Three Key Matchups: Chiefs vs. Browns

Justin Houston
Kansas City Chiefs Edge Rusher Justin Houston. Photo Credit: Mike Morbeck - Under Creative Commons License

Last week, Kansas City completed a dominant first half of the season with a 30-23 victory over Denver. At 7-1, the Chiefs are in the driver’s seat in both the AFC West and the conference.

Andy Reid‘s squad gets what is normally a break, traveling to the shores of Lake Erie to take on Cleveland (2-5-1). The Browns have mostly been competitive this season, but just fired head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

What can Kansas City do to spoil new Browns head coach Gregg Williams‘ debut? Taking the lead in these three key matchups would help.

Patrick Mahomes vs. Baker Mayfield

OK, yes, the quarterbacks don’t actually play against each other. There’s good reason for cheating in this case.

The last time that these particular quarterbacks matched up was in college in 2016. Back then, it was Oklahoma facing Texas Tech in the defense deficient Big 12. The Sooners came away with a 66-59 victory, but that’s not what people remember.

That game set an FBS-record for total offense as the two teams combined for 1,708 yards. Mayfield’s stat line was ridiculous. He was 27-36 for 545 yards and seven touchdowns. The line for Mahomes went the next stop past ridiculous. The then Red Raider threw for 734 yards, going 53-88 (yes, 88), and five scoring strikes. The flinging was only one part of it, though, because he also ran for 85 yards and two more scores.

To put a bow on it, that was 14 touchdowns between them, seven for each quarterback. Even for the Big 12, that’s a lot.

Mayfield is taking his lumps as a rookie in Cleveland, with eight touchdowns against six interceptions. As for Mahomes?

His 26 touchdowns through eight games make him just the third quarterback to have 25 or more in the first half of the season.

Any time that you’re in the same grouping as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, you’re doing something right.

There next to no chance that Mayfield will come anywhere near his Oklahoma numbers this Sunday. Mahomes might not be able to match his Texas Tech stats, but it’s not out of the question for him to approach Mayfield’s college line at some point in the NFL.

Myles Garrett vs. Eric Fisher

Many observers questioned the Browns’ decision to take Garrett first overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. Cleveland didn’t have a quarterback, after trading away the pick that became Carson Wentz the year before. Not everyone was in agreement on who the best quarterback available was, but the options included Mahomes, Mitchell Trubisky, and Deshaun Watson.

While the team’s previous decisions will ultimately be viewed based on how well Mayfield does, Garrett has proven that he was worth a high pick. The second-year defensive end has eight sacks and has shown flashes that he can become the best pass rusher in the league.

Like Garrett, Fisher was the first overall draft pick back in 2013. For a long time, people in Kansas City lamented that decision as the Central Michigan product had trouble adjusting to the NFL. (Fisher was saved, somewhat, by the overall weakness of his draft class.)

The left tackle has settled in nicely at this point and now anchors a fairly solid Chiefs line. Oddly, that line now features three former Cleveland players in right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, center Austin Reiter, and left guard Cameron Erving.

Mahomes has proven that he doesn’t need a clean pocket to be effective. Like any quarterback, he doesn’t mind having as much time as he can get to find receivers. Garrett isn’t the only good player that the Browns have on defense. Williams’ unit is among the league’s leaders with 13 forced fumbles (even if his star doesn’t always agree with the game plan).

Even if they haven’t been terrible, if Fisher can’t keep Garrett away from his quarterback, it could be a long afternoon for Cleveland’s defense.

Kareem Hunt vs. Larry Ogunjobi/Trevon Coley

While there have been some bright spots on Cleveland’s defense, stopping the run has not been one of them. The Browns are 28th in the league, giving up an average of 138.9 yards per game. The Chiefs haven’t been much better, but there’s a big difference between the two offense’s rushing attack.

Rookie Nick Chubb has looked good enough for Cleveland that they felt comfortable enough to trade away starting running back Carlos Hyde.

Kansas City, however, has a Pro Bowl back in Hunt. After a slow start, he has been building up steam as the season has gone along. He also keeps auditioning for an unnamed track team.

The Chiefs have weapons all over the place, and Cleveland is going to have enough to worry about trying to contain Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Sammy Watkins. They can ill afford to let Hunt go nuts.

With Kansas City starting backups at center and right guard, defensive tackles Ogunjobi and Coley need to notch some wins on the interior. If the Browns give up chunks of yardage to Hunt, things will get ugly quickly at FirstEnergy Stadium.