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Matchup to Watch

Matchup to Watch: Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill vs. Browns pass defense

Containing the No. 1 pass offense in the NFL will be critical to victory Sunday

On to Kansas City!  1-0 again this week! 

That was the message following the Browns' dominating, 48-37 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football to cap off a thrilling Super Wild Card Weekend. Of course, it will be a tall order against the defending Super Bowl Champions, who went 14-1 with their starters on the field and locked up the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Everything about what the Browns have accomplished this season has been a "tall order," and we would not want it any other way, would we Browns fans?  

The Chiefs are as good an offensive football team as there is in the NFL, and they are led by former NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. This year, Mahomes threw for 4,740 yards with 38 touchdowns and only six interceptions.  He added another 302 yards rushing and two scores to personally account for more than 5,000 yards and 40 scores while guiding the Chiefs to both the No. 1 ranked total offense and passing offense in the league. Mahomes also averaged 4.5 pass plays of 20-plus yards per game and produced 13 touchdowns on passes of more than 20 yards in the air — both of which were the most in the NFL — so this is as explosive of a passing attack as the game has to offer. 

It would be enough to scare you if the Chiefs relied on Mahomes to elevate the pass-catchers on the team, but Kansas City boasts the most talented receiving duo in the NFL in WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce. 

Hill is the premier deep threat in the league and accounted for 1,276 yards (eighth-most in the NFL) and 15 touchdowns (second-most) on 87 grabs. Eight of his 15 touchdowns came on passes of more than 20 yards in the air (most in the league) and he produced 475 yards receiving on such throws this year (second-most in the league). Hill averaged nearly 15 yards per catch this season and was fourth in the league with five plays of 40-plus yards. In the Chiefs' dismantling of the Buccaneers earlier this year, Hill had 203 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter alone! Containing Hill is an absolute must on Sunday.

In addition to the top vertical threat in the game, the Chiefs also have the best intermediate receiver in the league and, perhaps, the greatest receiving tight end in NFL history in Kelce. Kelce set the NFL record for most receiving yards in a season by a tight end with 1,416 yards (second overall in the NFL) and 11 touchdowns on 105 catches this year. He could have very easily become the first tight end to ever lead the NFL in receiving this year had he not been held out of Week 17 when the Chiefs had already clinched a first-round bye. Kelce led the NFL, regardless of position, with 23 receptions of more than 20 yards this year and his 11 scores were tops among all tight ends. Kelce is too big to be covered by cornerbacks and safeties and too fast and skilled to be covered by linebackers. He is the ultimate matchup nightmare, and many think he is the best non-quarterback/non-Aaron Donald in the entire league.  

In addition to that dynamic duo, the Chiefs have receivers Mecole Hardman (41 receptions, 560 yards, 4 touchdowns), Demarcus Robinson (45, 466, 3) and former first-round pick Sammy Watkins (37, 421 and 2) as well.

The Browns have had their ups and downs against the pass this season but are coming off of a game in which they intercepted Ben Roethlisberger four times. They are also getting some reinforcements back as both Pro Bowl CB Denzel Ward and slot CB Kevin Johnson are back from the reserve/COVID-19 list. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods did a masterful job incorporating a season-high utilization of Cover-2 against the Steelers to limit their vertical passing game. It should be noted Woods was on the 49ers staff that, save for a blown coverage late, befuddled Mahomes in the Super Bowl to such a degree that it almost propelled the 49ers to victory. The Browns' corners, safeties and linebackers will have to work in concert to play sound zone (or man) defense against this potent attack. The Chiefs threw it 630 times this year, third-most in the NFL, but allowed only 24 sacks (fifth-fewest). Generating pressure is a must against Mahomes, who completes 75 percent of his passes with 30 touchdowns and only three interceptions for a quarterback rating of 121 from a clean pocket. When under duress, those numbers fall to a much more manageable 47 percent with eight touchdowns, three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 78.5.  

It should be noted that the pressure on Mahomes has been higher over his last four starts, and that is a trend the Browns need to continue. During that stretch, Mahomes has not posted a single QB rating of more than 100, and the Chiefs have not won a single game by more than six points with an average margin of victory is 4.5. Getting after Mahomes and containing the dynamic duo of Kelce and Hill will be job No. 1 for the Browns defense this Sunday.

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