CLEVELAND — The Chiefs cruised to a relatively comfortable 37-21 win against the Cleveland Browns in Week 9, and one must look hard to find many faults for an offense that started fast and a defense that closed late.
The only blemish on the Chiefs offensive resume came from the penalties. Mahomes and the offense overcame 65 yards in penalties to score touchdowns on five of its first six drives and total 499 yards of offense. Three of the team's touchdown drives totaled more than 90 yards of offense, two of those due to penalties setting the squad back. The Chiefs only got three points from their final three drives, but those possession ate up 12 minutes, 8 seconds of clock in the fourth quarter, allowing the Chiefs to ice the game away. Take away the penalties and this is an A-plus effort.
This game close to an A-plus effort from Mahomes. He threw for 375 yards and three touchdowns, and the only turnover came on a desperation heave before halftime that didn't matter. The only blemish on his sheet comes from the intentional grounding call that even Andy Reid didn't know existed in the rulebook. He didn't get much help from his offensive line, but he got a ton of help from his running backs. The reason this isn't an A-plus: Mahomes was great, but he can be greater.
This grade was originally just an A. Mahomes didn't get an A-plus because he can a smidge better than he did against the Browns. But consider this: could the Chiefs' backs play any better than they did? There weren't many holes to be found, yet Hunt and and Ware scratched out 103 yards rushing on 19 carries, much of it with eight men in the box late in the game with the Chiefs trying to run out the clock.
The 119 yards and five catches they added might be even more impressive. The Chiefs screen game absolutely destroyed the Browns early in the first half, first with Hunt going 50 yards for a touchdown and then Spencer Ware went 25 yards on third down setting up another score. Hunt had one drop, but Ware's juggling catch of a slighly off-target Mahomes pass made up for it. The Browns had no answer for the Kansas City backfield.
Tight end: A
Kelce and Demetrius Harris both had a bad drop, but outside that both played key roles in the win. Kelce finished with seven catches for 99 yards and two scores. Harris delivered a huge block that helped free Spencer Ware on his 25-yard first down conversion. Overall solid day from the tight ends.
Wide receiver: A-minus
Again, no serious faults to be found.There were some drops; Chris Conley had a pass hit him in the hands wide open, and he simply counted the catch and run after before he secured the ball away. Sammy Watkins caught all five his targets for 62 yards, and Hill was nearly perfect with four catches for 69 yards, sore groin and all.
Offensive line: C-plus
It wasn't a clean pocket kind of day for Mahomes, as the line allowed two sacks and seven other quarterback hits. The run game produced a solid 139 yards on 24 carries for a 5.8-yard clip, but much of that came from brutally efficient running from Hunt and Ware. Tthe penalties were the real problem.
The offensive line piled up 50 yards in flags, and that discounts that both Mitchell Schwarts and Cam Erving got flagged for holding on the same play. Injuries certainly have taken a toll, but this line needs to play cleaner and put less pressure on Mahomes and the backfield.
This grade is a bit on a curve because, let's face it, this was the Browns. Cleveland should have dropped 24 on this team, and maybe more without some big plays.
Defensive line: B-plus
Chris Jones extended his sack streak to five games with a quarterback hit and two tackles for loss. Allen Bailey had some solid plays, too, with his four tackles. Rookie Derrick Nnadi continues to flash, but his offside penalty on fourth-and-1 extended a Browns touchdown drive. Some real highs from this group, but Cleveland's 102 yards rushing started with some leaky holes up front.
Outside linebacker: C
No sacks and no quarterback hits against a suspect group of Cleveland tackles raises some eyebrows. What happened to this group on Sunday? Yes, Breeland Speaks had two nice tackles for a loss. He also got beat for a pass to the flat. Dee Ford did pick up a sack, strip and fumble, but he added a flag for offsides to the quad-fecta. Maybe this group needs Justin Houston back sooner than later.
Inside linebacker: C-plus
Let's start with an acknowledgement to the toughness of Anthony Hitchens. Playing a position where you deliver or absorb punishment on every play with a bruised rib says it all. He played 52 of 75 snaps in a gritty performance. The group as a whole, including Hitchens, however, had some rough moments. Receivers found space over the middle and outran all all of the team's inside backers at some point. Rookie Ben Niemann looked confused on a couple of coverage snaps.
The Chiefs corners take some heat, but let's give credit it where it's due. This group might have taken some beats on Sunday – every corner does from time to time – but they made plenty of big plays impacting the game. Kendall Fuller busted up a couple of two-point conversions and should have picked off a pass. Steven Nelson got beat deep for 38 yards by Antonio Callaway, then baited Baker Mayfield into an interception on the next play. Nelson led the way with eight tackles and a passes defense in addition to his pick. Don't look now, but Nelson is having himself a Pro Bowl-caliber season.
The debate of Eric Murray versus Jordan Lucas may rage among fans, but the Chiefs seem to have found a rotation they like with Murray and strong safety and Lucas as the dime linebacker in specific packages. This group had a few leaks but no glaring breakdowns like last week against the Denver Broncos. Lucas played just 12 snaps, but his safety blitz sack was a thing of beauty.
Ding Harrison Butker for the grade drop. Any missed extra point gets an automatic deduction. But otherwise Butker, Colquitt and the coverage teams played well. The blocked put by Damien Williams again goes to show the value of Dave Toub's special teams crew.
Return game: A-minus
Tremon Smith netted a 26.5-yard average on his two returns, a solid result. The block by Damien Williams counts here, and that setup up the Chiefs for an easy score. Another indication of the value of Toub's special teams coaching: on a day when Browns interim head coach pulled out all the stops to try and get something started against the Chiefs, he didn't risk any shenanigans against Toub's teams.