This week’s Chiefs-Browns game probably won’t get much press outside of the respected cities represented, and it shouldn’t. The Chiefs are 2-10 coming off a victory over the Carolina Panthers in which they were using raw emotion to get through that day’s events, while the Browns are 4-8 coming off two straight victories against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders. But between these two teams, there seem to be no shortage of connections.*
*Unlike Brandon Weeden’s completion percentage. Boom roasted.
Romeo Crennel was the head coach in Cleveland, appeared in zero playoff games, created two quarterback controversies (Derek Anderson over Charlie Frye, and then Brady Quinn over Derek Anderson), and is probably most fondly remembered for his Coors Light commercials.* Speaking of Brady Quinn, he was a former first round pick of theirs now winning AFC Offensive Player of the Week Awards for the Chiefs** while passing Brodie Croyle on the all-time wins list for Chiefs starting quarterbacks (all it took was one). Then we have Peyton Hillis, who didn’t exactly leave Cleveland under the best of terms and probably won’t be sharing many kind words with his “crazy ex-girlfriend” Joe Thomas, the Browns Pro Bowl left tackle. And let’s not forget Brian Daboll, who was an offensive coordinator for Cleveland for a couple of seasons under the Eric Mangini regime.
**Pretty good considering he can’t throw an accurate deep ball.
As you can tell, for a lot of these players and coaches, this game will be very personal. From a professional standpoint, however, I’ve been looking forward to the coaching matchup of Romeo Crennel vs. Browns head coach Pat Shurmur* for quite some time. Sure, some of the wind was taken out of the sails when Crennel coached the best game of his life last week against the Panthers going for three pivotal fourth downs that, in my opinion, won the game for the Chiefs, ** but there should still be some interesting game-management gaffs between these two, since both are considered on the hot seat for their season-long avoidance of anything resembling good coaching acumen.
**I want to give Crennel a lot of credit here. For the first time all season it looked like he coached with no fear and a sense of pros outweighing cons. He faced fourth and short three different times, each time deciding to go for it. The most notable time was with just seconds remaining before halftime and the ball barely out of the endzone. If Crennel had stuck to his conservative ways, the Chiefs would have kicked the field goal, and then probably done so again on their first possession of the second half, a drive which actually consisted of two fourth and short conversions. By going for it, the Chiefs ended up scoring 14 points, compared to the 6 they would have gotten from field goals. This 8 point difference in created points was greater than the 6 point margin of victory, and in my opinion, was the reason the Chiefs won the game.
With the 22nd pick in the 2012 draft, the Cleveland Browns selected Brandon Weeden from Oklahoma State. He put up the stats in college to warrant a first round selection, and had much praise as a player entering the draft. But it wasn’t his first draft he’d been involved in. Drafted in 2002 by the Yankees, Weeden did the minor league circuit until quitting in 2006. So when he was selected by the Browns, he was 28 years old, and would turn 29 in October. This is the age when quarterbacks should be in their prime, not in their rookie season.* To give a comparison, Weeden is nearly two months older than Aaron Rodgers, nearly 7 months older than Alex Smith, and a full year older than Brady Quinn. But hey, he’s almost six months younger than Jay Cutler, so there’s that. On the season, Weeden is 247/433 (57%) for 2,820 yards with 13 TDs and 15 INTs.
Now, if I seemed to be a little skeptical of Weeden’s potential success with the Browns, I have nothing but praise for Trent Richardson, the runningback from Alabama the team drafted with the third overall pick last April. The guy’s a big, physical runner who also has the speed and elusiveness to wiggle his way through the secondary. He currently is 13th in the NFL in rushing yards with 827, and 6th in the NFL in rushing attempts per game. If those rankings seemed strange, the explanation is that Richardson is only averaging 3.6 yards per carry.* But when the defense loads up the box every down daring Weeden to throw, a low yards per carry makes sense.
*When looking up that statistic, I realized that Adrian Peterson is not only leading the league in rushing but also is averaging 6.2 yards per carry! That’s insane by itself, but the guy’s coming off a torn ACL. What a beast.
Cleveland’s receiving unit has been far from prolific this season, with the lone bright spot coming from Josh Gordon, the team’s 2012 2nd round pick from Baylor, leading the team with 646 receiving yards off 66 receptions good for 19 yards per reception average. Gordon also has 5 TDs. Second on the team is Greg Little, the 2011 2nd round pick from North Carolina, with 408 yards and 2 TDs. And this might just be me, but whenever I’ve had the unfortunate opportunity of watching a Browns game this season (curse you Thursday Night Football), it seems Little is dropping every other pass thrown his way.* Tight End Benjamin Watson** is fourth on the team in receiving yards (after Trent Richardson) with 335 yards and 3 TDs.
* But hey, at least he gets targets (more than I can say about Jon Baldwin).
As for Cleveland’s offensive line, it’s a real tale from the left to right side. At left tackle, the Browns have the “$100 million” man, Joe Thomas, who was the third player taken in the 2007 draft and has been selected to every Pro-Bowl since his rookie year.* On the right side, the Browns have rookie Mitchell Schwartz, a 2012 2nd rounder from Cal. In between the tackles, the Browns have Ohio native John Greco at left guard, 2009 1st round pick and 2010 Pro-Bowl selection** Alex Mack at center, and 2010 3rd round pick Shawn Lauvao at right guard. According to Football Outsiders, the offensive line is 20th in run blocking and 7th in pass protection.
*His resume has arguably-the-best-left-tackle-in-the-NFL written all over it.
**Who was actually sort-of a recipient of Matt Cassel’s touchdown pass in the Pro Bowl. Have a look yourself.
On the year, the Browns are 20th in passing offense (223.3 yards per game) and 25th in rushing offense (96 yards per game).
Upfront for the Browns in their 4-3 defense are Jabaal Sheard, the 2011 2nd round pick out of Pitt and Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team, at left end; Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor, the 2011 1st round pick out of Baylor, manning the defensive tackle positions; and finally Frostee Rucker at the right end. Between all four players, they have 9 sacks and 106 tackles.
*Who a lot of Kansas City Chiefs fans wanted in the 2011 draft and then complained when KC took Dontari Poe in 2012. At least Poe doesn’t have THIS wrong with him.
With the linebackers, there’s one player I want to pay special attention to. D’Qwell Jackson is quietly one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL, and nobody seems to ever hear about him. Jackson might be 29th in the league in tackles this season, but he was second in the NFL in tackles last season and first in the AFC with 158, including 3.5 sacks. That was coming off missing a season and a half due to injury. Before that injury, Jackson had consecutive seasons of 100+ tackles, including leading the NFL in 2008. He has thrived under the 4-3 and is helping the Browns turn around their defense. On either side of Jackson are James-Michael Johnson, a 2012 4th round pick out of Nevada, and Kaluka Maiava, a 2009 draft pick out of USC. These three have combined for 161 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 2 INTs.
In the backfield, the Browns are not exactly deep. Joe Haden, the 1st round pick in 2010 out of Florida, has been in and out of trouble with the league all season, but is undeniably their most talented defensive back. On the other corner is Sheldon Brown, the long-time Eagle, who has been in the league since 2002. Both these starting corners have three interceptions apiece. Usama* Young, a free agent acquired in 2011, is the starting free safety while T.J. Ward, the 2010 2nd round pick of the Browns, is the starting free safety.**
*Can’t be all that popular of a first name.
**As well as first cousin of Maurice Jones-Drew.
Currently, the Browns defense is 24th in pass defense (252.1 yards allowed per game) and 16th in run defense (115.6 yards allowed per game).
Phil Dawson – Kicker: 23/24 on the year
Reggie Hodges – Punter: 36.9 Net Punt Average