The Denver Broncos are coming off of a game where Broncos nation was sure the team had lost until our depression turned to elation with a little luck and Brandon Stokley being in the right place in the right time.
Denver fans will happily take the win, but are expecting the Broncos to play better than they did last week when they take on the Browns this Sunday at Mile High.
The Browns have been a seemingly cursed franchise over the decades. The Browns won championship after championship in the AFL before the merger but have yet to win one since.
The curse continued for Browns fans when the infamous Art Modell moved the Browns team (players and all) from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996 only to win the Super Bowl a few years later as the Ravens (2000).
Broncos vs. Browns has some cursed history for the Browns as well. Many will recall the ’86 and ’87 AFC Championship games. The Broncos won both times in dramatic form, first “The Drive” led by Elway in ’86, and then a game that is known by some as “The Fumble” in ’87.
In ’07 the Browns posted a 10-6 record and though they missed the playoffs things were looking up for the Browns once again, but they followed that season up with an uninspired 4-12 record last year.
The Browns have a new head coach in Eric Mangini, a rebuilt defense this year, and though they lost their first game to the playoff bound Minnesota Vikings, the Browns are not the same team they were the past few seasons.
The Browns Offense
The Browns offense has the potential to be dangerous.
No. 10 Brady Quinn
Quinn is a talented young quarterback who can make all the throws and has something to prove. He also has a guy backing him up who made the Pro Bowl just two seasons ago named Derek Anderson.
If Quinn struggles, he could be replaced after this game, so he needs to play well. A guy under with that kind of pressure could fall apart or rise to the pressure.
No. 17 Braylon Edwards 6’3” 215 lbs
Braylon Edwards is a physical specimen. His height and size create a mismatch for almost any defensive back. But Edwards is known more for his dropped passes and missed opportunities than he is for his big plays as of late. He is capable of being one of the best receivers in the NFL, but has yet to realize his potential.
No. 16 Josh Cribbs 6’1” 215 lbs
Cribbs is one of the most explosive players in the NFL. He is probably the most gifted return man in the game, and in an effort to get the ball in his hands more, he is now starting at wide receiver for the Browns as well.
No. 31 Jamal Lewis 5’11” 245 lbs
In 2003 Lewis ran for 2066 yards in a single season, and was just 39 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record. He has never come close to that mark again, but still Lewis is a bear of a running back, using a mix of size and power to grind out the tough yards.
Lewis supposedly has a neck injury, but I am sure he will be on the field this Sunday.
Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach, Alex Mack, Floyd “Porkchop”Womack, and John St. Clair make up the Browns offensive line.
The left side of the line is young and elite, the right side are wily veterans who know the tricks of the trade, and in the middle is a promising rookie center. Though unproven as a unit, the Browns have one of the better offensive lines in the game.
Denver’s Defensive Strategy
Cleveland has a stud in Josh Cribbs.
Containing Cribbs will be key to wining this game. Denver needs to kick the ball out of the end-zone on every kickoff, and punt the ball out of bounds on every punt to keep the ball out of the hands of the Browns' best playmaker.
After Cribbs is contained, Denver needs to do what it did last week against Cincinnati, and put pressure on the young quarterback Quinn while simultaneously holding the line of scrimmage and stuffing the run.
As big of a potential threat as Edwards and Cribbs pose, they are no match for Denver’s seasoned secondary. So if Denver’s front seven can attack the Browns offense behind the line of scrimmage, the Bronco defense shouldn’t be on the field very long.
Look for Denver to be successful attacking the right side of the Browns offensive line getting pressure on Quinn and forcing him to scramble left against his throwing arm.
Haggan and Davis could see a few more sacks this week as a result of St.Cair’s aging abilities, on the flip side though Dumervil will have his hands full trying to get past perennial pro bowler Joe Thomas.
Though the schemes are no doubt different and the Browns are a different team this year Andra Davis should be ready to stick it to his former team this week.
If Denver can shut down the running game and not let Cribbs make plays on a screen, reverse or wildcat play, than Denver should be in good shape.
The Browns Defense
Coach Mangini brought some defensive talent with him from the Jets when he took over in Cleveland and in doing so he put together a more complete well rounded defense.
It all starts up front with Shaun Rogers who is largely considered one of the best nose tackles in the game. Though some have questioned his work ethic, he is effective at drawing double teams to open up opportunities for his teammates to make plays.
Rogers is flanked by Robaire Smith and Kenyon Coleman, who also do a great job of holding their ground and tying up their opponents.
Behind them is a great group of underrated yet very effective linebackers in K.Wimbley, D.Jackson, E.Barton, and D.Bowens. D’Qwell Jackson is the leader of this defense and is a tackling machine, he will be all over the field reeking havoc on passing and running plays alike.
The Browns also have a very respectable secondary with E.Wright, A.Elam, B.Pool and B.McDonald. Wright can hang with the best of them, and Elam is a hard hitter. Beyond this though, their depth is a little thin.
Denver’s Offensive Strategy
Denver’s offense went nowhere last week against the Bengals. They just couldn’t get anything together. This was not so much due to the Bengals defense as it was due to the failures of Denver’s offense. Dropped passes, penalties, and holding the ball too long put the Broncos in a deficit of yards all too often for the entire game. Denver should be able to correct these errors though, as they were uncharacteristic of the players who made them.
After a lackluster preseason performance Buckhalter played like he did back in Philadelphia and made the most of his opportunities to run the ball when given the chance, and should be expected to do so again against the Browns who gave up over 200 yards rushing last week.
The rookie Moreno on the other hand did not impress, but the Broncos offense was barely on the field last week. Hopefully his lack of playing time in preseason didn’t stunt Knowshon's growth in the NFL and he will take better advantage of the opportunities he receives this week.
Denver’s offensive line did not have a great performance in week one at all. Holding penalties and giving up three sacks is not what anyone expected from this highly touted group.
The loss of Chris Kuper to injury was really felt during the game, I think it messed with the line's chemistry and communication in a bad way. Hopefully Kuper will be back this week to return some stability to the unit, but they all need to play much better, mistake free football.
Orton still needs to settle down and open his eyes. Too many times did I see his feet chopping, which doesn’t allow him to set up and deliver the ball. He needs to finish his drop and set himself in the pocket and use his eyes better to play the defense off his intended target.
Orton also needs to work on his mental clock. He tends to hold the ball too long, and he needs to know that he is out of time and get rid of the ball.
The good news with Orton is that he was smart with the football in Week One. He didn’t turn the ball over trying to force a throw that wasn’t there, unlike what a former Broncos quarterback used to do (He lost the game for his new team by throwing four interceptions).
Denver's wide receiving corps needs to shake off some rust, too. Every single wide receiver on the field dropped a catchable ball last week against the Bengals. That is unacceptable and I expect that it was an aberration that we won’t see repeated this week at home in Mile High.
As long as Denver continues to protect the football and doesn’t give the game away with penalty’s and big plays created by Josh Cribbs, I think Denver has a very good shot at taking down the Browns this week in their home opener.
I give Denver the edge in this game because of Clevland’s lack of explosive offense, and the Broncos improved defense. The Mile High air doesn't hurt either.
My prediction: Denver wins 20-13.