Three keys to the Broncos beating the Browns on Thursday night

Oct 19, 2021, 6:36 AM
Baker Mayfield...
(Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
(Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos were humiliated against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 6. They have a quick turnaround, as they travel to face the Cleveland Browns on “Thursday Night Football” in Week 7. If things don’t go well, the Broncos will drop their fourth game in a row and that could lead to changes on the coaching staff.

The Browns are a team that should be better than their record indicates. They are 3-3, but two of their three losses were close games that came down to the wire against the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers, respectively. Their biggest loss of the year came last week as the undefeated Arizona Cardinals stomped them 37-14.

Injuries have hit them hard on both sides of the ball, but the Browns are a talented and well-coached team and they’ll be tough to beat.

As per usual on Mondays and Tuesdays during the regular season, I have broken down the coach’s film of the Broncos upcoming opponent. Here are three observations from the Browns film that could be the keys for a Broncos victory on Thursday.


Banged Up RB Corps

The Browns know how to run the football. Fortunately for the Broncos, their top two running backs are banged up with calf injuries and may not be able to play.

We know for sure that Kareem Hunt won’t play as the team put him on Injured Reserve with his calf injury, and reports indicate he could miss several weeks. Nick Chubb might be the best running back in football, and he had to miss Week 6 with his calf injury and may need another week of rest. He did miss practice on Monday, but that’s just an estimation as they didn’t hold practice.

If the Browns are down their top two running backs, they will turn to D’Ernest Johnson as their lead back and rookie Demetric Felton as a change-of-pace back. Johnson is a powerful runner who understands the zone-blocking system. He won’t win with moves, but he understands how to set up cut back lanes and does a good job at the entry point of the run when deciding whether to “bend, bang or bounce.” He’s got playing experience from last year when the Cleveland backfield was banged up like it is now.

The Broncos rush defense has been gashed over the last two weeks by Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs. Johnson is not on their level in terms of talent, but he’s a disciplined runner who can thrive in that system.

Starting quarterback Baker Mayfield is dealing with a shoulder injury, so if he plays the team should lean on their rushing attack – even though it’s banged up – more than ever.


New Weapon Emerging, Old Weapon Returning?

There is a lot of talent at the wide receiver position in Cleveland. The Browns use their rushing attack to set up the play-action passing game, and they use bootlegs and rollouts effectively to find their targets down the field.
The focus will be on veteran Odell Beckham Jr., but there is another player who is emerging as a top threat for the Browns – Donovan Peoples-Jones.

Beckham has battled injuries this year but he seems to be looking like his former self in recent weeks. Peoples-Jones is big, fast and physical – a perfect combination for this offensive design. His size/strength combination is going to be tough to deal with, especially with the Denver defense getting gashed every week by big passing plays.

In addition to what Beckham and Peoples-Jones are doing at the position, the Browns activated veteran slot receiver Jarvis Landry of Injured Reserve last Friday. He didn’t play in their Week 6 loss to the Cardinals, but he could be back in action against the Broncos on Thursday night. Landry is a security blanket target for Mayfield and can get open underneath regularly. His run-after-the-catch ability means he’s a threat on short passes he can turn into gains to move the chains.


Pass Rush For Days

The Browns love to get after the quarterback with Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. With the way the Broncos have been struggling to protect Teddy Bridgewater, this could be a disaster looming for their offense in Week 7.

Both former No. 1 overall picks, Garrett and Clowney are the most-dangerous edge combination the Broncos have faced this season. Garrett leads the NFL with 8.0 sacks and can win with power or speed. He’s got several moves to get after the quarterback and is relentless when it comes to snaring the passer. Clowney only has 3.0 sacks, but he’s a powerful player who complements what Garrett is doing on the other side. Together, this duo will be a handful for the Broncos offensive line.

Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur needs to be better. Football 101 says that against a pass rush like the Browns, it’s wise to use screen passes and draw plays to slow them down. This uses their aggressiveness against them, and it can lead to big plays for the Broncos offense – if they’re called correctly.

Shurmur must call a good game or quarterback Teddy Bridgewater won’t make it through the game. Ever since getting concussed a couple of weeks ago, Bridgewater has not looked the same and he’s getting rattled far too often – and the play calling is not helping him at all.

We’ll see the Broncos under duress all game long. You can blame the offensive line all you want, but this is where Shurmur really needs to come through. If not, Shurmur may find himself out of a job after the game.


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Three keys to the Broncos beating the Browns on Thursday night