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Chiefs vs. Browns: Five Things to Watch

The Kansas City Chiefs (7-1) travel to take on the Cleveland Browns (2-5-1) Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, and kickoff is set for Noon CT (CBS).

Despite their losing record, the Browns are 2-1 at home this year, with wins over the New York Jets (3-5) and Baltimore Ravens (4-4).

The Chiefs will be looking for their third-straight win and to remain atop the AFC as the only one-loss team, while the new-look Browns are looking to a break a three-game slide.

Earlier this week, the Browns let go of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley and named defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as their interim head coach. Running backs’ coach Freddie Kitchens was also promoted to offensive coordinator and will be calling plays on Sunday for the first time in his career.

The Browns have played in a lot of close games this year and Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid is happy with the way his team prepared this week.

“The guys I thought had a good week of practice,” Reid noted. “They worked hard. Today we knocked out red-zone. Important that we went through the process here and we continue that as we go to Cleveland. Finish up what we need to finish up in preparation to play a good football team.”

Here are five things to watch on Sunday:

1.    Can the Chiefs get pressure on Baker Mayfield?

The Chiefs head into Sunday’s game tied for second in NFL with 24 total sacks as a team.

Led by the NFL’s leader among edge rushers in quarterback pressures—Dee Ford (45), who also ranks second in the league with eight sacks, the Chiefs’ defense has been very good this year at putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The fact that they’ve been leading in a lot of games has helped, but Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has done a very good job of manufacturing pressure up front when needed, while also allowing the guys to execute their pass-rush plan when they find themselves in the right situations.

Veteran edge rusher Justin Houston (hamstring), who was limited at practice on both Thursday and Friday after missing Wednesday’s practice (and the last three games), is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.

If Houston isn’t able to go, look for rookie second-round pick Breeland Speaks to once again see plenty of action for the Chiefs’ defense. He played 67 of a possible 73 snaps (92 percent) for the defense last week.

Speaks is coming off arguably the best game of his young career as he finished last Sunday’s win over the Broncos with a sack, a fumble recovery and two quarterback hits. It’s fair to say we may see plenty of Speaks’ pure strength and power coming off the right edge of the defense on Sunday.

And pressure is something Browns’ quarterback Baker Mayfield has had to deal with quite a lot so far this season.

Between Mayfield and veteran Tyrod Taylor, who started the first three games of the year for the Browns’ offense, the two have been sacked a combined-33 time this year, which is the most allowed for any team in the league.

In fact, Mayfield has been sacked 17 times in his last four games, and two of those teams he faced—the Chargers and Buccaneers—both rank in the bottom half of the league in total sacks.

Most of the pressure has come off the edge as the two starting tackles—Desmond Harrison and Chris Hubbard—have combined to allow 55 pressures so far this year, while the two starting guards—Kevin Zeiter and Joel Bintonio—have combined to allow just 12.

It’s also worth noting that Harrison—an undrafted rookie free agent—didn’t practice on Friday (illness) and is officially listed as questionable for the game.

2.    Do the Chiefs’ offensive skill guys continue to make plays with the ball in their hands?

The Chiefs come into this game ranked second in the league with 1,315 yards receiving after the catch, which actually accounts for 52 percent of their total yards receiving and ranks as the eighth-highest percentage in the league in that area.

Simply put: Patrick Mahomes gets the ball into the hands of his playmakers and lets them do their thing. That’s led him to leading the league in touchdown passes (26) and has seen him set numerous NFL records already, including most passing yards and touchdowns in the first nine starts of a career.

And last week against the Broncos, Sammy Watkins had the best game of his young Chiefs’ career—hauling in eight receptions for 107 yards and two touchdowns—both of which came inside the red zone on short passes that he accelerated with up the field and into the end zone.

Along those same lines, it’s worth noting that running back Kareem Hunt leads the league in “avoided tackles” on rushes this year, per Pro Football Focus.

The Browns have allowed some big plays on their back end and the Chiefs’ ability to continue racking up yards-after-the-catch is a storyline in this one.

3.    Can the Chiefs hold on to the ball?

The Browns currently lead the league with 22 takeaways this season.

Standout rookie cornerback Denzel Ward leads them with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries, while defensive end Myles Garrett always gets plenty of love for the ability he brings off the edge. He’s got plenty of juice and has three strip-sacks already this year.

But the Chiefs have been pretty good at taking care of the ball so far this year—giving it away just seven times through eight games, which ties them for sixth-fewest in the league.

The Browns need as many possessions as possible to try and keep up with the Chiefs’ league-leading scoring offense (36.3 ppg), and if the Chiefs don’t gift them any extra possessions with turnovers, the chances of them winning are that much greater.

4.    Is this the week that Tyreek Hill breaks off a big punt return?

The Browns’ Britton Colquitt leads the league with 59 punts this year, which is 14 more than the next-highest punter in the league. 

For comparison, his brother, the Chiefs’ Dustin Colquitt, has punted it just 21 times.

With those inflate numbers, the Browns have allowed five punt returns of 20-plus yards this year, which is the most in NFL, but the 11.7 yards per return teams are averaging against them is still the fourth-highest mark in the league.

Hill is a threat any time he touches the ball and teams have made a concerted effort to kick it away from him, which has led to net average against the Chiefs of just 35.5 yards on punts, which is second-best in the league.

5.    A reunion for three members of the Chiefs’ offensive line

The Chiefs will feature three former Browns along the offensive line this week in right tackle Mitch Schwartz, center Austin Reiter and left guard Cam Erving.

Schwartz (No. 37 overall, 2012) and Erving (No. 15 overall, 2015) were both drafted by the Browns, while Reiter joined the Browns (2016-17) after spending his first two years with the Washington Redskins (2015-16), who drafted him in the seventh round (No. 222 overall, 2015).

Reiter made his first career start last Sunday as he stepped in for the injured Jordan Devey, who was in there for the injured Mitch Morse, and he helped the Chiefs’ offense average 6.3 yards-per-play against the Broncos.

Those three have contributed to an offensive line that’s not only paved the way for the league’s current No. 4 rusher in Kareem Hunt (592 yards rushing), but also keeping Mahomes pretty clean as he’s been sacked just 10 times, which is among the fewest in the league.

But on Sunday, those three not only have to deal with the always-mentioned top-pick Garrett, but also a couple of other key members and under-discussed playmakers along that front in rookie linebacker Genard Avery, and defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi.

Both players have stood out to Chiefs’ coaches and players this week.

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