The Browns have arrived in Denver ahead of their Week 9 game with the Broncos (2-6). Each team is in need of a win, but one is playing without its usual starter under center.
Can the Browns take advantage of the Broncos turning to a signal-caller with no starting NFL experience? In order to do so, they’ll need to achieve a few key goals.
Here are three key ingredients for a winning mix against Denver.
1. Strike fast
The Broncos still boast a top-five defense, even after a change from one defensive-minded head coach to another. They’re fourth in the NFL in total yards allowed per game (304.5), and fourth in the league against the pass (194.8 yards allowed per game). These numbers should point to a tough day for the Browns’ offense.
Such an outcome can be avoided by hitting Denver quickly, while the Broncos are still getting their feet under them. Instead of relying on Nick Chubb to establish the run, it might benefit the Browns to take a couple early shots to Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Opening up the offense and making big gains early would give the Browns a much-needed momentum boost that’s even more important when playing in a hostile environment with mile-high elevation.
From there, they can establish a ground-based rhythm on ensuing possessions by leaning on Chubb and controlling the ball. But before they get there, grabbing an early lead with aggression would go a long way toward ending this three-game skid.
2. Shut down the running game
By now, we all know about who will start at quarterback for Denver, but he might not end up being a major factor if the Broncos can win on the ground. The Browns must stop that effort.
With Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman in Denver’s backfield, the Broncos own a two-headed attack that relies on Freeman’s size and Lindsay’s agility and elusiveness. He’s not a large running back but he bounces in and out of running lanes like a waterbug and is difficult to get ahold of, and his threat should force the Browns to first focus on limiting him and Freeman.
Winning at the point of attack will be key for this Browns defense, which did that last week in a 27-13 loss to New England and has shown it can limit premier backs (Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley). From there, it can snowball positively for Cleveland, because if the Browns can take away the backfield duo’s effectiveness on the ground, so goes the impact of the play-action pass. It’s been a key part of multiple opponents’ offenses in weeks past, but will be even more important with Brandon Allen under center for Denver.
If Denver can’t rely on its running backs and play action, it’ll set up for a long day for Allen, allowing the Browns’ ferocious pass rush to start hunting the quarterback. That’s when the possibility of takeaways increases, meaning only good things for Cleveland.
3. Eliminate self-inflicted mistakes
Even if the Browns follow the first two points, it won’t matter if they don’t correct their self-inflicted mistakes.
Last week, the Browns committed 13 penalties. They turned the ball over three times. Even the best teams will struggle to win when making these types of mistakes.
Such mistakes can’t happen again if the Browns want to end their losing streak and start to turn their season around. No matter the opponent, no NFL team can win a game if it doesn’t first get out of its own way.
They’ll have to do so by eliminating the avoidable mistakes, like false starts, offensive pass interferences and the most destructive blunders that result in a change of possession. Instead of handing Denver opportunities to stay in or take control of the game, they’d be best served to play disciplined, error-free football. That might include not taking a risk or two, or taking them only when calculated, but what it must include is play without penalties.
If the Browns can do this, they should be able to board the plane back to Cleveland as a happy group pleased with a winning effort.