Insider take: Kansas City Chiefs exposed in narrow victory over Cleveland Browns

Tyler Dragon
USA TODAY Sports Plus

Kansas City is the prohibitive favorite in the AFC, but other teams in the conference are becoming increasingly more competitive versus the back-to-back AFC champions.

The Cleveland Browns controlled the entire first half in Kansas City before succumbing to turnovers in the second half. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield’s ill-advised interception late in the fourth quarter was the final nail in the coffin in the 33-29 Chiefs win on Sunday. 

However, in successive games versus Kansas City dating back to last season, the Browns were able to hang tough with the AFC champions.

What Sunday’s game at Arrowhead Stadium proved, however, is the Chiefs are vulnerable. The Chiefs defense surrendered 153 rushing yards. Browns RB Nick Chubb and company averaged 5.9 yards a carry.

OPPOSITE VIEWPOINT:Thanks to Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs remain a cut above the rest of the AFC

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes congratulates Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce after his touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Sept.12, 2021 in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

The blueprint to defending the Chiefs offense is to drop in zone coverage, win the battle at the line of scrimmage, force Kansas City to run the ball and eliminate explosive plays. It’s a task easier said than done, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did it in Super Bowl LV and Cleveland adopted a similar game plan in the 2021 season opener, albeit to no avail.

Kansas City relied on a fierce second-half rally, featuring their customary explosive plays and timely debilitating takeaways to survive. Speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill caught a 75-yard TD bomb from quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the defense had two second-half takeaways and Cleveland gifted the Chiefs with a botched punt attempt. 

Explosives second-half plays and Cleveland miscues were the two decisive factors in Sunday's game. 

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Still, the Chiefs must improve in all three phrases if they hope to make three-straight Super Bowl trips. This year might just be their toughest road to the title game. 

Just glance at the AFC West division alone. The Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos all finished the day 1-0. The AFC West is 3-0 to open the season with the Las Vegas Raiders hosting the injury-riddled Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football.

Los Angeles has a rising star in quarterback Justin Herbert and Denver’s defense appears stout with a healthy Von Miller coming around the edge.

Outside of the AFC West, the Buffalo Bills, Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers figure to be in the mix. 

The Chiefs survived a close one at Arrowhead Stadium, but their narrow victory to start the season is a confidence booster for other teams in the conference. Additionally, another club the Chiefs might have to go through is their Week 1 opponent.

Cleveland’s lost two-straight one-score games to the Chiefs —- the first being the 2020 divisional playoff tilt. Sunday’s game marked the 17th straight loss for the Browns in season openers. Yet it is a loss the Browns could learn from. The entire NFL is gaining more intel on Kansas City, and it’s beginning to reflect on the field.