3 Takeaways from Browns' Week 7 Win
Here's who the Cleveland Browns were missing when they took the field Thursday night: their starting quarterback (Baker Mayfield), their two star running backs (Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt) and multiple other key players on both sides of the ball.
It didn't sound like a recipe for success. And yet, the Browns persevered and still found a way to win.
Cleveland pulled out a 17-14 victory over the visiting Denver Broncos at FirstEnergy Stadium, snapping its two-game losing streak and improving to 4-3. The Browns outscored the Broncos 10-0 in the first half, then relied on their defense to hold on, as Denver amassed only 223 total yards.
Broncos running back Javonte Williams hauled in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Teddy Bridgewater that cut the Browns' lead to three with five minutes, 23 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. But Cleveland picked up four first downs on its ensuing drive to run out the rest of the game.
Here are three takeaways from the Browns' Week 7 win.
Offensive Fill-in Starters Impress When Called Upon
If you have to turn to backups to fill in for the starters at two positions as important as quarterback and running back, Case Keenum and D'Ernest Johnson are among the better depth options to have. And both proved that with their performances on Thursday night.
Keenum, a 10-year NFL veteran, went 21-for-33 for 199 yards and a touchdown, leading important drives when Cleveland needed it. The 33-year-old threw a one-yard touchdown pass to fullback Johnny Stanton with 30 seconds to go in the third quarter, pushing the Browns' lead to 17-7 entering the fourth.
Johnson scored on a four-yard touchdown run to cap the opening drive of the game, and he went on to rush for 146 yards on 22 carries. Cleveland had possession for 36:51, with the 25-year-old Johnson's success on the ground being a big reason why it could stay on offense for so much of the game.
"Unfortunately, some people are going to get hurt," Keenum said, per Tom Withers of the Associated Press. "At the same time, you love other young guys getting chances."
The Browns' next game isn't until Oct. 31, when they host the AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers, so it's possible Keenum and Johnson won't be needed to start by then. However, if they're called upon, Cleveland knows what it can expect, and that depth is beneficial to have in an injury-riddled season like this.
Garrett Can't Be Contained by Any O-Line in 2021
While the Browns are dealing with injuries all over the field, Myles Garrett is healthy. And the 25-year-old defensive end is wreaking havoc on every offensive line that he goes up against, proving why he's a two-time Pro Bowler, a one-time All-Pro selection and one of the NFL's top pass rushers.
On Thursday, Garrett collected another 1.5 sacks, boosting his league-leading season total to 9.5. He's had at least a half-sack in all but one game so far this season (Week 2 vs. the Houston Texans), and his pressure was a key reason why Denver's offense couldn't get going.
Garrett now ranks second in Browns history with 52 career sacks. He's needed only 58 games to reach that total, and he trails only Clay Matthews Jr., who had 62 sacks in 232 games for Cleveland.
"I'm going for Matthews in a little bit," Garrett said, per Andrew Gribble of the team's official website. "I'll try to get him before the end of the season."
And at this rate, Garrett is in good position to get there, especially because he's been effective against every team he's faced. There are no signs of him slowing down anytime soon.
Browns Will Need to Get Healthy to Be Playoff Contender
As well as the Browns' backups fared, the Broncos aren't exactly top-tier competition. Since starting 3-0, Denver has now lost four consecutive games and will likely have trouble staying competitive in the AFC West. It was a game Cleveland needed to win, and it did.
But things will get more difficult for the Browns down the stretch. And the injuries just keep piling up, as wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (groin) and cornerback Denzel Ward (hamstring) both got hurt Thursday. Jarvis Landry's return slightly boosted the receiving corps, as he had five catches for 37 yards, but he doesn't offset all the other key players who continue to miss time.
When Cleveland is at full strength, it has the potential to be among the best teams in the AFC. However, it will likely be difficult for it to keep up with the Baltimore Ravens (5-1) and Cincinnati Bengals (4-2) in the AFC North if it has to rely on backups in big divisional matchups.
So while the contingency plan worked Thursday, the Browns have to hope that they can get a few key players back (especially Mayfield and Chubb) soon. Otherwise, it's quite possible they won't return to the playoffs after making it to the divisional round last season.