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Browns-Broncos: Cleveland Aims to Take Advantage of Denver Flaws

Steve TaterCorrespondent ISeptember 16, 2009

CLEVELAND - NOVEMBER 6:  Eddie Royal #19 of the Denver Broncos catches a pass in front of Brandon McDonald #22 of the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter of their NFL game at Cleveland Browns Stadium November 6, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Last week's game featured a big matchup problem for the Cleveland Browns when you considered that the Browns' weakness (stopping the run) was up against the Vikings strength (running the football).

This week’s game for the Denver Broncos poses a different issue: "What happens when a resistible force meets a moveable object?"

The Broncos won game one in miraculous fashion, 12-7, against the Cincinnati Bengals. Words cannot do justice to describe exactly how Denver managed to pull out that win. If you have not seen it, take a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K56C-roYUOA.

But the win buried a pitiful performance by the Broncos' offense. Take away that one 87-yard play and the Denver offense netted only 215 yards total yards on the day. It was just three of 12 on third down conversions.

In the offseason, Broncos management decided to trade away its Pro Bowl quarterback, Jay Cutler, in exchange for pedestrian quarterback Kyle Orton. Last season, Cutler carved up the Browns' defense for 477 yards. Orton might have a difficult time putting up those kinds of numbers even if the Browns pulled their entire defense off the field.

Orton is not particularly mobile and was sacked three times against the Bengals. If he gets the ball out of his hands quickly and into his playmakers' hands, he can be effective, but he rarely throws the ball down the field and generally isn’t much of a threat to make a big play.

To make matters worse for Denver, it has had serious issues dealing with its talented, but moody, wide receiver, Brandon Marshall. If Cleveland fans think Braylon Edwards has an attitude problem, they haven’t caught Marshall’s act.

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Denver used its first round pick on running back Knowshon Moreno from the University of Georgia. Moreno is talented, but is a bit banged up. Heading into last week’s game, he had a sprained knee. He played, but then suffered a blow to the head. He more than likely will play this week against the Browns, but he will not be 100 percent.

If Moreno is not on the field, former Eagle Correll Buckhalter will take over the rushing duties. He’s a capable backup when healthy (which has not been often), but he still has not topped his rookie season high of 586 yards in 2001.

Denver does have a solid to spectacular stable of receivers. Both tight ends, Daniel Graham (brought over from the Patriots) and Tony Scheffler (40 catches, 645 yards, three touchdowns in 2008), must be accounted for. Denver will also move Peyton Hillis around at TE, RB, FB, and WR.

Wide receivers Marshall, Brandon Stokley, Jabar Gaffney, and Eddie Royal can all make plays. Who can forget Eddie Royal chewing up and spitting out Browns cornerbacks for 164 yards last season?

The one staple of the Broncos offense during the Mike Shanahan era was great offensive line play. Shanahan and his scheme are gone now, and in its place is new coach Josh McDaniels' "Patriot offense." However, Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and a stable of running backs and offensive lineman are not in Denver to run it.

Casey Wiegmann has had a good career, but after 14 years of taking the brutal punishment that comes with being a center in the NFL, is no longer the player he once was.

Ben Hamilton and Chris Kuper start at the guard spots and are still learning the new system after nine and four years, respectively, under Shanahan. Second-year left tackle Ryan Clady is already considered one of the best in the AFC, while third-year right tackle Ryan Harris is not far behind.

With a new system, new quarterback, and new running backs (their main back banged up), it is going to take some time before this offense is in sync. The Browns, like the Bengals the week before, can take advantage of that by disguising coverages and blitzing from different angles.

The Broncos are especially susceptible to pressure up the middle. I expect the Browns' defense to hold up a lot better than it did against the Vikings.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos are attempting to re-tool what has been one of the worst defenses in the league. In fact, it was 30th in the league in points allowed in 2008 and has sat near the bottom of the league in rush defense for several years.

Denver fans have sarcastically coined the name "Browncos" when referring to their defense. That name was not just given because of how poorly they have played, but also because they have had a lot of Browns retreads playing on it. The new regime wiped the Browns' connection clean except for new starting linebacker, Andra Davis.

Although Denver has a mostly new group in the front seven, it is not exactly star-studded. Current nosetackle Ronald Fields has one sack and just 77 tackles in his six-year career, DE Kenny Peterson (of Canton, Ohio) is a regular starter for the first time in his seven-year career, and opposite DE Ryan McBean (now in his third year) has amassed a grand total of one tackle.

The one imposing figure in the linebacker corps is OLB Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil was only 21 when he was drafted as a hybrid DE/LB coming out of Louisville four years ago. He is not much of a force in the run game, but has collected 26 sacks in his first three years in the league (including 12.5 in 2007).

At the other outside linebacker position is Mario Haggan, who has had a rather non-descript professional career. Both inside linebackers, D.J. Williams and Andra Davis, are capable run-stoppers, but neither have game-changing reputations.

This group can be had. If the Browns keep Dumervil off Brady Quinn’s back, he can put up some solid numbers. Both the run and short passing games—especially slants, curls, and passes to backs in the flats—will be there all day long if the Browns take advantage. That plays to Quinn’s strengths. In fact, Quinn had his best game as a pro against Denver in 2008 (23-35, 239 yards, two TDs, zero INT).

The Broncos' secondary is one of the few areas of strength on this team. Newly acquired Brian Dawkins can flat-out hit you in the mouth. Despite his age (36 in October), he is dangerous as a run-stopper and as a blitzer from the safety position.

Renaldo Hill, a journeyman who has spent eight seasons in and out of starting lineups with various teams, starts at strong safety.

Champ Bailey is a shut down corner who most teams try to avoid. He has been named to eight consecutive Pro Bowls. Andre’ Goodman comes over from the Dolphins to man the other cornerback position. He had five interceptions in 2008, but can be beaten by taller, physical wide receivers.

The guess is that Bailey is going to follow Edwards all over the field like he did with Chad Johnson against Cincinnati (I refuse to call him that other name). Someone—perhaps Joshua Cribbs, Mike Furrey, or Mohamed Massaquoi—is going to have to step up their game and take some pressure off Edwards.

If the run game is successful early (which it should be), they can take some shots down field once Dawkins starts cheating.

Eddie Royal is the Broncos' main return man on kicks and punts. He’s athletic, but has yet to break one for a touchdown.

Brett Kern is an average punter. He puts up better numbers at home, but almost lost his job this offseason. Matt Prater (from Mayfield Heights, Ohio) is one of the better field goal kickers in the league. He is six of seven from 50+ yards since taking over the duties near the end of 2007.

Joshua Cribbs is always a threat to take one to the house, but Prater’s leg and the Denver air will make that a little more difficult this week.

The Broncos have an unusual home field advantage. They have had the best home record in pro football over the past 32 years. A number of factors play into that, including selling out every game since 1970 and the Colorado altitude.

That being said, Denver is not a really good football team right now. Its offense is a train wreck and its defensive line is awful. If the Browns' offensive line can keep Dumervil from getting to Quinn, he should have an easier time sustaining drives.

Jamal Lewis should have some success running the ball as well. Whether the Browns can punch it in from the red zone is a different story.

Final Prediction: Cleveland 23, Denver 17.

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