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Broncos vs Browns preview: Can Denver right the ship against injury-riddled Cleveland?

The good news for the Broncos is they’re on a short week. The bad news for the Broncos is they're on a short week.

What Denver Broncos team will the country see?

That’s where we are at this point in the 2021 regular season. Will we see the Broncos from the first three weeks? Or the embarrassing dumpster fire of the previous three? Some are trying to stop the panic, “it’s only Week 7,” while others realize there’s no point in hitting the panic button since it won’t change anything.

The good news is Denver is on a short week. The bad news is the Broncos are on a short week. Up next for Denver is the injury-riddled Cleveland Browns, who are down their top two running backs and a quarterback who has one good arm.

The current odds at DraftKings Sportsbook have the Broncos as a +2.5-point underdog. When the sportsbook first released the lines in early May, Denver was a +7 ‘dog. The injuries to Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, plus the news Baker Mayfield is out and Case Keenum will start, are why the line has dropped to where it is right now. As for the moneyline, that sits at +110. The total for Thursday night is still was set at over/under 42, but the Keenum news has dropped it to 41.5.

Offensive Rankings

Denver: Thirteenth in overall offense (368.3 yards per game), 14th in rushing (117.5), 13th in passing (250.8), tied for 22nd in scoring offense (21.0 points per game).

Cleveland: Ninth in overall offense (396.3 yards per game), first in rushing (168.5), 26th in passing (298.4), ninth in scoring offense (22.6 points per game).

Defensive Rankings

Denver: Fourth in overall defense (314.7 yards per game), fourth in rushing defense (85.5), 11th in passing defense (229.2), fourth in scoring defense (18.3 points per game).

Cleveland: Second in overall defense (307.7 yards per game), sixth in rushing defense (87.0), ninth in passing defense (220.7), 22nd in scoring defense (25.2 points per game).

Here are the MHR staff’s keys to Thursday's game.

Do your job

From the coaches to players, this needs to happen on Thursday. That has not happened the last three weeks. The coaches have been outcoached and out game-planned. The players look ill-prepared and lifeless. For any of this to change, each member of the Broncos needs to do their damn job. Take care of your responsibility and that should foster others to do the same. — Ian St. Clair

A self-aware Pat Shurmur

For a season and a half, the Pat Shurmur system has been an abject failure on all counts. He talks of the need to “keep grinding,” but what is needed is a complete change in philosophy. I’d like to see Shurmur become self-aware that what he is doing is failing and to adapt. It isn’t the players failing to execute at this point as we have seen multiple starting quarterbacks and plenty of different starters elsewhere. It is a failure to adapt that is killing the offense and that falls on Shurmur. The biggest mistake Vic Fangio has made has been the decision to dump Rich Scangarello after the 2019 season. It is a mistake that has kept on giving and will keep giving until Fangio is fired in January. Unless, maybe, Shumur adapts and the team rallies to a playoff berth. Given Shurmur’s history, I am going to guess he will “keep grinding” to the next gig. — Tim Lynch

Defense needs to, y’know, defend

The Browns are likely to be missing nearly half of their starting offense, including their QB & both top RBs. After three consecutive weeks of crapping itself, the Broncos defense needs to show the skill and discipline that’s supposed to be the hallmark of a Fangio defense. If the defense doesn’t, the Broncos will drop one of the four or so remaining games that are vaguely winnable. — Taylor Kothe

Stop the Browns running game on first down

The defense has to find a way to stop opposing running backs on first down in the first half. The Denver defense has been giving up 4-6 yards per run in the first half and this has set up many third-and-shorts. The Broncos D over the past three games has allowed conversion on 19 of 41 (including one by penalty) third down plays. That’s 46.3%, which is terrible and would have been third-worst in the league if the D had allowed that over the whole season. — Joe Mahoney

Create turnovers

We have been saying it for a while now, and it has not changed. The Broncos defense has to be so good that it only gives up 20 points. That’s the number. Whether it is the play calling, or the execution, the offense isn’t going to win games for this team. That means it falls on the shoulders of the defense to hold opponents to 20 or fewer points. How can the Broncos do that? Turnovers. Creating turnovers is one of the biggest factors in winning football games. They say defense wins championships. Not quite. Defenses that create turnovers win championships. I’m not saying this team is going to win any Super Bowls in the near future, but getting a few turnovers could lead to a couple of regular season wins. That’s how they are going to beat the Browns. — Adam Malnati

Odds/lines are subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.

What are your keys to Thursday’s game?