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Four Downs: What we'll be watching for Sunday vs. Kansas City


In lieu of our normal approach to the Saturday edition of Four Downs, we're breaking down the top things we'll be watching for Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

1. Can the Browns bring pressure on Kansas City's Alex Smith?

Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith has been one of the best in the NFL at limiting his turnovers, but that's come at a cost. Smith has been dropped a whopping 43 times in his 14 starts this season.

The Browns have been a feast or famine team when it comes to sacking the opponent's quarterback. Sixteen of the team's 28 came in two games, the Week 2 win against Tennessee and the Week 14 triumph over San Francisco. That means Cleveland has averaged one sack per game in its other 12.

No matter how much Smith has been brought down in the last couple of months, it hasn't mattered when it comes to the bottom line. Kansas City is on an eight-game winning streak despite the constant hits, and it will be on Cleveland to not only keep the sack trend rolling, but also do even more defensively to threaten the second-longest winning streak in the NFL.

"Some of that is a product of him not wanting to turn the ball over if he doesn't like the look," Browns defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said. "Some guys might force a throw into bad coverage. I don't think he has a problem eating it if he doesn't like the look. He'll be a guy, that like last week, if he doesn't like it, he's going to try to run."

The Browns will be without the team leader in sacks, Armonty Bryant, and will need other pass rushers to step up in his absence. Rookie Nate Orchard has made steady progression throughout the season and had his confidence buoyed by two sacks against the 49ers.

2. Who's going to win the turnover battle?

Cleveland's defense is in the midst of its longest turnover drought of the season. After forcing two against the Ravens on Monday Night Football, the last coming near the end of the fourth quarter, the Browns have gone 12 quarters without a takeaway.

The challenge only grows Sunday against a Kansas City team that has turned it over just four times during the entirety of its winning streak. The games in which Kansas City did turn it over were among the closest results during this two month-long stretch.

The biggest reason behind that, of course, is Smith. He came 46 pass attempts short of the NFL record when he snapped a 312-pass streak without an interception two weeks ago against the Chargers.

"He is playing at a very high level," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "I think (Chiefs Head Coach) Andy Reid does an outstanding job matching what he has talent-wise to the scheme. He takes advantage of what his guys do. Alex was a mobile quarterback coming out, and he hasn't lost that through his NFL career. They are doing a lot of good things that put him on the run and stress the defense."

3. Spotlight on the offensive line

The Browns got through last season with only one major injury along their offensive line. They're dealing with two as of Sunday, and the two cornerstone pieces of the group, Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, are battling minor injuries that limited them in practice this week.

Earlier in the week, Cleveland's coaches settled on sticking with Austin Pasztor at left guard, where he's filling in for Joel Bitonio, and placing rookie Cameron Erving at right guard, the spot previously occupied by John Greco. Pasztor has been solid since he was inserted in the starting lineup against the 49ers, and Erving has said he's more comfortable at a spot where he spent most of the preseason.

The Chiefs boast the AFC's fourth-best run defense and have limited opponents to just six rushing touchdowns. They're third with 41 sacks.

"They're good in all phases," Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel said. "It's another solid test."

4. Numbers to watch

A couple of season milestones can be reached Sunday by a handful of Browns players:

-- Tight end Gary Barnidge is one touchdown catch away from holding the franchise record for his position all to himself. He's currently tied with Ozzie Newsome at nine. He's also 70 yards away from 1,000 on the year.

-- Travis Benjamin is 107 yards away from 1,000. If both he and Barnidge clear 1,000, it will mark just the second time since the franchise returned in 1999 that it's happened.

-- Running back Duke Johnson Jr. is 12 receptions away from tying the franchise record for rookies. That's currently held by Kevin Johnson (1999), who had 66. Johnson is second in the league among rookies in receptions, trailing only Amari Cooper, and is fourth among NFL running backs.

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