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5 keys to Broncos beating the Cleveland Browns

Decimated Browns lineup should help Denver snap it's 3-game losing. Loading the box against Case Keenum and Browns run game is a good place to start.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Once again, the Broncos appear to have schedule fortune on their side.

They will play Thursday night against a Cleveland Browns team that will not have their quarterback Baker Mayfield, their two running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, fullback Andy Janovich, possibly not their two offensive tackles in Jedrick Wills Jr. and Jack Conklin, and possibly not their top two receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.

That’s just on their offensive side. The Browns will also be without leading tackler and rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

Yes, the  Broncos are hurt, too. They won’t have receivers Jerry Jeudy or KJ Hamler, or tight end Albert Okwuegbunam on offense and they will be missing Alexander Johnson, Bradley Chubb and Josey Jewell on defense.

Still, the Browns are so decimated the Broncos have a great opportunity to snap their three-game losing streak against a team that is far from full strength. Then again, the Broncos seemingly caught a break last week when they played the Raiders six days after their head coach and play-caller Jon Gruden resigned under pressure.

Maybe coaching is overrated.

The Broncos can prevail Thursday night against backup quarterback Case Keenum and the Browns if they follow these 5 suggestions:

1. Load the box, bring the blitz

Yes, the Browns have a terrific zone-blocking system that the Broncos first made famous from 1995-2005. But Keenum, Broncos Country will remember, doesn’t have much of an arm, and these are second- and third-string running backs the Denver D will be going against. It isn’t in Vic Fangio’s nature but this is the perfect game for him to get aggressive with the defense and bring 8 defenders to the box.

2. Keep Justin Simmons back for help

The Broncos’ two cornerback free-agent signings, Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller, suddenly are getting burned deep. Simmons was a step late last week helping out Darby for a long touchdown pass to Henry Ruggs III. Let Simmons do what he does best and that’s play center field.

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III (11) pulls in a touchdown pass as Denver Broncos free safety Justin Simmons defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

3. Run the ball, play-action, short passes

I believe people by and large overrate the importance of the running game, but it’s supposed to rain all day Thursday in Cleveland, including during the game. Show the Browns that the best running back duo for this game is Melvin Gordon III and Javonte Williams.

Bridgewater has been under heavy pass rush pressure the past three games so he has to get back to getting rid of the ball quickly. Limit the deep shots to one per half.

4. Protect Teddy

I’ve made this a priority four straight games. So why won’t they listen? Bridgewater was hit an incredulous 17 times last week against the Raiders. It won’t be easier for the Broncos’ offensive line this week as the Browns’ defense, while disappointing overall with 25.2 points allowed per game(22nd ranking), has a terrific pass rush with Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney and Takkarist McKinley. Garrett leads the NFL with 8.0 sacks. The above key – run, play-action, short passes – is the answer.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) throws against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

5. Bring it in primetime

This is it. The only primetime game of the year for the Broncos, whose four consecutive losing seasons have made them irrelevant to the league’s network executives. Outside linebacker Von Miller guaranteed he would play well against the Browns so he’ll be inspired. His teammates should follow his lead.  

RELATED: Broncos notes: Von Miller vows to play great against Cleveland

RELATED: Gimpy Bridgewater trying to recover from 17 QB hits, friendly foot stomp

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