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Can the Broncos run game help them upset the Cleveland Browns?

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Brandon Allen complicates things, but there’s a way to victory. Can the Broncos take it?

NFL: Cleveland Browns at New England Patriots
The Broncos’ defense could have its way with Baker Mayfield.
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

While the Broncos and Browns are both coming into this week’s game at 2-6, the perceptions around the two teams are quite different. Cleveland’s a talented disaster, with the media pointing fingers at Baker Mayfield for the slow start. The Broncos are just another bad team, with Brandon Allen set to be the sixth quarterback to start a game since Peyton Manning retired.

Look a little closer, however and there are plenty of similarities between the Broncos and Browns. Both have superstar pass rushers creating opportunities for others along their front seven. Both have a legitimate number one receiver who demands extra attention. Both have questions along the offensive line.

Coaching will be a huge factor in this game between two reasonably matched teams. To get more insight into the matchup I spoke with Dawgs by Nature’s Chris Pokorny.

Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

1st and 10

Given the expectations for the Browns coming into the season, how would you describe the current state of the team? Football Outsiders Playoff Odds report actually gives Cleveland a 23% chance at the postseason. How do you see the back half of 2019 going?

Browns fans are definitely used to losing. Every year as fans, we build our optimism up at the beginning of the season, only to come to the same realization that the team just isn’t good enough to win.

This year is a bit different -- although there are still plenty of weaknesses in talent that I could point out, the talent for the Browns to be a force in the NFL is there. The execution has been terrible, though. Cleveland is on pace for the second most penalties in NFL history.

Turnovers are happening at the worst possible time. Head coach Freddie Kitchens is making questionable gameday decisions, making him look exactly like “a running backs coach who was promoted to head coach and is in over his head.”

With that said, Browns fans have been waiting all season for this upcoming stretch of games, where the team is facing nothing but unproven or backup quarterbacks for the rest of the season.

Over their past 5 games, the Browns faced the Rams, Ravens, 49ers, Seahawks, and Patriots, which is about as tough of a stretch as one can ask for. Now, they get the Broncos, Bills, Steelers, Dolphins, Steelers, and Bengals in their next six games.

It is a tailor-made opportunity for the Browns to get back into the playoff hunt and start building more discipline that will pay off when they square off against the Ravens again later in the year.

2nd and 7

One of the biggest issues through 8 games seems to be Baker Mayfield. What’s caused this sophomore slump, and is it fixable?

Even though the turnover numbers for Baker Mayfield are ugly, it was really his first 3 games of the season that were ugly, as he lost all sense of calmness in the pocket and would bail to his right on every play.

For the past 5 games, he has looked more like himself, and there haven’t been too many throws he’s made where you say, “what was he thinking?” Some of Mayfield’s interceptions have been passes that receivers have tipped into the air, or quick hitters that Mayfield is blindly throwing to a spot before he realizes that his receiver was bumped or picked at the line.

There is still a lot that Mayfield needs to work on, though -- the chemistry with Odell Beckham Jr. still seems relatively non-existent, ball placement in many instances has not been ideal, he often sticks with his first read the entire way, and he has yet to connect on a deep ball in 2019.

The pass protection has been bad for Cleveland, and that contributes to a lot of the issues, but it really is a mix of everything and everyone needing to find their groove.

3rd and 3

What are your thoughts on the defense, there seems to be far more talent than what the record suggests. Who has stood out to you?

It has been tough to judge the defense at their full potential, since both starting cornerbacks (Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams) had missed most of the season before returning against the Patriots last week. Those returns, of course, happened to coincide with an injury to the Browns’ best safety, Damarious Randall.

Overall, the Browns’ pass defense hasn’t been bad. Myles Garrett has been a force all season, and Olivier Vernon is starting to turn up the heat opposite him at defensive end, but the play of the defensive tackles and linebackers has been average to below average.

Teams have been able to gash Cleveland on the ground, with it getting worse when the Browns are losing and morale is down. The Browns’ defense is built to thrive when they are playing from ahead, letting Garrett generate a rush and waiting to see what type of errant pass that might lead to.

4th and inches

Are there any matchups that worry you heading into this game? Any you’re licking your chops over?

I am always worried about elite pass-rushers, so I have to go with the obvious choice in Von Miller. Cleveland made a switch at left tackle last week from Greg Robinson to Justin McCray. While McCray can handle run blocking pretty well, the same can’t be said for his pass protection.

To make matters worse, the right side of the line, right guard Eric Kush and right tackle Chris Hubbard, have been below average in protection as well. If Miller busts his tail off to get either a sack, force a holding penalty, draw a hands-to-the-face penalty, or cause pressure for a throwaway, it will lead to some of the same type of frustration the offense has felt these first seven games.

I am licking my chops over Garrett vs. Garett -- that is, Myles Garrett vs. Garett Bolles. Garrett annihilated the Jets’ quarterbacks earlier this season when they were making their first appearances of the season in relief of Sam Darnold. Even if Bolles does a fair job against Garrett, when you have an a quarterback making his first start, the offensive line can’t be expected to have a “feel” for where he’s going to be within the pocket or how long they will hold on to the ball. That plays into Garrett’s advantage to smell blood and go for the kill.

Point After

How can the Broncos upset the Browns in Denver this weekend?

The Broncos can pull off the upset by overloading left tackle Justin McCray on the pass rush, and playing zone coverage, which Mayfield hasn’t fared too well against.

On offense, a sustained running game is the only thing that makes sense for Denver too. They have a first-time quarterback, inexperienced receivers, and are facing a Browns run defense that is near the bottom of the league. It won’t be as simple as lining up, running, and winning, though -- that gameplan works because it is coupled with all of the mental mistakes that Cleveland is making, as I addressed in the first question.

Last week, I told people after the Browns vs. Patriots game that New England didn’t do anything special. Yes, they didn’t make mistakes, but they really just played an average game.

Why did they still win by two touchdowns? Because the Browns turned the ball over on three consecutive plays in the first quarter.

Poll

Who wins Broncos, or Browns?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Broncos by a lot.
    (61 votes)
  • 46%
    Broncos by a little.
    (286 votes)
  • 13%
    Browns by a lot.
    (85 votes)
  • 30%
    Browns by a little.
    (187 votes)
619 votes total Vote Now