It's the MIDDLE of January and we've got a Browns game Sunday to discuss.
How good does that feel?
We're tackling three of your questions on this feel-good Friday.
Baker Mayfield seemed to be successful with quick releases. Can we expect to see more of this Sunday? — Earl O., Roseville, California
You are very much correct in that assessment. According to NextGenStats, Mayfield got rid of the ball at an average of 2.34 seconds per dropback. Why is that significant? It's .25 seconds faster than he did in any previous game, and the result was a 21-of-34, 263-yard, three-touchdown, zero-interception performance against one of the league's toughest pass defenses.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said it wasn't by accident. That kind of approach was necessary behind an offensive line missing two starters for the majority of the game against a Steelers defense that gets after the quarterback better than any in the NFL. Even with Joel Bitonio back and the potential return of Jack Conklin, it will take on the same kind of importance Sunday in Kansas City.
"It is our job to construct a gameplan where the ball comes out on time," Stefanski said. "Sometimes that is a quick three-step timing play or sometimes it is a five-step timing play with the quarterback getting it out on his plant step or his first hitch. We're very mindful of making sure that he gets through his progressions on time because the rushers in this league and the rushers in the playoffs are typically really, really solid players.
"We are mindful of it this week as much as we were last week."
Kansas City doesn't quite get after the quarterback the way Pittsburgh does, but the Chiefs boast a solid defense that can make you pay if you're indecisive. They've got three Pro Bowlers on the unit, including two on the defensive line — DE Frank Clark and DT Chris Jones. The Browns will have to execute their plan just as efficiently if they want to cause the same problems to the opposing defense.
"I would say it is about everybody being on the same page and just doing their job, and that makes everybody's job easier," Mayfield said. "You do not try and do too much. You stick within the plan, do the little details right and stay efficient. The guys up front and the skill guys around me have made my job extremely easy."
This has been the most rewarding Browns season of my lifetime! Not only are we winning but I find this team to be extremely likeable and very easy to root for. Looking to Sunday, what can we do to slow down the high-powered offensive attack by Kansas City? Do you think we will have enough fortitude to stick with the run game with our dynamic duo of Hunt and Chubb? Looking forward to shocking the world (again) on Sunday! — Brooks P., Cincinnati
"Slow down" is the key phrase here. Kansas City's offense has been rolling for the past three years, and it's safe to assume it will be well-rested and ready to show a few new wrinkles Sunday. That said, the Chiefs haven't been racking up points or big leads in recent weeks. In Week 16 against Atlanta, they scored just 17 points — their fewest in a game since Week 5 of 2019. Kansas City's margin of victory in its past seven wins has been by a touchdown or less.
So what did the Falcons do? For one, they put the clamps on the Chiefs' big plays, limiting them to just three passes of 25 yards or more. They also bottled up Kansas City's running game, allowing just four carries of 10 yards or more. Though they didn't sack Mahomes, they forced 20 incompletions and picked him off for the sixth time this season.
Here are two big stats and a sort of sneak preview for Nathan Zegura's Winning Mix, which will publish Saturday. The Chiefs are 2-6 over the past three years when they possess the ball for fewer than 25 minutes. They're 4-4 when their opponent produces 11 "Big Plays" — passes of 25 yards or more, runs of 10 yards or more.
The best defense Sunday may be a great, time-consuming offense. Chubb and Hunt would obviously play a big role in doing just that.
Can the Browns run the ball against the Chiefs, and will a changed, more mature Kareem Hunt have a big game in his old playground with his upset-minded teammates? — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia
The Chiefs ranked 21st against the run during the 2020 regular season, and the Browns rushed for 100 yards or more in all but three of their games. So, the answer to your question is a resounding "yes." It should be noted, though, that Kansas City showed significant improvement against the run during the second half of the season, allowing opponents to clear 100 yards just twice over the final seven games.
As for Hunt … did you see how he ran last week in Pittsburgh? Though he finished with just 61 yards of offense, Hunt unleashed some of the most punishing, physical runs of the season. He's more than fired up for his return to Arrowhead Stadium, and, as always, will be a key player to watch from start to finish.
"I am still going to keep my head level and just play football," Hunt said. "There are definitely going to be some emotions, but it is football to me."