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Scouting the enemy: Cleveland Browns

This Sunday the Denver Broncos (5-0) travel to the Dawg Pound to face the Cleveland Browns (2-3). MHR's Christopher Hart gives his overview of Cleveland in his weekly scouting the enemy analysis.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns are a franchise that Denver Broncos fans know quite well.  "The Drive" and "The Fumble" are memories that are forever ingrained in the football memories of each fan base and there is no doubt that the Broncos are one of Cleveland's nightmare match-ups throughout the course of both franchises histories.

The two teams couldn't be any more polar opposite.  The Denver Broncos have long been one of the NFL's most consistent franchises with a tradition of winning, with the Cleveland Browns being known for poor production, terrible win-loss ratios and the inability to find a franchise quarterback worthy of leading them to the playoffs.  In fact, the last time the Browns were in the playoffs was in 2002 when Butch Davis was their coach and Tim Couch was their quarterback.  That was a long time ago and since then, the team has had over 13 different signal callers earn the right to be their starter.

Can you believe it?

It's hard to believe, but it is true.  So while the Broncos may have had their issues finding the next great quarterback to help in their quest for a third Lombardi Trophy, be thankful that the franchise hasn't went through the desperation the Browns have in that regard.

Looking back at the 2014 Cleveland Browns

The 2014 Cleveland Browns finished 7-9 under first year head coach Mike Pettine, who took over a 4-12 club that performed horrendously under Rob Chudzinski. They had one of the worst offenses in the NFL in terms of points in yardage, but were able to remain relatively competitive due to a defense that was 9th league wide in points allowed. If the Browns want to get back to having a winning team, they will undoubtedly have to do better on offense.

This season they are 2-3, but their offense is doing much better.  Alas, their defense has struggled and the team heads into this weekends battle against Denver as underdogs at home to pull to an even .500 on the season.  Let's take a look at who arrived and departed from the Browns franchise in the 2015 offseason.

Listed below is a comprehensive review of their recent offseason transactions:

Identifying the 2015 Cleveland Browns

Key Additions: QB Josh McCown, WR Dwayne Bowe, WR Brian Hartline, TE Rob Housler, TE Gary Barnidge, DT Randy Starks, CB Tramon Williams, P Andy Lee.

Key Losses: QB Brian Hoyer, WR Miles Austin, TE Jordan Cameron, NT Ahtyba Rubin, DE/OLB Jabaal Sheard, CB Buster Skrine, P Spencer Lanning.

2015 Draft Class: NT Danny Shelton, OL Cameron Erving, OLB Nate Orchard,RB Duke Johnson, DT Xavier Cooper, S Ibraheim Campbell, WR Vince Mayle, CB Charles Gaines, FB Malcolm Johnson, TE Randall Telfer, ILB Hayes Pullard, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

Note: Every draft pick besides Vince Mayle (who is on the Dallas Cowboys) still is with the Browns.  Gaines, Telfer and Ekpre-Olomu are on injured reserve and Hayes Pullard is on their practice squad.

Summary: The Browns added some key contributors this off-season and in my opinion, had a standout draft that should prove to be one of the best league wide several years down the road.  After years of deplorable drafting, it seems like the teams front office is finally doing things right in that regard.

Cleveland's Cause for Concern: Can't Stop The Run

The Cleveland Browns defense is their biggest concern. Things were looking up for the Browns after last seasons defensive performance, but they have went completely backwards in that facet of the game and are one of the leagues worst defenses.  They rank 23 in points allowed and 30th in yards allowed, which bodes well for a Broncos offense who has struggled to do both well this year.

Cleveland's pass defense is ranked 18th in the NFL and has allowed ten touchdowns.  Opposing quarterbacks are enjoying a hefty 101.9 QBR against them. Their rushing defense is second to last in the NFL, allowing nearly 150 yards a ground on the game. The Broncos may have a plethora of injuries and issues on the offensive line, but this could finally be the week where their stable of running backs run wild against a unit giving up five yards per carry to ball carriers.

Hart's 3 Keys to Winning on the road in The Dawg Pound

1) Get the ground game established early and run often

The Broncos have no better chance than now to get their running game established. Expect the Broncos to run C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman and Kapri Bibbs early and often in order to do so and open up opportunities for Peyton Manning and company in the passing game.

2) Limit Gary Barnidge's and Travis Benjamin's big play ability

Gary Barnidge and Travis Benjamin have been surprise performers on offense for the Browns this season.  Denver's defensive focus should be on limiting the vertical opportunities the two provide and shutting them down by whatever means necessary.

3) Unleash Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray

Josh McCown has had some great games this year and with DeMarcus Ware out due to injury, young pass rushing outside linebacers Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray must step up to the plate and help pour on a pass rush to fluster the veteran quarterback. Here is to hoping that Barrett and Ray can come up big and get some sacks and perhaps force some turnovers this weekend.

What Their Coaches Are Saying

"Outside of the top two, [OLB] Shane Ray was a guy that we thought a lot of in the draft. [OLB Shaquil] Barrett is another guy that is playing well and fits right in. That's tough on an offense when those tackles that are playing every snap are playing against a position that can constantly be rolling. Browns Head Coach Mike Pettine on Denver's depth at OLB

"Denver Broncos coming into town this week. It’s a great opportunity for us as a team and as a defense – a chance to go against (Broncos QB) Peyton Manning at quarterback, a good offense, got weapons at every level of their offense – and we know as a defense we have to execute at a high level. We have to put our guys in a position to make some plays for us to be in this game and get a victory."" Browns Defensive Coordinator Jim O'Neil on the Broncos

What Our Coaches Are Saying

""I think he’s very comfortable in what they’re doing. He’s very smart. He’s been playing forever. He’s been studying forever and all of a sudden he’s gotten a chance over the past few years to really show what he can do. I think he’s got some weapons to work with. They’re probably the best week we’ve played up front. They do a good job of protecting him and doing some of those things. I just think he’s probably playing with as much confidence as he’s played with in his career. That makes it tougher for us, but we understand that."" Broncos Head Coach Gary Kubiak on Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown

"They've got a lot of speed at receiver. They make a lot of big plays. That's what we try to keep teams from doing is making big plays. They're a big-play team with [Duke] Johnson, the running back, and the tight end has played great. Their whole group is a challenge to cover. The speed at outside receiver gives you some problems, obviously." Broncos Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips on Cleveland's offensive weapons

Hart's Prediction for Sunday Afternoon

Denver goes on the road to enemy territory this weekend. The destination:  The Mistake By The Lake a.k.a. Cleveland.   It's a game against a team the Broncos have had historical success against. The Broncos have faced the Browns 27 times in league history and have been victorious in 22 match-ups.  Denver hasn't lost to the Cleveland since 1990.

I expect the trend of terrorizing the Browns this weekend to continue with an impact victory that will set a great tone for the team heading into next week's legendary battle against the Green Bay Packers.  Peyton Manning rebounds after last weeks dreadful outing against the Browns and ignites the Broncos offensive onslaught against one of the NFL's worst defenses.

Broncos 27, Browns 13.