Browns Chiefs Preview: Elite Eight

Photo: Justin Olson / Warpaint Illustrated

After the Chiefs host the Browns on Sunday, they'll be at the halfway point of their season. With seven wins to date, Kansas City could set the tone for their upcoming AFC West showdowns with Denver and San Diego with a big win over Cleveland. So who has to shine on Sunday?

1. QB Alex Smith - Since 2011 he has the highest winning percentage of any starting quarterback in the NFL. Yep that's right it's higher than Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. So why is there so much flack over his modest stats?

Well Smith can end that madness with a big game against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Granted his been pedestrian like the last two games but he's still guiding a team that has yet to lose this season.

But in looking in last weeks game, had Tight End Anthony Fasano moved an extra half yard on each of his receptions near the goal line, Smith would have padded his stats with two more touchdowns. Instead, he received zero for his efforts.

To me, Smith is the perfect field general for the Chiefs. He runs the offense in a manner that fits his style and is conducive with the plan that head coach, Andy Reid, has devised.

I know he lacks that touch down the field but in the weeks ahead against teams like Buffalo, Denver and San Diego, they are vulnerable against deeper pass routes.

Still that's nitpicking because as more teams stack the box to fight the Chiefs run game and play tighter coverage in guarding the short passing attack, eventually Smith will connect on some deep routes.

Against the Browns he might be able to exploit their aggressiveness as a precursor to the games ahead. If he can do that, it will give the Chiefs offense a boost that will eventually force his detractors to rethink his deep ball abilities.

2. DT Dontari Poe - It's hard to knock his season to date for the Chiefs. He's one of teams best defenders and his maturation from his freshman to sophomore NFL season is on an All Pro pace.

The Browns have some issues along the offensive line and Poe needs to exploit that on Sunday. Even though I'm convinced Browns Quarterback, Jason Campbell, can't defeat the Chiefs on Sunday, Poe should be able to force some hurried throws. Should that occur then the sacks and interceptions will come in abundance for the Chiefs defense.

Poe is on the verge of super stardom and his play to date has been a solid surprise for this defense. Yes we all felt he'd be better this season but to this extent nobody thought it was even remotely possible.

3. TE Anthony Fasano - He was solid in his return on Sunday against the Houston Texans. Sure I would have liked to see him score those pair of touchdowns I mentioned earlier but he did protect the ball with multiple defenders hanging on his back. There is something to be said for holding onto the ball.

Fasano might ultimately be the most important offensive player on the roster. As Reid mentions over and over again the tight end position is a big key for the Chiefs offense. That means Fasano and Sean McGrath have to be in constant motion, find open seems in the defense and make enough catches to give Smith greater flexibility to spread the ball around.

Even with rumblings suggesting the Chiefs could make a run for Atlanta Falcons Tight End, Tony Gonzalez, before Tuesday's trade deadline, Fasano is the key to elevating Smith's down the field passing game. So another strong effort on Sunday could be just what this offense needs to score more points in the red zone.

4. CB Marcus Cooper - I just can't get enough of this kid. He continues to make big plays and last week he swatted away a sure fire touchdown reception that would have given the Texans four more points on the scoreboard.

I know Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, Eric Berry and the aforementioned Poe are the lynchpins to KC's defense, Cooper gets some MVP votes in my book.
BR>What he's been able to do is allow the Chiefs to use Brandon Flowers in the slot shortening his coverage yards and allowing him to blitz more in obvious passing situations.

Cooper isn't an unsung hero for this defense. He's earning his minutes and in the future, if Sean Smith continues to struggle, he could become a starter in 2104. The Chiefs are fortunate that Cooper has evolved because it's allowed them to play more press coverage and disguise their coverage units in the secondary.

5. WR Dexter McCluster - I've not been a fan of his work but he's making me eat some crow lately. I like the fact the Chiefs have put him on the outside and moved Dwayne Bowe closer to the line of scrimmage. That combination worked very well last week against the Texans.

Both receivers made an impact in matriculating the ball down the field last week. It appears to me McCluster has finally accepted his role on this football team. We already know he can deliver the goods on punt returns. However, he's going to be judged on what he can do within the Chiefs passing game.

Though he's not everything he can be just yet for this offense, he's gaining ground and in a contract year, might just change the perception that his NFL career has some longevity to it.

Can the Chiefs extend the streak to 8 on Sunday?

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