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Scouting the enemy: Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns have lost their last 11 games against the Denver Broncos, but will history repeat itself this Saturday when the revamped Browns make their way to the Mile High City?

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It has been over a decade since the Cleveland Browns have had a winning season. For years they have been the bottom-dwellers of the National Football League. The number of coaches and starting quarterbacks over that period of time are almost too many to count. The players who have come and gone are innumerable. Moreover, they haven’t beat the Denver Broncos in the their past eleven games dating back twenty-five years. But that could all change come Saturday night.

It’s been tough being a Browns fan, something that most folks across Broncos Country can’t even comprehend. Our beloved Broncos are a team that has given the Browns an enormous amount of heartbreak over the years. The well-versed fans in Broncos’ lore know this all too well. But times they are a changing and it seems that the Browns are finally moving forward. Playoff chances are incredibly low for both franchises, with the Broncos’ chances hovering around five percent and the Browns even less than one percent.

It’d take winning out and a whole lot of help for both teams to make it possible. Have no doubts, that the loser of Saturday’s battle will have their post-season dreams officially squashed. Let’s take a deeper look at who the Broncos will face at home on Saturday night.

A glance at the Browns’ offense

The last time the Browns sported an offense ranked in the top half of the league was the last time they had a winning season in 2007. Since then, their offensive production has been cataclysmic decade-long endeavor. One season removed from being one of the worst offenses in football the Browns have made quite a bit a progress. Their current league-wide rankings on offense goes as follows:

Points per game: 18th (22.5)
Total yards: 15th (359.4)
Passing yards: 17th (239.2)
Rushing yards: 14th (120.2)

A lot of that has to do with the play of top pick Baker Mayfield. Since taking over for Tyrod Taylor the Browns’ offense appears to be doing much better. To date, the former Oklahoma product has completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,877 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. After years of waiting, it finally appears that the Browns finally have their franchise quarterback.

Offseason acquisition Jarvis Landry has been his favorite target, who has 69 receptions for 790 yards and three touchdowns on the year. But Mayfield has been diligent in spreading the ball around, with tight end David Njoku and young receivers Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins also making an impact with him at the helm. With Mayfield leading the way, everyone is getting a slice of the pie and his ability to read defenses and find open targets has been very impressive for a rookie.

Another reason for the Browns’ turnaround offensively has been because of rookie running back Nick Chubb. He has gained 760 yards on 144 rushing attempts and scored 8 touchdowns. The emergence of a formidable ground attack in Cleveland should bode well for them the remainder of the season and down the road. Versatile back Duke Johnson has also made his presence known, amassing nearly 500 all-purpose yards and averaging nearly 10 yards per reception out of the backfield.

All signs are pointing up with respect to the Browns’ future on offense. They have their quarterback, running back and star wide receiver of the future. If they can continue to build on their offensive line an add another skill player or two for Mayfield to get involved, their offense has the chance to be good for quite some time.

A glance at the Browns’ defense

While the Browns’ offense has improved demonstrably this season compared to last year, their defense has still struggled and is an overall mixed slate. They are second-to-last with respect to total and passing yards given up a game, but are also giving up 133 yards (28th) and 25.5 points (25th) per contest as well.

What is interesting to observe is that despite the Browns’ issues above, they are third-best league-wide when it comes to interceptions and have 15 on the year. They unit has also forced 18 fumbles and recovered 13 of them. They are a defense that can cause a lot of havoc and force turnovers, which is why the Browns are +9 in turnover ratio on the season.

Two players in particular really catch my eye on their defense. Defensive end Myles Garrett has continued his ascent to becoming one of the most feared pass rusher’s in the league and has 12.5 sacks thus far. His second-year running mate Larry Ogunjobi has been a force on the interior of the Browns’ defensive front and has 42 tackles and 4.5 sacks on the year. The Broncos’ offensive line is going to have to play a great game in order to stop those two from causing chaos up front.

Keys to the game

Here are several keys to the game that members of the Mile High Report staff talked about earlier in the week. That being said, I agree one hundred percent with Ian St. Clair who had a great point to make. The Broncos need a lot more out of Case Keenum in the passing game. He needs to attack more down field and take some bigger risks. With first-round corner Denzel Ward out for Saturday’s game they should be able to take some bigger chances, but can’t allow a secondary that’s forced a lot of interceptions to get the best of him.

Hart’s Prediction

As mentioned earlier, the loser of Saturday’s game will have their playoff hopes officially eliminated. I’m worried about the Broncos’ ability to defend against Mayfield and his arsenal of weapons which is greater than what Denver faced last weekend. Unless the Broncos can somehow embark on a miraculous turnaround to what we all witnessed a week ago, I don’t see much hope for them. As much as I’d like to see the Broncos win out and have a shot at the playoffs, I’m not confident they will be able to do so. It’s officially time to start thinking about the future.

Browns 24, Broncos 20.