MHR Chalk Talk -- Week 10 - Denver at Cleveland

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IN DENVER BRONCO PRE-GAME ANALYSIS

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Shake it off Denver fans!  Denver lost to two good teams (NE and JAX) and has lost two games to underdogs (MIA and KC).  Still, they have beaten good teams like TB and NO, while beating divsion rivals SD and OAK.

Already, members of the Blue and Orange Faithful are floating ideas of dropping the head coach, giving up on the season, or fighting with outher fans over trivial matters.  We don't expect teams to fall apart when the going gets tough, and I expect fans to buck up too!

Where are we?  4-4.  With that ugly record we still find ourselves where it matters - at the head of the division.  All that matters is getting to the post season.  The slate gets wiped clean, and every team there is in a single elimination tournament for glory.  Do I think we have a shot at SB glory?  No, of course not.  That's not the point though.  This team is rebuilding (like it or not), and a playoff shot would be valuable experience for a young team learning to play together as a team.

This game against the Brown presents th team with many interesting issues.  Let's explore them together, and see why this game is worth watching...

 Which team will show up Thursday?  Will it be the team that had Royal making a 95 yard return, featured Hillis making multiple catches and yards as a secret FB weapon, and displayed a deep pass for a (onverruled) TD, or will it be the team that continues to turnover the ball, gained under 15 yards in rushing, and blew a game that most fans would have expected to be a win?

Here is what you should be watching and considering going into the game.

Denver's RB situation could go either way

Pittman and Hall are both on injured reserve for the season.  Pittman has been steady as a power RB, and Hall (despite a couple of terrible fumbles) provided depth and a weapon for returns.

Now the team must rely on Torain and Young.  Young is injury prone, and hasn't played much for Denver lately, so much of the job is up to Torain.

Some fans may worry about Torain's abilities.  He carried the ball three times and got only one yard against MIA in his first game since college.  He has also spent the last several weeks recovering from an elbow injury.  I'm not worried.

First, against conventional wisdom, I wouldn't be surprised if Hillis gets some carries as a halfback.  He can catch out of the backfield on screens, but he can also run downfield for catches.  Shanahan made a comment that he still needs to work on blocking, but this may indicate that Hillis is more ready to run the ball and catch it than to block.  Also, Hillis got a taste of experience, but not enough to showcase what talent he has.  If you've been waiting for the train to arrive, this is the game to watch.  MIA's game was just an easing in period.

B. Williamson sneaks in a decent article at ESPN (no, really) about the limited, but not all bad possibilities in the free agent market if Torain doesn't work out:

Another reason Torain is being asked to produce is because there aren't many running backs remaining on the open market. So help isn't necessarily on the way. Former Denver running backs highlight the list of available rushers. They include Tatum Bell, Mike Bell and Ron Dayne. Other running backs available are Anthony Thomas, Vernand Morency and Wali Lundy. Denver has visited with some of those players in the past. Morency visited Denver a few weeks ago. The team also could promote running back P.J. Pope from the practice squad.

The Browns should have issues in passing and catching

The Browns did something incredibly foolish in my opinion.  They switched QBs in a short week.  A QB switch is a move to be made during a bye week, or a long week (such as after a Thu game).  But in a short week?

WR Jurevicius is out for the season with a staph infection to the knee.  How is the rest of the pass offense doing?

From the Akron Beacon Journal:

Quarterback Derek Anderson made an outstanding play to avoid the rush and to find Edwards deep down the middle. Edwards dropped it...

Late in the game, fans were chanting for Brady Quinn, as if Anderson didn't throw a perfect pass that easily could have led to a game-changing play. The chant was predictable, and it now appears the Browns are going to give Quinn a chance Thursday...

Anderson's main receiver has a league-high 13 dropped passes. Coach Romeo Crennel basically said Monday that if he had another receiver worth squadoosh, he would play him instead of Edwards.

He doesn't — unless someone is seeing something in Syndric Steptoe and Steve Sanders that I'm not. Anderson's second receiver? Donte' Stallworth was on the inactive list.

Kellen Winslow had five catches but also ranted and gesticulated after every little block (a tight end is supposed to block, right?)

The offensive line had a tough time with the Ravens' defense, especially when guard Eric Steinbach left with a rib injury.

I spent a year in Akron where I experienced Browns fans firsthand.  Some things I liked (a passion for the team).  But one thing I couldn't stand was there desire to throw QBs overboard.  In the year I was in Ohio, Cleveland's offensive line couldn't protect their QB at all, but the locals blamed the QB for everything that went wrong.  They were yelling for a change then, and doing it now.  I expect Quinn will get the same, sorry treatment.

Somehow, someway, Denver's defense is improving

You can watch a game for purely the wins and losses.  If you want to be analytical, you also need to watch for the good and the bad, as well as trends.  Something to like is the recent improvements on defense.

Sure, Denver's defense has been trying to defend a short field do to interceptions and fumbles.  But in terms of pure yards given up, the defense has been terrible.  They overpursue, don't tackle, and don't get pressure on opposing QBs.  But the last couple of games have shown improvements.

The RMN makes this observation:

Expectations weren't high for the Broncos defense, with All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey out because of an injury, but until Miami's final eight-minute-plus scoring drive Sunday, Denver's defense kept the Broncos in the game, while the offense kept giving it away.

Miami scored 13 points off Denver turnovers, all generated by quarterback Jay Cutler's interceptions.

Cutler threw interceptions on two of the Broncos' first three drives, helping put the Broncos in a 13-0 hole 10 minutes into the game...

But the Broncos defense, which fast was becoming a leaguewide joke, curtailed the damage, holding the Dolphins to 75 rushing yards and 4-of-14 third-down conversions, giving Denver a fighting chance until the final quarter.

Denver has a new star

Hillis went over 100 yards recieving for a RB (fullback or halfback), something done by Floyd Little twice and Bobby Anderson once in Denver's history.  Wow!

Hillis led all Broncos receivers in the game against MIA, and showed me (as I pointed out earlier) that we are fine at RB if injuries are lack of production continue.

The bottom line

Ok, Denver has lost four of the last five games after a very enjoyable start to the season.  Even after the bye week, Denver remains banged up and bloodied.  Why should Denver win this away game?

  1. I'll take a short week of preparation by Shanahan over the same time period for Crennel.
  2. While Denver seems to be teetering on the edge, the Browns are in an all out collapse.
  3. Promoting your number two QB in a 3 day prep week?  No Way!
  4. Cutler is in a funk with INTs.  It's a part of development.  He'll recover.  Quinn doesn't even have Cutler's experience yet, and he certainly doesn't have Cutler's O-Line or recievers (I'll credit CLE for Winslow at TE)
  5. Denver's defense is starting to gell.  The Browns defense showed a total implosion against the Ravens.

This is a key game for Denver for several reasons.  They either move forward with a winning record, or a losing record.  They'll also get another bye (in effect) by being able to rest until the following week.  This is also a game that Denver should win, so a loss would be devestating, but a win will help the team refocus and look ahead.

I consider this game the gut check.  The guys have a great opportunity to make their stand Thur night in front of a national audience an audience of the few people with the NFL Network.  It's a chance to pocket a win, and go into a semi-bye week with a good attitude, and a lot of time to prepare and heal up for the rest of the season.  This could be a turning point for a young team, but it's up to them which way it will turn.

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