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Browns vs. Broncos: NFL Week 9 Preview and Prediction

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Is this the start of Cleveland’s winning ways, or the realization that the postseason won’t happen?

Cleveland Browns v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Denver Broncos in Week 9 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.


Position-by-Position Evaluation


Quarterback

  • I was looking forward to the Browns facing Joe Flacco, since he has been his usual emotionless statue on a lackluster offense, who doesn’t get rid of the ball very quick. But Flacco came down with a neck injury, so all of a sudden, Cleveland will instead face Brandon Allen, a 6th round pick in 2016 by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He spent the past two seasons with the Rams, as well as camp this year with them. The Broncos claimed him off waivers at the end of roster cuts, so he never actually took any preseason snaps with the club. I don’t know much about how Allen will fare, but this wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement from his cornerback:
  • The Browns won a tight game in Denver at the end of last season, 17-16. Denver has a solid pass defense, but really, this game has to be about Baker Mayfield and the offense being efficient. I think Mayfield did a good job of that last week. Incredibly, Mayfield does not have one multi-touchdown game in 2019, and he’s thrown at least one interception in every contest.

Running Back

  • The Broncos’ starting running back is Phillip Lindsay, who has 109 carries for 492 yards (4.5 YPC) and 4 touchdowns. Denver does not like to overload him with carries, as backup Royce Freeman has 88 carries for 359 yards (4.1 YPC) and 2 touchdowns. Both backs also play a role as receivers, so their usage is pretty interchangeable. Lindsay is a back who teams know they can’t sleep on, and has been productive despite the very limiting receiving threats the team has.
  • Nick Chubb now has 134 carries for 738 yards (5.5 YPC) and 6 touchdowns. It hasn’t mattered whether he’s faced good defenses or not; in fact, he seems to be getting stronger as the year goes on, as he’s averaging 6.6 YPC in his last 4 games. His fumble numbers have upticked, with three in his past two games, but I feel confident in his ball security skills. When you look at the nature of the fumbles, they are not symptomatic of some underlying issue.

Wide Receiver / Tight End

  • Courtland Sutton, a second-round pick in 2018, is the team’s primary receiver, especially after dealing Emmanuel Sanders away to the 49ers. Sutton has 39 catches for 636 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season. In terms of wide receivers, the player next on the depth chart now is DaeSean Hamilton, who has 11 catches for 106 yards. He was only targeted once last week; the player who saw a big spike in his snap count was Fred Brown; but he has just two catches on the year.
  • Noah Fant, the team’s first round tight end, has 20 catches for 185 yards and 1 touchdown. It’s possible that Fant will serve as a security blanket of sorts, but the biggest day that Fant has had through 8 games is 3 catches for 37 yards.
  • Frustrations are beginning to mount for Odell Beckham, but I get it. He is supposed to be a big-time receiver, and I’m sure he wants to be involved in the offense more than just some quick hitters for a spurt before being ignored for awhile. At the end of the day, winning is what will cure everyone’s frustration. The Broncos have a solid secondary, except they are average at their starting cornerback spot opposite Chris Harris Jr. Whoever Harris isn’t on between Beckham and Jarvis Landry have to be ready.
  • Like it or not, it’s time to start talking about Antonio Callaway, because Rashard Higgins is the fourth receiver on the depth chart. It doesn’t quite make sense to me; Callaway was buried on the depth chart in the preseason, and had a four-game suspension. Higgins has missed a lot of regular season action with a knee injury, but was clearly a big part of the gameplan in the preseason and in Week 1 before the injury. What I hate more than anything is this notion that only Callaway or Higgins have to play. Why can’t they each get about 40% of the snaps?

Offensive Line

  • The Broncos’ starting offensive line features LT Garett Bolles, LG Dalton Risner, C Connor McGovern, RG Ron Leary, and RT Ja’Waun James. James has not practiced this week witha knee injury, so he might be out. Pro Football Focus just ranked each team’s offensive line again, and Denver was ranked 21st while Cleveland was ranked 22nd. Here is what PFF said about Denver:

The fact that Garett Bolles is the Broncos’ is the team’s highest-graded offensive lineman with 200 or more snaps played this year is telling. The former first-rounder has underwhelmed to start his career yet still currently leads the team in overall grade (70.3) entering Week 9. Veteran guard Ron Leary was thought to be a potential strength for the unit prior to the start of the season, but he has drastically underperformed, earning just a 50.2 overall grade and 47.3 run-blocking grade through Week 8. A bright spot for Denver has been rookie Dalton Risner, but even he has had some bad outings.

  • Joel Bitonio, last week’s disaster aside, was praised by PFF for his body of work this season, while Eric Kush and Chris Hubbard were slammed. I think the Browns didn’t want to make wholesale changes to two positions in one week on the line, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Wyatt Teller either start or see more action this week. The third change could be coming in a couple more weeks, if Drew Forbes replaces Hubbard. With the trade deadline gone, Cleveland won’t hesitate to try out a few more starting combinations.

Defensive Line / Linebacker

  • The Broncos run a 3-4 defense, with DE Shelby Harris, NT Mike Purcell, and DE Derek Wolfe as the starters. Harris has been an excellent run defender for the past two seasons. Wolfe has four sacks on the year, all of which have come over the past three games.
  • As I mentioned earlier, Myles Garrett has to be salivating at the match-up in front of him this week. This is the type of game where Garrett needs to make his presence known early, so that the first-time quarterback is constantly thinking about him the rest of the game. Olivier Vernon has had a couple of strong weeks in a row, so now it’s time for the defensive tackles to step up their play.
  • The Broncos’ starting linebackers include SLB Malik Reed, ILB Alexander Johnson, ILB Todd Davis, and WLB Von Miller. Reed, an undrafted free agent, has performed respectably in his role and has flashed as a pass rusher. Miller has four sacks and a team-high nine quarterback hits on the year, and is the number one player who Mayfield needs to be aware of on gameday. The star of the unit has actually been Johnson, who is PFF’s fourth-highest graded player in the entire NFL right now. He has 28 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble and isn’t having any lapses defensively.
  • I expect some short-yardage, medium-range throws this week, and if Brandon Allen locks in to his target too soon, Joe Schobert and Mack Wilson may each have an opportunity to make a play on the ball. Schobert’s pass coverage grade is down significantly from a season ago.

Secondary

  • The Broncos’ two starting cornerbacks are Chris Harris Jr. and Davontae Harris, with Duke Dawson being the nickelback. Denver’s starting safeties are FS Justin Simmons and SS Kareem Jackson. A few weeks ago, Pro Football Focus had very high overall grades on both Denver safeties and Harris:

Among 198 cornerbacks and safeties with 100 or more defensive snaps, the Broncos can claim three of the top 20 players in overall grade – Kareem Jackson (90.1 — 4th), Justin Simmons (84.9 — 9th) and Chris Harris Jr. (79.7 1 20th)

  • Cleveland should be without FS Damarious Randall for the second straight week. Eric Murray played the nickel role last week, but came down with a knee injury this week and the team is awaiting test results. That leads one to believe that T.J. Carrie will take over that playing time.

Special Teams

  • Brandon McManus is the Broncos’ kicker. He is 14-of-17 on field goals and 9-of-10 on extra points. Austin Seibert is a perfect 10-of-10 on field goal attempts, but that really isn’t a lot of attempts. He may get an opportunity this week from long distance, when you combine being at mile high and the Broncos’ solid defense.
  • Colby Wadman is the Broncos’ punter. Wadman is 27th in the NFL with an average of 44.3 yards per punt, and 34th with a net average of 38.6 yards per punt. He’s also attempted the third most punts in the NFL, and with that higher volume, Denver has allowed a punt return for a touchdown. Jamie Gillan gets the edge here, and it’ll be fascinating to see how high and far his punts will go at this elevation.
  • Diontae Spencer is the Broncos’ kick and punt returner. He has 3 kickoff returns for 99 yards, and 20 punt returns for 152 yards (7.6 yards per return). The Browns started having Dontrell Hilliard return punts last week too -- although he ended up fumbling one of them, which Cleveland recovered.

Predictions

Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.


Chris Pokorny: “This is a repeat of the Denver game, where the Broncos already don’t have a prolific offense, and a first-time quarterback isn’t going to change that. Cleveland’s defense is going to load up to stop the run, bring pressure, and trust their defensive backs to cover, as they should.

Last week was the end of the ‘we’ll get things right eventually’ attitude. It does Cleveland no good to beat up on these types of teams if they do so in an ugly fashion — not only do they need to start winning, they need to do it in electrifying (and efficient) fashion. The Broncos punt the ball a lot, and Cleveland can win the field position game. Denver’s defense is good, but this has to be the week where Cleveland shows that it doesn’t matter what defense they’re facing, our skill players win all the match-ups.” Browns 27, Broncos 13.


Matt Wood: “Browns rally. Mock it if you want, don’t give it credence because it’s a young QB but this is what good teams do. Beat the teams you are supposed to. Browns start hot and roll the Broncos. Garrett explodes for 2.5 sacks and a turnover.

Jesus, Tony.” Browns 37, Broncos 13.


rufio: “The winning streak starts now. The Browns still suffer from untimely penalties and a few turnovers, but Denver’s offense is so bad it doesn’t matter. Browns in a gritty one.” Browns 23, Broncos 16.


Tom Moore: “Really don’t know what to make of the 2019 Cleveland Browns, other than if there is a way to be the cause of their own demise, the team will find it. Still, there is still some validity to the notion that if the Browns had spent the first part of the season playing the schedule of the San Francisco 49ers (a combined record of 17-35 for the teams the 49ers have beaten) or the Buffalo Bills (a combined record of 7-31 for the opponents the Bills have defeated), then everyone might feel a little bit better about the current state of the Browns.

The weather is now turning colder and with it comes an easier schedule, starting Sunday in Denver against the Broncos. As bad as things have been going for the Browns, the Broncos are in even worse shape as they will be rolling out quarterback Brandon Albert for his first NFL start behind an offensive line that is “anchored” by left tackle Garett Boles and his league-high nine holding penalties. The Broncos are still stout on defense against the pass (No. 4 overall in the league) but are vulnerable to the run - currently at No. 19 - so there should be continued opportunities for Nick Chubb.

It may seem odd to say a Week 8 game is a “must win,” but for a variety of reasons this game is a must win for the Browns. Cleveland has only defeated the Broncos once since 1990, but that win came last year and the will make it two in a row on Sunday.” Browns 21, Broncos 6.


Mike Hoag: “I hope there is no “Brandon Allen executes The Drive Part II” on the 2019 Brownsing bingo card. Jokes aside, there is no chance that Nick Chubb fumbles near the goal-line to lose this game. None.” Browns 19, Broncos 6.


BigTownBrown: TBA


Barry Shuck: “It’s apparent the Browns cannot beat the better teams, so when a lesser club like Denver comes up on the schedule that is their chance to save the season.” Browns 24, Broncos 10.


Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.