Tonight, the Cleveland Browns take on the Denver Broncos in Week 7 for Thursday Night Football. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, or general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
A Glimmer of Hope Offensively?
- In 2017, Case Keenum managed a 13-3 record as the Vikings’ starting quarterback, a time when Kevin Stefanski was his quarterbacks coach. The reminder in that is there’s a reason Keenum is being paid as much as he is as a backup: to come in and deliver a win in a spot start when Baker Mayfield is hurt.
- The good thing is that it appears Keenum will be getting some help. Early reports on Thursday are indicating that Jedrick Wills will return and start at left tackle, with Blake Hance shifting over to right tackle. Having four out of five of the team’s starting line back allows Cleveland to go back to a run-oriented gameplan, and also takes the liability of James Hudson out of the lineup.
- In addition, the word is that Jarvis Landry might be activated by 4:00 PM ET today so that he can return to play in tonight’s game. The status of Odell Beckham Jr. remains up-in-the-air, but it would be nice to have him too, obviously. If both of them are in there, is this the game that Stefanski dials up a pass from Landry, a gadget play that was extremely successful last season?
- Not having Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt hurts, but this is D’Ernest Johnson’s time to shine. It won’t come easy, though, as the Broncos’ run defense is ranked 4th in the NFL statistically, and are only 3.74 yards per carry. The Browns’ defense is allowing 3.55 yards per carry, which ranks 3rd in the NFL. I don’t think Denver will respect Cleveland’s passing game, which sets up a predicament — it’s a situation where I think it can make sense to throw a lot of those short passes to loosen things up on the ground. But winds are also expected to be around 20 MPH, which could impact throwing conditions if it’s a swirling wind.
Is This The Same Defense?
- The Browns will be without Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, but otherwise, this is the same defensive unit that was outstanding in shutting down the Bears and Vikings in Weeks 3-4.
- Teddy Bridgewater is expected to start against the Browns tonight, battling through injuries. But look at what has happened to him over the past two weeks:
The Broncos have allowed the second-highest QB pressure rate in the NFL (40.3%), along with five sacks, when facing four or fewer rushers since Week 5.
That is the same formula the Browns used to defeat Kirk Cousins and the Vikings. And while I may have been a pinch too optimistic about what the Browns’ defense could do against the Chargers and Cardinals over the past two games, the Broncos’ offense, while still decent, is not a juggernaut.
- I hope the Browns go back to deploying aggressive man coverage. Denver has two main threats offensively: wide receiver Courtland Sutton and tight end Noah Fant. The miscommunications at the safety position have been terrible over these past two games. We’ve gone from a guy (Gregg Williams) who stopped any deep play by having the safety play ridiculously far back, to one (Joe Woods) who has seen his players allow uncovered receivers due to defensive backs not being on the same page.
- Field goal kicking could be a challenge in Cleveland today, with winds coming from the West at 20 MPH. I know fans have questioned some of the fourth-down decisions to go for it, especially early on in games, but it might be the right call depending on how Chase McLaughlin is hitting the ball pre-game.
- Von Miller leads the Broncos with 4.5 sacks and will be matched up against Blake Hance at right tackle. The tight ends will be important here; and Case Keenum will need to be cautious, because I’m not certain how well the backup running backs will be in blocking.
- According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 1-point favorites against the Broncos tonight.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “Minimizing the turnovers will be a difference-maker in this one. The return of Jedrick Wills and Jarvis Landry will restore some stability to the offense versus what we saw a week ago, while Teddy Bridgewater could be in for a rough day from the Browns’ front four with an injured foot. The weather will play a factor in keeping the score on the lower end too, but the Browns will do enough to win.” Browns 20, Broncos 13
Thomas Moore: “Case Keenum saves the day as the Browns break their two-game losing streak and set off an exhausting 10 days of debate over Baker Mayfield’s future in Cleveland.” Browns 35, Broncos 10
rufio: “Last year the Browns improved over the course of the season despite dealing with injuries, covid absences, and really poor play to begin the year. I’m picking us to do the same this year.
With no Nick Chubb and no Baker Mayfield, we are going to have to “get back to our roots” a little as an offense. Case Keenum can avoid mistakes, but he isn’t going to operate a spread offense or push the ball downfield the way Baker can. This means we should rely more on “constraint” plays where the run and the pass look the same before the ball moves: play action passes, and draws and screens. Finding ways to make different runs look the same until a cut is made or a puller shows up on the opposite side of the formation are going to be critical this week as well.
Defensively we are a gigantic mess, but I think Denver’s quarterbacks are exactly the type of passers that struggle against our defense. They have a few tough receiving threats, but we should be able to create pressure up front and slow their offense down significantly.
In the end the Browns escape with a win.” Browns 22, Broncos 20
Barry Shuck: “At the beginning of the season this game looked like a lock. Now? Geez....where do you begin just in the injury department alone. Every position has a guy (or two) missing. Counter this with an injured quarterback and both sides of the ball have their own issues. I am picking the Browns in this one, but really it could go either way. If the offense has multiple turnovers and the defense leaves receivers completely open three games in a row, then just consider this another loss in the slump. Hopefully with a national audience Cleveland won’t embarrass themselves. Otherwise, it should be low scoring somewhere in the neighborhood of 24-17 or even less.” Browns 24, Broncos 17
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.