With the Denver Broncos and the Cleveland Browns still in the hunt for those final playoff spots, this Saturday night matchup is set to be extremely important. We sat down with Dawgs By Nature’s Chris Pokorny to discuss this important game under the lights of Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
And awayyy we go!
1) You guys have seen a revolving door of quarterback for a long, long time. What have you seen from Baker Mayfield to make you believe the Browns have finally found their guy?
Chris Pokorny: With the way the guy has been playing the last month, he looks like a Top 5 quarterback in the NFL already. The leadership factor is already there, and it isn’t forced: he already has the entire team, coaching staff, and fanbase gravitating to him. His on-field play backs it up. His completion percentage has taken a big leap since the firing of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley. New offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens has in the zone with his playbook, and the offensive line has been remarkable in the past month, allowing just 1 sack in Mayfield’s last four games. He hasn’t faced a pass-rushing duo like Von Miller-Bradley Chubb -- combined, they have combined for 25.5 sacks, so that doesn’t sound like an issue, right?
2) After holding the Houston Texans’ pass rush to zero sacks a couple weeks ago, what do you expect Denver will try to do differently? How do you think the Browns will counter?
Chris Pokorny: The Browns’ interior has been very strong over the past two months, so the tackles are the weaker spots. Left tackle Greg Robinson and right tackle Chris Hubbard have been stable, which I think is the best word to describe them. The Texans comparison is a good one, but I think the Broncos’ rush is superior up front. Cleveland will negate the rush through the same game plan they’ve used the past month: quick decisions from Baker Mayfield, and some late dump-off screen passes when a blitz is coming from the edge.
3) Injuries to both teams are going to give us a glimpse of some players in positions they’re not completely used to. Is there anyone on the Browns you expect step up in a big way?
Chris Pokorny: The Browns’ main injury is the concussion for rookie CB Denzel Ward. Our defense had a taste of what life was like without him last week with respect to the secondary. The guy I expect to continue stepping up is C JC Tretter. Tretter has had a lingering ankle injury for about 2-3 months now, and he continues playing through it at a relatively high level. Last week, he tweaked it during the game, so the backup center started practicing snaps. By the time the Browns got the ball again, Tretter taped up his ankle and finished the game strong.
4) Continuing with matchups, are there any that you’re particularly worried about?
Chris Pokorny: I am worried about what Phillip Lindsay will do to the Browns’ run defense. I know the 49ers bottled him up a bit last week, but his yards per attempt average is tops in the NFL. The Browns have the talent individually to make plays in the backfield, but collectively, there are still some issues at one of the defensive end spots and outside linebacker when it comes to containing the run. I think Gregg Williams would be wise to send extra defenders to cover Keenum and Lindsay, while the rest of the defense focuses on what they are good at: having enough plays of short gains be run that eventually, an overthrown, tipped pass, missed field goal, etc will lead to a turnover on downs.
5) Playoffs or not, would you consider this to be a successful season for the Browns? What do you feel needs to be addressed in order for them to rise to the “next level” of play?
Chris Pokorny: Yes, this is a successful season for the Browns. The home finale is next week, and the town is buzzing with people wanting to go to the game. That hasn’t happened for a Browns finale in who knows how long. The team will face a challenge of finding the right head coach, but I think Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens can both keep their jobs Cleveland wins out. Next year, Cleveland could still use a true, No. 1 receiver. But their biggest weakness is at one of the defensive tackle spots. If that player was a run stuffer, then the rest of the game would be far more challenging for opposing offenses to run the ball.
BONUS: Score prediction?
Chris Pokorny: I like the Browns to take advantage of the Broncos’ injuries at cornerback to win a tight prime-time game 23-20.