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Rewind: Cleveland Take Five

Posted Sep 20, 2010

Revisiting our five focal points from pre-game

Prior to kickoff in Cleveland, we outlined five things to watch. Let’s revisit those five focal points and see what we can take away from the Chiefs churning out their first 2-0 start since 2005.

Today marks the Chiefs first road test of the season, their first Sunday contest of the season and their first noon start as well. After five straight night games dating back into the preseason, Kansas City returns to NFL normalcy with a noon (CST) kickoff today.

There isn’t a better place to be than atop the AFC West standings, and without any company. As the Chiefs aim to keep things that way, here are five things to watch for this afternoon in Cleveland.

1) Tempo Match

Kansas City was able to match the increase in game speed from the preseason to the regular season in last week’s game against San Diego. An emotionally charged evening in front of an electric fan base helped the Chiefs begin the year in an aggressive and physical fashion. The environment won’t be the same today.

Chiefs head coach Todd Haley was pleased with his team’s preparation this week and the locker room appeared focused on the game at hand, but matching last week’s emotion level remains a key component for success in Cleveland. The Chiefs can’t afford to come out flat. This is Cleveland’s home opener and a very special day as the Browns officially open their Ring of Honor. They’ll be the squad feeding off a loud and excited fan base.

The short week of prep was hellacious on the team from both a mental and physical sense. Sunday’s first half was filled with plenty of miscues and the game was definitely won in the third and fourth quarters, but dismissing the Chiefs start in Cleveland would be unfair.

The Cleveland faithful brought the Thunder for the beginning of their home opener, but the Chiefs did a great job of taking the sting out of the crowd by forcing a three-and-out to start the game and a two-play fumble in the Browns second drive.

2)    D-Line Déjà-vu

Remember what happened to the Chiefs when one of their starting defensive ends was nursing a knee injury and missed last year’s Browns game? If you don’t remember (which you probably don’t want to), that was Glenn Dorsey missing the game and Jerome Harrison setting a Browns single-game rushing record.

This week, it’s Tyson Jackson who is nursing the injured knee; he didn’t practice at all this week and was officially ruled “out” late Saturday afternoon. Jackson played an important role in keeping the Chargers rushing attack in check last week, but it will be the reserves along Kansas City’s defensive front that have to help in keeping Harrison and company in check today.

This is a big opportunity for the Chiefs reserve defensive ends.

It took a collective effort up front, but the Chiefs did it. Shaun Smith took the majority of base repetitions in Jackson’s place, while Wallace Gilberry recorded his first sack of the season. Alex Magee also saw extended time in defensive sub-packages.

Overall, the reserve defensive ends paired with starter Glenn Dorsey to hold Cleveland to an average just 2.8 yards per carry. Peyton Hillis was the Browns leading rusher with only 35 yards; that’s a far cry from Jerome Harrison’s 286 last year at Arrowhead. Harrison, by the way, had just 33 yards on 16 attempts.

3)    Third-Down Improvement

Todd Haley didn’t seem overly concerned about the Chiefs 9% conversion rate on third downs against San Diego. He attributed the low number to the style of football that the Chiefs were playing due to weather conditions and holding a two-score lead.

In Cleveland, the weather outlook actually calls for rain, so who knows what the game will dictate. Odds are, however, that road teams struggle when they are out-snapped by the margin that Kansas City was last week. Unless it’s another slopper, the Chiefs will need to increase their third-down efficiency.

Kansas City more than tripled their third-down efficiency from the previous week, but a 33% (5-of15) conversion rate likely isn’t what Todd Haley nor Charlie Weis were looking for. The biggest conversion attempt of the game, however, came on fourth down and the Chiefs were successful.

4)    Familiarly Focus

Watch for the Chiefs to do something that we haven’t seen before. Last week, the nickel package took on a different wrinkle to showcase the pass rushing abilities of Demorrio Williams, and we also saw RBs Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles on the field at the same time.

The same goes for Cleveland, which definitely has athletic versatility on offense with Seneca Wallace, Josh Cribbs and Jerome Harrison. The familiarity of the two coaching staffs will play a factor in today’s chess match; both sides could have a few tricks up the sleeve.

The Chiefs seemed to play a lot of dime defense, but there wasn’t a ton of trickery to those of us outside each coaching staff. Feel free to leave a comment about something personnel-wise that came as a surprise to you.

5)    Fringe Zone

Last week the Chiefs had two negative plays along the fringe of the scoring zone that pushed them out of field goal range. One was a six-yard loss on a draw attempt and the other was an offensive hold that pushed the Chiefs outside San Diego’s 40 yard line. Every scoring opportunity is important for the Chiefs, particularly in a building that has been known for its tight finishes between the two clubs (e.g., the helmet-throw game in 2002 and Derek Anderson’s OT scoot in 2006).

There weren’t any notable negative plays on the fringe of the scoring zone, which is good news for the Chiefs. The frustration came in the Red Zone, where Kansas City posted 0% TD efficiency. Kicking field goals in each Red Zone trip only yielded the Chiefs a total of nine points, but that was enough to emerge victorious.

+1) Return Battle

Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs won AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors after returning two kicks for TDs at Arrowhead last December (he actually won the award in back-to-back weeks).

Last week, Kansas City’s Dexter McCluster took home that same honor after turning in a franchise-record 94-yard punt return TD. That runback turned out to be the winning score against San Diego. Add Javier Arenas to the mix and you have three of the NFL’s most dynamic return men playing in today’s game.

Special teams could play a deciding role in this one.

This game wasn’t determined on special teams, which has to make both squads feel good about their kicking and coverage units. Cleveland’s cover team was excellent throughout the afternoon and gave return men Dexter McCluster and Javier Arenas little room to make anything happen.

The Chiefs, on the other hand, came in with a game plan to pooch kickoffs rather than get the ball into Josh Cribbs’ hands. That strategy was flawless as Cribbs ended the day with just 24 kick-return yards.

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