Saturday, December 8, 2012

A three-game win streak? Why not?

OK, Browns fans, try this on for size.

The Browns put a two-game winning streak on the line Sunday against one of the worst teams in the National Football League. The possibility of a three-game winning streak boggles the mind. Heady stuff.

Think you can handle it?

When the season began with five straight losses and six of their first seven, no one in his right mind would believe the Browns would win three of the next five games. They weren’t pretty, but looks don’t count in the standings.

When you’re a Browns fan, a win is a win no matter how it is achieved, no matter how ugly it might be. It still winds up in the column on the left.

And now they have a chance to cobble together a three-game winning streak against the awful Kansas City Chiefs Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium. In theory, it should be a walkover.

That’s how well the Browns have played the last month of so, especially the defense, which has rapidly shown signs of becoming one of the most competitive units in the NFL. The run defense, once the Achilles’ heel on that side of the ball, now forces opposing teams to beat them another way.

The Chiefs roll in on the heels of only their second victory of the season, an emotion-filled 27-21 triumph over the Carolina Panthers the day after Chiefs linebacker Javon Belcher killed his girlfriend and committed suicide. It snapped an eight-game losing streak.

Romeo Crennel makes his first Cleveland appearance as the head man for the Chiefs and remembers the last time the Chiefs paid a visit to CBS. The former Cleveland head coach, who helmed the Browns for four mostly forgettable seasons, was KC’s defensive coordinator early in the 2010 season when the Chiefs eked out a 16-14 victory.

 “I’ve been back there before, so it’s old hat,” Crennel told the Kansas City media earlier this week, recalling the victory. “Winning is winning. Winning as an assistant, winning as a head coach, winning is winning. And when you win, you feel good. And when you lose, you don’t feel good. I don’t care what position you’re coaching.”

Typical Romeo. Bromide after bromide. He’ll never change.

This time, he brings along some familiar faces. Five former Browns dot the Chiefs’ roster: Quarterback Brady Quinn, running back Peyton Hillis, safeties Abram Elam and Travis Daniels and defensive tackle Shaun Smith. The coaching staff includes former Browns coaches Brian Daboll, Maurice Carthon and Anthony Pleasant.

Quinn, who supplanted Matt Cassel after the Chiefs’ miserable start, is coming off a single-game franchise record performance against the Panthers when he completed 19 of 23 passes for 206 yards and a couple of scores. Overall, he has just the two TD passes and four interceptions in four games.

Hillis, who arrived in Kansas City with great fanfare, has been a huge disappointment with just 193 yards and one touchdown. But he says he’s looking forward to returning to the city that helped place him on the national map.

“I’m approaching it like every other week,” he said. “It’ll be fun to go back to Cleveland to play, seeing some of my friends on the team and being around those fans because they’re great.”

It’s interesting sometimes how players wind up on the same team. Take Quinn and Hillis for example. The Browns traded Quinn to the Denver Broncos in March 2010 for Hillis. Now here they are on the same team.

The Chiefs started off the season scoring 88 points in their first four games before playing offense like the Browns used to. In the next seven games, they put only 73 points on the scoreboard before exploding last Sunday. On the season, only the Arizona Cardinals have scored fewer points (two) than the Chiefs’ 188.

The Chiefs have averaged 338 yards a game on offense, but have surrendered nearly 350 a game on defense. The key to shutting down the Chiefs offense is slowing down Jamaal Charles, who has run for 1,055 yards but only three touchdowns, and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.

Strangely, they have run 113 more plays than the opposition (that’s 9.4 a game) and have a nearly four-minute edge in time of possession and yet they have scored just 15 offensive touchdowns all season. By contrast, the defense has allowed 37 scores.

Where the Chiefs have been hurt is in ball control, or lack of same. One of the main reasons for their poor record is a turnover ratio of minus 21.

On paper, the Browns should destroy the Chiefs on both sides of the ball. Kansas City has picked off opposing quarterbacks just seven times and sacked the quarterback just 21 times, 16 of those sacks belonging to linebacker Justin Houston (10) and defensive end Tamba Hali.

The confidence with which they are playing definitely works in the Browns’ favor. The Chiefs right now are vying with Jacksonville for the No.1 pick in next April’s college draft.

That said, some might think of this game as a trap game for the Browns, who sometimes have a tendency to underachieve against lesser teams. Will that be the case Sunday? Will Crennel’s little win streak in Cleveland continue?

Of course not. But it won’t be a runaway. In fact, it could be very close, low scoring and ugly. Make it:

Browns 17, Chiefs 13

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