For Browns fans seeking a reason to believe their favorite NFL franchise could eventually stage a dramatic turnaround, the Kansas City Chiefs should provide a source of hope.
The Chiefs endured a season from hell in 2012. They were devastated by tragedy Dec. 1 when linebacker Jovan Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend and committed suicide in front of coach Romeo Crennel and General Manager Scott Pioli. Eight days later, they suffered a 30-7 loss to the Browns and ultimately finished with a record of 2-14.
But after Andy Reid, whom Browns CEO Joe Banner hired as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, and GM John Dorsey replaced ex-Browns Crennel and Pioli, the Chiefs altered schemes, traded draft picks to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for quarterback Alex Smith and turned over more than half of their roster.
Now the Chiefs (7-0) are the only undefeated team in the NFL as they prepare to face the Browns (3-4) Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. Meanwhile, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski is expected to announce this morning whether he’ll stick with quarterback Brandon Weeden or start backup Jason Campbell against the Chiefs.
Randy Covitz covers the Chiefs for the Kansas City Star. He discussed the team in the following question-and-answer session:
Q: What formula have the Chiefs used to turn it around?
A: “Andy Reid brought a plan that has worked in another place. After 14 years in Philly, it got a little stale, but he brought most of his coaching staff, so they hit the ground running. He didn’t have to spend time coaching his coaches, and the players bought in. They also changed their roster tremendously. Thirty new players are on the 53-man roster, starting with the quarterback, Alex Smith. That was a big problem last year. They had six Pro Bowlers on this team, four on defense, a running back and the punter, but they had terrible quarterback play. They led the league in giveaways and just never had a chance in games because they were always behind. Alex Smith has not been great, but he’s been very efficient. He doesn’t turn the ball over. They really haven’t opened up the offense. They built this team on a great defense, a good running game and a great kicking game. So they have short fields. They take the ball away. They lead the league in takeaways . They lead the league in sacks . They are No. 1 in turnover margin. They’re plus-11. They’re on a league-record pace for sacks. They haven’t allowed more than 17 points in any one game.”
Q: Which players have been key to the defense’s hot start?
A: “They had the great outside rush. Tamba Hali is a former AFC sack leader. Justin Houston is a dynamic pass rusher on the outside. They had those two elements. They’ve got a great middle linebacker in Derrick Johnson, who plays sideline to sideline. He can get a sack. He can get an interception. They have a Pro Bowl safety in Eric Berry and a fine cover corner in Brandon Flowers. But they added Sean Smith from Miami [via free agency] to play the other corner. He and Flowers have enabled them to play a tight man-to-man defense that helps get pressure on the quarterback, and the biggest difference maker of all has been the nose tackle, Dontari Poe. He was the 11th overall pick by the previous regime. People thought he was a workout guy at the combine. He played at Memphis, which is not a BCS school, and really didn’t dominate there. Last year, he wasn’t in the greatest shape. This year, they really whipped him into shape. He’s a Memphis kid who lives in Kansas City and swore off barbecue. Those are the barbecue capitals of the country. He’s in great shape, has great stamina and he has made the difference in their defense because you’ve got to double-team him. And if you don’t, he’ll tear you up. And if you do, that helps because Hali or Houston are going to [have one-on-one matchups]. Teams just have a problem.”
Q: Do you think the Chiefs are in danger of overlooking the Browns?
A: “Most teams could. This team won’t. I just think they’re really focused right now. It’s really been a charmed injury year for them also. They’ve had no significant injuries. Other than the third-round draft pick, tight end Travis Kelce, who’s on IR, they haven’t had any season-ending injuries. The season has been so charmed that they got to open with Jacksonville and they played three of their next four games against NFC East teams, and who knows the NFC East better than Andy Reid, including his old team? Who knew that division was going to be so bad, too? So they got this running start, and now they’re in this run of teams that have all this instability at quarterback. Things have just broken their way so well. They love playing in Arrowhead. Arrowhead is back to what it used to be. I don’t think they look past Cleveland.”
Q: What concerns to you have about the Chiefs despite their record?
A: “They’ve got to get their offense going because they can win games like this in the regular season, but when you get to the playoffs, you’ve got to score points. That’s been a big concern all season. They’ve only given up eight touchdowns on defense. They haven’t scored a whole lot more on offense. They’ve got a punt return for a touchdown. They’ve got a muffed punt for a touchdown. They’ve got three pick-sixes. You just can’t keep counting on that.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.