-for-23 passing for 201 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers. Hillis added 19 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
That game aside, Quinn started four games this season for the Chiefs and he is 67-for-106 passing for 635 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. Hillis has played in nine of the team’s 12 games and has 193 yards rushing on 59 carries and a touchdown.
Quinn and Hillis aside, Jamaal Charles is the key cog in the Chiefs’ offense. Unlike Quinn and Hillis, Charles had deep ties to the Belcher tragedy. Charles’ wife was a cousin with Belcher’s girlfriend. Charles was instrumental in introducing the two. Last week, Charles rushed for 127 yards on 27 carries to push him over 1,000 yards rushing for the season.
Again, what condition Kansas City will be in mentally when they arrive in Cleveland is unknown, but you have got to expect a deeply flawed team.
Shutdown Quinn and Hillis and limit the damage Charles can do and the Browns’ quest for a third consecutive victory is a real possibility.