[Editor's note: The MHR staff recently submitted the following piece to the Cleveland area sports site Waiting For Next Year. We thought the MHR faithful would like to see what kind of word we are spreading about this young team, and check out some additional Browns commentary while they are at it. They will run this piece on Thursday. --Styg]
The Denver Broncos Will Win If...
...They commit to the running game.
Bottom line. On the season Denver is fielding a fantastically unbalanced offensive approach, and is currently at 72% pass, 28% run. In the past three games, all losses, Denver has tried to commit only to be derailed early by either turnovers (back to back fumbles by a second string RB), injuries (our starting RB, Selvin Young missed several games to a groin injury, and our expected starter going into the season got his first start of the season last week after missing the first half of the year to a broken elbow), or BOTH injuries and turnovers (Cutler handed out 3 INTs last week, and we lost two of our starting RBs, and our primary kick returner to injured reserve in that game.)!
Now the team must rely on Ryan Torain and a less than 100% Selvin Young. Young is injury prone, and hasn't played much for Denver lately, so much of the job is up to Torain, getting only the second start of his NFL career. 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.
One thing to watch for, however, is #22, FB Peyton Hillis, the rookie out of Arkansas. 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 in the last game, going over 100 yards receiving, the first for a Bronco back in decades.
Another top consideration for the Broncos will be to limit the stupid mistakes. Early in the season it was the opponents making the mistakes and Denver playing clean football. That has seen a complete reversal with Miami and NE gaining 4 penalties between the two of them, and none in the first half, while Denver has taken a serious dive in the turnover ratio, losing 16 turnovers in the past four losses, while creating only two. The primary culprit here has been Cutler, with 8 INTs and 2 fumbles, but when you drop back to pass as often as Denver has, bad things are bound to happen. Again, if Denver can establish the run, expect the number of Cutler turnovers to drop considerably, possibly to the zero level which he maintained through three of Denver's wins this year.
One thing Cutler has NOT had to worry about has been pocket pressure. Denver is second in the league in sacks allowed (6), and first in sacks allowed per attempt. A rookie LT and a rookie RT have been exemplary in pass protection. Except for NE, who gained 3 sacks on Denver in a blowout, every team has been terribly frustrated in their pass rushing attempts. But crafty secondaries have proven to be quite troublesome to Cutler, so dynamic, inventive coverage schemes with exotic player matchups could definitely lead to trouble, and have given him fits so far this season.
One last thing I am personally watching for is to see if the recent trend of our defense playing better from game to game continues against a QB receiving his first start on a short week. The hallmark of this defense was its inability to contain opposing teams passers, allowing completion %s in the high 70s every game, until last week when Pennington, the career NFL leader in completion percentage for a QB with over 2000 attempts, was held to only 57%. That is only a small part of a trend of getting better against the run, and pressuring the passer, that has developed recently. This is a trend that has manifested DESPITE losing our two defensive captains, Champ Bailey and DJ Williams. I will be very interested to see if it continues in their absence.