CLEVELAND — Amid the upheaval on the coaching staff following the firings of coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley and elevation of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to interim coach and Freddie Kitchens to play-caller one day after last week’s 33-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, there was still a game for which the Cleveland Browns had to prepare.
After making the unprecedented moves of getting rid of the coach and offensive coordinator with half of the season left to play, the Browns turned their focus toward the immediate future, which includes today’s game against the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Here are three things to watch for during today’s game between the Browns and Chiefs.
Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield has been counted out plenty of times in his career, and also, he has had great expectations thrust upon him while playing major college football at one of the country’s most elite football programs, the University of Oklahoma.
And when it comes to being a leader for the Browns in uncertain times after the dismissals of Jackson and Haley, as well as the elevations of Williams and Kitchens, Mayfield embraces the opportunity to be a calming influence.
“Bring it on,” Mayfield said in his weekly press conference Wednesday.
“Absolutely ready to roll.”
Over his first six NFL games, Mayfield completed 130 of his 223 attempts (58.3 percent) for 1,471 yards and eight touchdowns against six interceptions. Additionally, Mayfield rushed for 91 yards, including a 35-yard gain against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on October 21, on just 15 carries.
HUNT’S IMPACT ON THE GAME
Willoughby South High School alum Kareem Hunt has rushed for 592 yards and five touchdowns on 134 carries, an average of 4.4 yards per attempt, for the Chiefs over the first eight games of the season. Hunt is on pace to set a new personal best for rushing touchdowns in a season.
Additionally, Hunt has turned 20 catches into 262 yards and five touchdowns, which rank him second on the Chiefs in receiving scores, behind only wide receiver Tyreke Hill. Hunt averages 13.1 yards per reception.
“Both in the passing game and in the running game, you have to respect him running the football,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “He is someone that breaks a ton of tackles. He gets a lot of extra yards. At the same time, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. You have to make sure that you can account for him. I feel like he is the most pivotal guy in our offense.
Not bad for a player originally slated to be a complementary back during his rookie season, only to be inserted into the lineup because of an injury and led the league with 1,327 yards on 272 carries during the 2017 season.
Along with leading the league in rushing, Hunt ranked second among all running backs with 10-yard carries (35) and third in scrimmage yards (1,782).
“He is a special player. He is able to do a lot of things. He can block. He can run the ball as good as anyone. He can catch the ball out of the backfield as good as anyone. It makes my job a lot easier knowing that at any moment I could just hand the ball off to him and it could be a touchdown.”
LIMITING MAHOMES’ EFFECTIVENESS
The Chiefs have one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL, and it is powered by second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has found plenty of ways to get the ball into the hands of skill players like Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Hunt.
In eight starts this year for the 7-1 Chiefs, Mahomes completed 187 of his 285 attempts (65.6 percent) for 2,526 yards, an average of 8.9 yards per pass attempt, and 26 touchdowns against just six interceptions. Additionally, Mahomes has rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries.
“I knew that if I did everything that I was kind of supposed to do and did everything that Coach (Andy) Reid asked me to do that we had a chance to be one of the best offenses in the NFL,” Mahomes said.
“It has worked out well so far. It about me not trying to do too much and just getting the ball into all of those playmakers’ hands and let them make plays.”