Season openers have presented a unique challenge for the Cleveland Browns for the better part of the last two decades. Cleveland has gone winless in week one affairs dating back to the 2004 season, with one tie included as well. While the Browns were ultimately unable to cross off another broken streak on their list in Kansas City, they absolutely did enough to prove they should be taken as seriously as one of the game’s other elite franchises.
There are several components of Sunday’s game that Cleveland fans should take solace in. First, Cleveland’s offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage for a majority of the afternoon, as the Browns ran the ball will great success. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt both averaged 5.5 yards per carry versus the Chiefs, combining for 21 carries, 116 yards, and three touchdowns. Cleveland looked to emphasize their potent rushing attack early in the game, making a statement on the very first drive of the season. Kevin Stefanski’s run/pass ratio as a play-caller is oftentimes very close to each other, and Sunday was no exception.
Baker Mayfield completed 21/28 for 321 yards and one interception. The Browns quarterback was extremely efficient, especially in the first half of Sunday’s game in which he led Cleveland to three early touchdown drives. Besides the combination of Chubb and Hunt, Browns rookie wideout Anthony Schwartz made his presence known in the absence of Odell Beckham Jr. The former Auburn Tiger caught three passes for 69 yards, in addition to 17 yards on one rushing attempt. It is clear that Schwartz brings a unique skill set to the table that Cleveland did not have last season, which makes him an extremely intriguing chess piece for Kevin Stefanski moving forward.
Defensive Growing Pains
Cleveland’s defense struggled to contain the high octane Chiefs, especially in the second half when Kansas City sustained multiple long drives. The ejection of Ronnie Harrison in the first quarter hurt Cleveland in the back end, as MJ Stewart was forced to replace Harrison with Grant Delpit not suiting up. What stood out the most however is seemingly no combination of defenders in orange and brown could bother the duo of Tyreke Hill and Travis Kelce. Linebackers could not contain Kelce, and Hill ran free for nearly 200 yards receiving. The Browns will have to tighten up their coverage if they meet the Chiefs again down the road.
Defensive Bright Spots
There were a few bright spots defensively, however, as first-year Brown Malik McDowell was extremely impressive in his first game with the team as he earned the start over Andrew Billings. McDowell recorded two solo tackles including one for loss in his first professional game in two years. Andrew Berry may have struck gold with this under the radar offseason signing. Additionally, Cleveland did a stellar job defending Kansas City’s rushing attack. Despite being a throw-first team with Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs still ran the ball 23 times on Sunday for only 73 total yards. It will be easier for Joe Woods and company to scheme up a way to solve the back-end issues if Cleveland can continue to defend the run in this manor.
In the end, the Browns made one too many crucial mistakes when it mattered most in Sunday’s 33-29 defeat. However, Cleveland still proved they are to be considered one of the NFL’s elite teams with their performance. As the Browns’ defense continues to grow together, their play on that side of the ball should improve drastically. Opposing teams should want to play the Browns early in the season before defensive roles are defined. Once that happens, the sky is the limit for the 2021 Cleveland Browns.