So what did we learn?
1. Shane Ray is as good as gone
Before the game word broke that Su’a Cravens and Shane Ray were healthy scratches for Dymonte Thomas and Jeff Holland.
Source said Cravens and Ray were told yesterday they would be inactive. Signs were there with Cravens bc Thomas was getting reps in front of him. Ray has not gained traction. This was Joseph's call. Must-win game. Decisions reflect that it appears #Denver7— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) December 16, 2018
Thomas had a quiet game outside of one play, but he made it count.
Dymonte Thomas playing tonight over Su'a Cravens. I questioned it, but he was in the right place at the right time to save the #Broncos from entering the half down 3 to the #Browns #CLEvsDEN pic.twitter.com/VKWk6rsd40— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 16, 2018
As for Holland, he saved Mayfield from getting into the second level on a 3rd and 1 in the second half. He also had a few good rushes. Anyone who watched him in the preseason knew he just needed a chance, but sitting Ray for him said more about the 2015 first rounder than the undrafted rookie.
After Elway turned down the Ray’s fifth year option last spring, the writing was on the wall: the former Missouri Tiger had a put up or shut up season in front of him and limited opportunities to prove himself. He’s failed completely. Ray has been the primary rotation player on the Edge depth chart since Shaq Barrett was injured and still has all of 4.5 pressures on the entire season according to Sports Info Solutions. If his season is over, he’ll finish 2018 with 1 sack, 10 tackles and 1 QB hit. It will be interesting to see if what teams watch his 2016 tape and take a flier, unfortunately he never returned to that burgeoning star rusher that notched 8 sacks behind DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller.
Cravens is easily the more peculiar inactive, while Ray is a free agent after the season, Denver inherited Cravens rookie deal when they traded for him from Washington. Initially I thought perhaps it had to do with the conditional 2020 6th round pick Elway gave Washington as part of the trade, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Broncos acquire SS Su'a Cravens from WAS in exchange for 5th-rd pick (No. 163). Broncos also swap 4th-rd picks, going from 109 to WAS's 113; and 5th-rd picks, from 142 to 149. Also a conditional pick. WAS would get 6th-rd pick in 2020 if Cravens plays in playoff game. #9sports— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) March 28, 2018
In the end, it may well be due to performance as Cravens was one of the many Fly Zone members who struggled mightily to contain the Niners George Kittle last week. What makes the move even more bizarre is that Cravens was benched while Darian Stewart continue to play.
2. Sutton had a big first half, but disappeared in 2nd
The biggest play Sutton made tonight won’t be reflected in his traditional stats as he set up the first half touchdown when he drew a defensive pass interference penalty on Terrance Mitchell that gave the Denver O 1st and Goal from the 3. Two plays later Keenum found pay dirt.
QB's got wheels.#BeatTheBrowns pic.twitter.com/733abjYa00— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) December 16, 2018
Sutton finished the 2nd quarter with 5 catches on 5 targets for 42 yards and the 25 yard penalty. It became his final statline as the Browns put the clamps down in the second half and DaeSean Hamilton was forced to try and carry the load.
3. The Broncos ground game is still stuck in neutral
A week after averaging 2.8 yards per carry against San Francisco, the Broncos vaunted rushing attack averaged 1.6 tonight. Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman had moments, but could never provide the offense some degree of consistent production.
Inevitably, the absence of Emmanuel Sanders and Denver’s rebuilt interior line has finally caught up to the team. Opposing defenses are using stunts to confuse the offensive line and coordinators in recent weeks are electing to sell out against the run, daring Keenum and what’s left of the Broncos pass catchers to beat them.
4. Tramaine Brock flew solo & Von made history
And on top of all that, Bradley Roby is QUESTIONABLE to return with a cut in his mouth.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) December 16, 2018
The play after Taylor was ejected Von Miller made Broncos notched his 98th career sack, passing Simon Fletcher for the most in team history.
Unfortunately, the Fly Zone was down to Justin Simmons and Tramaine Brock on drive that put the Browns ahead for good.
5. Keenum did all he could to play hero
Early on things looked great. At one point I thought that this was the best half of football I’ve seen from Keenum, all things considered. He was throwing to the 4th and 5th string tight ends and completing passes to 3 rookies and a receiver who couldn’t make the Ravens a year ago.
Then in a 3 play sequence Tim Patrick and Matt LaCosse dropped passes before the left side of the offensive line collapsed and Keenum threw a prayer into the end zone. It was picked off by Jabril Peppers. All things considered, it was an understandable decision as Sutton had a chance.
There was a big hiccup in the 2nd half when Keenum threw one of his uglier picks. But as veteran quarterbacks need to do, he responded with a money drive to get Denver into the red zone with less than 7 minutes to go.
After the Hamilton catch on 3rd down though, Musgrave went conservative with 3 straight runs. Joseph called for a field goal with 4:35 left on the clock to get the Broncos within 1 point.
After the one of the gutsiest performances I’ve seen from the Broncos, Keenum got the ball back with 1:49 left on the clock and the field to drive. The first 4th down he found Devontae Booker who made a play after the catch to get the Broncos to the 50. Unfortunately, the Mile High Magic was all used up. 4th and Game, the Browns went man across and sent the house.