Take Five: Cleveland

Posted Sep 19, 2010

Five things to watch in the Rock 'n' Roll Capital

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

+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.

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