Does this Browns team play with heart?
Does HC Mike Pettine's calm, laid back demeanor on the sideline carry over negatively to his players on the field?
Do the players even care at this point in the season?
Do they "play for Pettine"?
Today's game against the Chiefs will answer, at least for this writer, most of those questions. The final question is one that can't be answered in any discernable way but fans, and some media, will make assumptions about how the team plays and their belief in their embattled head coach.
With the Chiefs riding an 8 game winning streak, and now fighting for a division title, this game means a lot to them. They have been powered by their great defense and awesome running game, the formula the Browns had hoped to use to compete for a playoff spot this season. The Chiefs are 8th in rushing yards, 122.8 per game, and 3rd in points given up per game, 18.4.
The Browns, on the other hand, are only scoring 18.1 points per game and running for under 87 yards per contest.
A stark contrast!
The Chiefs are likely to be missing their two stud pass rushers, Justin Houston is out and Tamba Hali is questionable with a thumb injury. That could/should give the Browns pass game some time to create. The passing attack has been the team's strength all year, currently 16th in the league with 3,469 yards this season. Giving Johnny Manziel time to scan the field could be huge for the Browns to make this competitive.
Answering the heart question(s) will take more than a few pass plays. The arrest of Armonty Bryant and De'ante Sanders was an embarrassment for the team and could be just another negative issue hanging over them. Do the players and coaches respond with energy or was that the final nail in the coffin
It will take a concerted effort from the entire team, on every play, to overcome the negatives the team has faced all year.Running backs and receivers pushing for those extra yards, with offensive linemen getting down
Running backs and receivers pushing for those extra yards, with offensive linemen getting down field for that extra block and push at the end of the play.
Special teams players playing with reckless abandoned, especially on the coverage units, to make plays and not let KC get easy scores.
Defenders swarming to the ball, swiping to rip it out of Chiefs players hands and form tackling.
The first quarter could be decisive for the Browns. If they turn the ball over and get behind, do they collectively hang their heads? Will any leaders step up and be seen vocally encouraging their teammates?
If the Browns get blown out and are lifeless, it will seem clear to all that the team played with no heart, with no will to win and many will ascribe blame to Pettine.
If the Browns are competitive, and even win, the players will get credit for playing hard when they have nothing to play for and some will give credit to Pettine.
Either way, today seems setup to answer the question about the Browns heart. Let us all hope it is still beating and beating strong.