The Cleveland Browns will be looking to break a two-game losing streak when they host the Denver Broncos on Thursday night.
The Browns are coming off a depressing loss to the Arizona Cardinals where nothing really went right on offense or defense.
The Broncos, meanwhile, are learning that life in the NFL is tough when you are not playing Jacksonville or one of the New York teams as Denver is riding a three-game losing streak.
Cleveland is down both its starting running backs, probably both its starting offensive tackles, the defense is a mess, quarterback Baker Mayfield’s left arm is barely still attached to his body and he is out after starting 53 consecutive games.
Here is everything you need to know as the Browns try to head into a 10-day break on a winning note.
Records: Cleveland is 3-3. Denver is 3-3.
Kickoff: 8:20 p.m.
Stadium: FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland
TV: FOX, NFL Network and Amazon Prime
Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Laura Okmin (sidelines) and Kristina Pink (sidelines) on FOX; Hannah Storm and Andrea Kramer on Amazon Prime
Radio: 92.3 The Fan (WKRK), ESPN 850 WKNR and WNCX (98.5)
Announcers: Jim Donovan, Doug Dieken, Nathan Zegura (sideline reporter)
Last meeting: The Broncos won the last meeting, 24-19, in Week 9 of the 2019 season. (Boxscore)
All-time series: The Broncos lead the all-time series, 21-6. The Browns have only beaten the Broncos at home twice in franchise history, with the last win coming in 1989.
Weather: 60 degrees with 20 MPH winds and a 15 percent chance of rain. (weather.com)
Uniform: The Browns will be sporting brown jerseys and orange pants.
Brown Tops & Orange Pants for Primetime! pic.twitter.com/LUqOXQT8Hr— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) October 20, 2021
Injury report: Browns - Questionable: wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (shoulder), right tackle Jack Conklin (knee), left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. (ankle), defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (ankle/chest/knee), defensive tackle Malik Jackson (knee), linebacker Malcolm Smith (abdomen), center JC Tretter (knee) and linebacker Mack Wilson (calf). Out: quarterback Baker Mayfield (shoulder), running back Nick Chubb (calf) and cornerback A.J. Green (shoulder/groin).
Broncos - Questionable: quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (foot/quad), tackle Garett Bolles (knee) and safety Caden Sterns (illness). Out: linebacker Baron Browning (concussion) and outside linebacker Aaron Patrick (ankle).
The line: Browns -2
A Few Things to Watch For
Time for Case to earn his money: The Browns announced on Wednesday that Case Keenum will start at quarterback as Baker Mayfield has been playing with a completely torn labrum in his left shoulder since Week 2.
The injury has clearly been bothering Mayfield, but with surgery not really an option during the season, the Browns are going to give Mayfield at least a bit of rest to see if the inflammation that flared up after Sunday’s game dies down a bit.
Mayfield is going to have to continue to figure out to play around the pain and limitations of the injury, at least until the season comes to an end or he takes another shot that finally knocks him out of the lineup. Hopefully it is the former, rather than the latter, or the Browns may not get out of their current predicament.
As for Keenum, he last started a game in 2019 with Washington, where he threw for 1,707 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions in eight starts. He is familiar with head coach Kevin Stefanski from their time together in Minnesota in 2017, which is nice, but will have his hands full with an offense that is dealing with so many injuries.
Spotlight on D’Ernest: The Browns will be without running backs Nick Chubb (for at least this game) and Kareem Hunt (for several weeks after he landed on injured reserve), so it is time for D’Ernest Johnson to show what he can do.
Johnson signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent in 2019 and Thursday’s game will be his first start. He did a nice job last season filling in when Chubb injured his knee against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4 by rushing for 95 yards on just 13 carries.
In addition to Johnson, the Browns will call on rookie Demetric Felton, who has yet to carry the ball but has eight receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown, and John Kelly, who averaged 3.2 yards per carry in the preseason and was signed from the practice squad on Tuesday.
The Broncos come into the game giving up just 3.7 yards per carry, so Johnson, Felton and (possibly) Kelly will need to be at the top of their game to help keep the league’s best rushing attack on track.
A mess on defense: Cleveland’s defense, to put it mildly, has been horrible the past two weeks.
Starting with the second half of the game against the Los Angeles Chargers through the first half of the game against the Arizona Cardinals, the Browns defense allowed seven touchdowns and three field goals on 11 drives.
Communication issues in the secondary — or breakdowns in technique if you listen to defensive coordinator Joe Woods - continue to plague the defense.
Denver quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is no Justin Herbert or Kyler Murray, so this week could be an opportunity for the defense to start to right the ship.
And if not, well, the next 10 days are going to be filled with more than just talk about the quarterback situation.
A final quote
Quarterback Case Keenum (via a team-provided transcript)
“I feel very ready. I have been ready. You do not have to get ready if you stay ready, and I have been ready since I got here. I am excited. I am ready.”
These are just a few things to keep an eye on; now it is time to have your say. What are you looking for from the Browns in Thursday’s game against the Broncos?