- The Browns and Chiefs meet in the Divisional Round on Sunday
- All eyes are on Mayfield and Mahomes in their first postseason matchup
- Our preview details how the Browns can beat the Chiefs
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt have powered the Cleveland Browns into the playoffs and a shock road win over bitter rival the Pittsburgh Steelers. The same one-two punch in the running game is the key to the Browns producing an even bigger upset against defending Super Bowl champion the Kansas City Chiefs.
Chubb and Hunt need to run riot at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. They can beat up a KC defense more geared to stopping the pass. Controlling the sticks on the ground is also how the Browns keep Patrick Mahomes and the explosive Chiefs offense on the sideline.
Mahomes rarely worries about time of possession. He and fellow playmakers Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill can gash defenses in a hurry. Yet Cleveland defensive coordinator Joe Woods will still want Mahomes to throw into the eight-man, blanket coverage schemes that gave him trouble earlier in the season.
Here are the three things the Browns must do to shock the champs.
Turn Chubb and Hunt loose
Cleveland’s prolific double act on the ground is already renting headspace in the minds of Chiefs defenders. Among them, safety Tyrann Mathieu is wary of the threat posed by Chubb and Hunt.
The ‘Honey Badger’ laid out what makes each back special to Herbie Teope of The Kansas City Star:
Nick Chubb, he reminds me of those old-school runners. Big, stocky, low to the ground and tough to tackle.
He (Hunt) can do a lot of things out of the backfield. They motion him out a lot in empty sets, trying to find a matchup.
Chubb rushed for 1067 yards in 12 games during the regular season. Hunt chipped in with 841.
They both continued to dominate against the Steelers. Each back thrives between the tackles and has a nose for the end zone.
The duo combined for 23 touchdowns during the regular season (12 for Chubb, 11 for Hunt), before accounting for 21 of the Browns’ 42 points in Pittsburgh.
BROWNS GO UP 21-0 ON THE STEELERS 🤯
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 11, 2021
What separates Chubb and Hunt from the rest is they can also stretch defenses off tackle. Both possess true breakaway speed.
Another complication for Chiefs’ DC Steve Spagnuolo is how effective Chubb and Hunt are as receivers out of the backfield. Browns’ head coach Kevin Stefanski isn’t shy about moving them around the formation or even using the simplest methods to get the ball in their hands in space.
— NFL (@NFL) January 11, 2021
The Chiefs allowed 4.5 yards per rush during the regular season, so this game will be decided by Cleveland’s two-headed backfield monster. Spagnuolo would be wise to disrupt the Browns’ powerful offensive line by putting standout defensive tackle Chris Jones head-up over center JC Tretter.
A Covid outbreak thinned Cleveland’s options in the trenches for the trip to Pittsburgh. Tretter still delivered a performance worthy of the Hall of Fame against the Steelers.
The Browns are all set to bully the Chiefs on the ground.
Drop 8 into coverage
Blitzing Mahomes is an invitation to be burned by the deep ball. He’s elusive enough to avoid the rush and his receivers are too quick for single coverage.
The safer and smarter move is to drop numbers into coverage and flood the zones. Teams who frustrated Mahomes this season followed the same formula.
Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots pushed the Chiefs to the brink in Week 4, despite being without Cam Newton. Belichick made Mahomes look average by dropping seven and eight into coverage and only rushing three or four.
The Chiefs have gone without a touchdown in the opening half for only the third time in the Patrick Mahomes era.
The other two instances?
A Week 6, 2018 loss to the Patriots.
And the 2018 AFC Championship loss to the Patriots.
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 6, 2020
Jon Gruden and the Las Vegas Raiders must’ve paid close attention because they followed Belichick’s blueprint a week later. The Raiders built a big lead and held on to inflict the Chiefs’ first defeat of the season.
Making Mahomes throw into crowds is the only way to slow this offense down. It forces the best quarterback in the game to hold onto the ball and try and ad-lib his way to big plays.
BUF has to limit Mahomes/KC in 3×1 sets — Here’s how the #Raiders defense schemed it up in Week 5.
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) October 17, 2020
Sometimes Mahomes will conjure a splash play out of nothing. Most of the time he won’t.
A lot of Landry
It’s no coincidence the Browns are winning while Odell Beckham Jr. is on the shelf. Beckham is a dynamic wide receiver, but he’s also a diva who wants the ball every play.
Trying to keep Beckham happy can distract Baker Mayfield from his other weapons, particularly Jarvis Landry. Beckham’s former teammate at LSU is a catch machine, who will make the contested grabs and thrive across the middle.
Landry was on form against the Steelers, hauling in five catches for 92 yards. His night included a 40-yard touchdown.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 11, 2021
Spagnuolo likes his defense to play a lot of zone behind pressure. Landry is one of the best in the NFL at finding the soft spots in zones.