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Rock bottom for 2021 Broncos: Browns' opening drive

In a display of disrespect, Browns took the ball after winning the coin toss. Then they gouged the Denver D for 7, 34, 20, 10 and 4 (touchdown) yards.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The low point of this Denver Broncos season was the opening drive of their previous game last Thursday against the Browns.

Cleveland, without it’s starting quarterback and its top two running backs, gashed the Denver defense as if it was a scout team holding tackling dummies.

Five plays is all it took for the Browns to breeze through 75 yards and a touchdown.

The sequence: Short pass, 7 yards; screen pass, 34 yards; run up the middle, 20 yards; run, 10 yards; 4-yard touchdown run. Embarrassing.

The Broncos once came into Cleveland and put together The Drive. Nearly 35 years later, the Browns got some revenge. Defenseless from Denver.

“I think on the first drive, it’s a combination of us missing details within what we do defensively,’’ said star safety Justin Simmons. “Not any one guy, but just one or two positions out of the 11. Nine guys do things right and two that don’t, we end up being out of position to make easy plays.

“Instead of a 1-yard gain, it’s a 9-yard gain or an 8-yard gain. Little things like that creep up and then they get some momentum going. They had some good play calls, too. At times we got aggressive, and they threw screens and things like that.

Credit: AP
Cleveland Browns quarterback Case Keenum (5) hands the ball off to running back D'Ernest Johnson (30) for a 4-yard touchdown during the first half of the team's NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

“At the end of the day, it’s about us and what we can control. I didn’t think we came out as fast as we needed to, but that’s kind of been the story of the last four weeks. Every first drive that the defense has been out there, it’s been a touchdown. That’s just unacceptable.’’

Even when the Denver defense did play well during the Broncos’ 3-0 start, they didn’t dominate on their first series. In their 7 game-opening defensive series, there have been no three-and-outs. Even the Jets, who were otherwise shut out, picked up a first down on their first series.

On their 7 game-opening series, the Denver D has allowed 16 first downs, 381 yards (54.4 yards per opening drive) and four touchdowns. The first three came on long touchdown passes that beat well-paid, free-agent cornerbacks Kyle Fuller (twice) and Ronald Darby. The fourth came on a 4-yard touchdown run by Browns’ third-string running back D’Ernest Johnson.

The Broncos have a four-game losing streak going into their game Sunday against Washington.

“We need to match the sense of urgency, and maybe the sense of urgency isn’t there,’’ Simmons said. “Guys need to be comfortable in whatever the case may be. That needs to be addressed. Those are some of the things I was talking about behind closed doors that we’re talking about, and we need to figure out. Obviously, everyone knows that that’s been a problem, so those are the things that we need to get corrected.”

Denver D's game-opening series 

OPP .. 1st D .. Yds

NYG ... 1 ....... 39

 JAX .... 4 ...... 83, 25-yard TD pass

NYJ .... 1 ....... 16

 BAL .... 1 ...... 13

PIT ..... 2 ...... 85, 50-yard TD pass

 LV ...... 3 ...... 70, 48-yard TD pass

CLE .... 4 ...... 75, TD, 4-yard run

Total: .. 16 .. 381 (54.4 yards per), 4 TDs

The Browns ripping through the Denver D like it was an open dam was the worst part, but not the only part. What made it really bad was the audacity the Browns showed. Despite having backups at their key skill positions, and despite winning the coin toss, the Browns didn’t defer like most teams do so they can, in theory, have the last possession of the first half and first possession of the second half.

They took the ball. Case Keenum and D’Ernest Johnson get out there! Offense goes first! It was an incredible slap of disrespect at the Denver D. And what did the defense do about it? Held them to 75 yards in 5 plays.

“That’s obviously a statement like we talked about,’’ Simmons said. “If a team decides to take the ball, that’s obviously a show of ‘OK, well we need to take advantage of the fact that his team hasn’t been able to start fast.’ … I just think that that’s a shot at what you’re doing. You’ve got to take that personal and be upset about it.”

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