Finally, the most anticipated Browns season in recent memory is here, and the 2021 season will begin where the magical 2020 season came to its conclusion, Arrowhead Stadium.
The Browns will travel to Kansas City to take on the two-time defending AFC Champions in a game that will be an excellent barometer to see how far this team and its new-look defense have come this offseason. The Chiefs are led by MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, are under the watchful eye of coach Andy Reid and boast the No. 1 offense in the NFL, which features elite playmakers in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. They have an excellent defense as well that features stars in DE Chris Jones and S Tyrann Mathieu. As the 2021 season starts, the Chiefs are the team to beat for anyone in the AFC with aspirations for a historic season.
The Browns are returning one of the most efficient and explosive offenses in the NFL and have remade their defense with length, speed and power to try to slow the best offenses in the NFL. The time for talk and "on paper" is over! The games that count are here, and for the Browns, there are three clear keys to victory over the Chiefs.
1. Win the Turnover Battle
Any possession that does not end in seven points for the No. 1-ranked offense of the Chiefs is always considered a win for the defense. A Chiefs possession that ends in a turnover could be a game-changing play that could tilt the game in the Browns' favor. The Browns are always "ball-seeking," and coming away with a turnover or two on defense would be huge. The Browns were 10-0 in the regular season in 2020 when they did not lose the turnover battle. The Browns were 6-0 when they forced two or more turnovers in a game and 8-1 when they forced at least one. Forcing those turnovers defensively and protecting the ball on offense are absolutely critical to getting a win over the Chiefs.
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Kansas City Chiefs
2. Raw Power Pass Rush — Generate pressure on 30 percent of KC pass plays
Last season, the Chiefs were 15-0 when Patrick Mahomes was pressured on fewer than 30 percent of his drop backs. When a defense was able to generate a pressure on Mahomes in 30 percent or more of Kansas City's pass plays, they were just 1-2, including the Week 5 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders and the Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2020, when Mahomes was not pressured, he completed 75 percent of his passes, threw for 33 touchdowns with only four interceptions and boasted a QB rating of 119.4, per Pro Football Focus. When under pressure, Mahomes completed just 46.8 percent of his passes and had a quarterback rating of just 74.2. This pressure must come organically from the Browns' new-look defensive front because Mahomes is the best quarterback in the NFL against the blitz. When blitzed, Mahomes threw for 13 touchdowns with no interceptions and a league-high quarterback rating of 134. The Chiefs are starting three rookies on their offensive line, which has five new starters from a year ago. If the Browns are going to defeat the Chiefs, Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, Malik Jackson, Malik McDowell, Takkarist McKinley and the rest of the team's pass rushers must dominate at the point of attack and disrupt the timing and rhythm of Mahomes, Hill and Kelce. Reid knows that this is a mismatch, so look for Mahomes to try to get the ball out quickly. If that is the route they go, the Browns will have to tackle well in space to limit yards after the catch to a Chiefs team that led the NFL in yards after the catch in 2020.
3. 7's not 3's
I know we are all excited to see the first look at the evolution of the Browns offense in 2021. Baker Mayfield has been sharp all offseason, the Browns boast the best RB tandem in the NFL in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and the pass-catching corps is much faster and more dangerous with the expected return of Odell Beckham Jr. and the addition of speedy rookie Anthony Schwartz. The Browns also return all five starters on what was widely considered to be the best offensive line in the league. The Browns are built to be able to win in any fashion, whether it be the punishing ground game or an old-fashioned aerial assault shootout. One thing is certain, however. The Browns must convert all of their scoring chances into touchdowns rather than field goals if they want to beat the Chiefs. If there was one weakness to the Chiefs defense a year ago, it was in the red zone. Kansas City allowed a touchdown on 76.6 percent of their opponents' red zone trips last year, which was the worst figure in the entire NFL. Finishing drives with touchdowns is always important, but it is even more so when taking on a team that can score touchdowns as frequently as the Chiefs.