Posted Fri Sep 18th by Monty
The Denver Broncos can beat the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. They got handled fairly well against the Minnesota Vikings last week, losing 34-20, but the Browns really shot themselves in the foot. The Vikings had just enough going in the first half to gain a lead after some great field position, then rode behind AP’s legs to victory.
When the Vikings had success against the Browns, they were implementing a lot of the same things with which I think they would have had success against us. In other words, if the Broncos had played the Vikings last week, they’d be 0-1 too.
That’s because, believe it or not, the Broncos and Browns are very similar. Neither are stacked with talent defensively, especially in the front seven, but both can manufacture pressure through creative blitzes that overcome their personnel shortcomings. Both feature an All-Pro caliber left tackle and a big, athletic wide receiver. If things break down, neither team has a quarterback proficient enough to carry the team, a la Ben Roethlisberger/Tom Brady/Philip Rivers last week, but both passers have shown the potential for big games.
The Broncos have a bit more talent in some key areas, but certainly not enough to make this a shoo-in. If the Broncos follow and execute this plan, they’ll come away with a victory.
1. Pressure: Get to Quinn through tight coverage, blitzes, rushers up the middle
Last November, the Broncos played the role of spoiler in Quinn’s big coming-out party. (No, not that type of coming-out party). (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) I still vividly remember Quinn executing well-placed throws in the face of pressure. In fact, Quinn had a brilliant game. The Broncos tried valiantly to disrupt Quinn’s pocket – they were in his face often, despite what the Box Score may indicate – but the Browns quarterback is quick in his release and confident in his throws.
This, of course, gets him in trouble. In his fourth career start last week, Quinn showed some flashes, but he also made some big mistakes that cost his team the game.
Perhaps the absence of TE Kellen Winslow is a big missing piece to the puzzle – Winslow destroyed the Broncos in 2008, hauling in 10 receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns, more than double any other Cleveland player that game. Or perhaps Quinn just played well in his first game, for whatever reason – he’s been awful in his three starts since.
Against the Vikings, he showed both good and bad. A good play: Quinn escapes pocket pressure, rolls out to his left, and delivers a big 18-yard throw in the face of several defenders early in the first quarter. A bad play: Quinn mirrors the first play’s escape and rollout, but fumbles the football untouched as he pulled back to throw. Good play: Quinn stands firm in the pocket and delivers a beautiful ball down the left sideline for what should have been a touchdown, if not for some crap NFL replay turnover equal in silliness to the Raiders‘ Louis Murphy‘s non-touchdown on MNF (seriously, if the defender pushes you out of bounds in the process of administering pass interference, you shouldn’t need both feet back in bounds before making a catch. That was downright silly). Bad play: In the second half, Quinn tried another left sideline throw. Whether the goof was on Quinn’s part or Braylon Edward‘s, a miscommunication occurred, Edwards didn’t run the route Quinn thought he would, and it was an easy interception by the Vikings defender.
Still, despite Quinn’s erratic tendencies, the Broncos shouldn’t do him any favors. The first key to this will be solid coverage by the defensive backs. Browns receivers had no breathing room against the Vikings, and Quinn had to hold on to the ball longer to compensate. When he did throw, it was often a risky toss into double or triple coverage. Since the strength of the Broncos’ defense is its secondary, Denver should be able to use this to their advantage.
Finally, Joe Thomas vs. Elvis Dumervil looks to be an exciting matchup, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Thomas shuts Doom down (he ate Jared Allen for breakfast last week). That’s okay – the weakness on the Browns offensive line is clearly at right guard, where #77 Floyd Womack was beat repeatedly by Kevin Williams. The Browns are also lining up a rookie at center, Alex Mack. Mack played better than Womack, but that’s clearly where the defensive front needs to attack if they want to pressure Quinn and cause disruption at the line of scrimmage. Look for Mike Nolan to send ILB’s Andra Davis, Wesley Woodyard and D.J. Williams early and often up the middle of that offensive line, with a few corner and safety blitzes mixed in to keep them on their toes. The Browns had protection issues the whole game, so Nolan and company must be salivating.
2. Coaching: Win the Chess Match
Josh McDaniels said this week he expects to be playing a game of chess with Eric Mangini. From what I saw from the Browns playcalling, especially offensively, that shouldn’t be a problem.
The fact is, Mangini is as conservative as they come. In a league where there are two general playcalling philosophies – Play to Win, and Play Not to Lose – Mangini clearly falls in the latter category. He repeatedly called running plays on 2nd and 10′s, 3rd and 10′s and longer.
His version of the Wildcat is a joke. WR Josh Cribbs took a number of direct snaps Sunday, never even threatening to pass, and never finding any success with it. Cribbs is dangerous with the ball in his hand, but his presence behind center left the Browns completely one-dimensional. The Vikings had no trouble penetrating the backfield every time and stopping the play before it developed, and if the Broncos can apply pressure the way I’ve detailed above they should have no trouble with this, either.
What’s more, when Mangini did decide to air it out (which wasn’t often), it was relatively clear that Quinn was preparing for a seven-step drop pre-snap. The two tight end set was setup for max protection, and maybe it’s subliminal, reading the linemen’s heels and the like before the snap, but only once did they fool me out of this lineup.
His conservatism bled through the fourth quarter. Down by 14 with six minutes to go, I questioned Mangini’s decision to punt the football when the defense was clearly getting tired and Adrian Peterson was beginning to find his groove. Peterson made him pay on the very first play, running for a 64-yard touchdown that put the game completely out of reach.
They did try to run the no-huddle down 24-13 in the third quarter, but their play was sloppy and led to an interception. They’ll need to work on this if they hope to utilize it again.
Defensively, the Browns are much more creative, but we’ll get into that shortly.
3. Ground Game: Stay committed to the run through four quarters
The Browns actually did a fair job of shutting down Adrian Peterson and the Vikings running game, despite what this oft-viewed double-stiff arm highlight reel play will have you believe. The linebackers swarmed to the football, and Shaun Rogers is a beast in the middle of that defensive line.
However, by the fourth quarter, the Vikings’ decision to stay disciplined to their running game completely wore out the Browns defense. Brett Favre barely threw for 110 yards; Vikings runners ended with 225, over 100 of them in the 4th quarter.
The Broncos may not have an Adrian Peterson, but they have a crowded backfield ready to breakout after a lackluster Week One. Like the Vikings did, the Broncos should mix up their runners in the first half – Minnesota ran Chester Taylor and even WR Percy Harvin on multiple occasions, keeping AP fresh. Then Peterson, clearly their best back, carried the load in the fourth quarter.
Mirror this, Denver. Mix up the runners in the first half and keep Knowshon Moreno fresh. Then, unleash the rookie in the second half when the Browns defenders are again tired.
4. Protection: Pick up the safety blitz
The Vikings had trouble keeping their quarterback upright, despite his limited number of drop backs. Abram Elam was particularly effective blitzing from the safety spot, notching an early sack and leading the team in tackles. Later in the first half, Elam blew up two Vikings runs after Minnesota had a 2nd and 1, forcing a three and out. Don’t overlook this kid, he’s a budding star on the defense.
Like the Broncos, the Browns aren’t afraid to bring the house on a jailbreak blitz. Kamerion Whimbley notched a sack on one such blitz, and the Vikings OL – no slouches – had trouble with some of their pressure packages.
It’s going to require quick feet and quicker thinking for the Broncos to keep Kyle Orton upright Sunday. If I’m Cleveland, I’m doing the same thing I believe the Broncos should – testing that right guard, whether it’s Russ Hochstein or a hurt Chris Kuper. I’m sending blitzers there early and often, especially after I saw Hochstein give up two sacks last Sunday. Rogers and Casey Wiegmann will be having a rematch in the center of the trenches, and Thomas and Dumervil will keep each other occupied; other than that, if I’m Cleveland, I’m getting creative and keeping the OL on their toes.
The Broncos should make RB Correll Buckhalter and Knowshon Moreno available whenever possible in pass protection to pick up any blitzers that get past the middle and right side of the O-line.
5. Special Teams: Take Josh Cribbs out of the game
The Browns hadn’t scored a touchdown since November of last year when Josh Cribbs returned a punt for a touchdown in the first half. This kid is dangerous. In a game I expect to be played somewhat close, a big special teams play can make all the difference.
The Broncos will also be without Spencer Larsen, one of their most valuable special teamers, particularly in coverage. And I saw enough in the preseason and Week One to just be willing to forfeit to Cribbs’ potential altogether.
Don’t punt to Cribbs. Matt Prater, be grateful for the thin air, because we need a touchback on every kickoff.
Don’t kick to Josh Cribbs and we’ll completely eliminate the Browns’ most dangerous weapon.
6. Defense: Respect (don’t overlook) Jamal Lewis
Lewis’ totals were pretty pedestrian, but the veteran running back certainly didn’t look like he was up there in years. Lewis showed me he is still versatile and dynamic – he doesn’t have the speed he once did, obviously, but he’s still a threat and is primed to explode for a few games this season.
He still lowers his shoulder and isn’t afraid to plow through defenders. Lewis has the patience to let the play develop in front of him, and the cutback speed to turn the corner and get downfield quickly. He can also stretch the field on runs to the outside – in a lot of ways, he’s still a complete back. Don’t underestimate him. He finished with over five yards per rush against a very stingy Vikings rush defense, and if the team hadn’t shot itself in the foot with turnovers and falling behind early, Lewis would have had a better day.
A bonus round, if you will, random thoughts after watching film — Please, God, please… don’t ever let Brian Billick commentate one of our games. Please. He’s awful. He’s beyond awful.
He could put my two-year-old niece to sleep. No one can put my two-year-old niece to sleep.
Not only is he boring, he’s just bad. This guy was a Head Coach two years ago?! He has NO IDEA what he is talking about! None! He failed to make an interesting or enlightening point the entire game (y’know, “the job” of the color commentator). It’s clear he doesn’t even know the rulebook anymore.
He repeatedly, REPEATEDLY made a fool out of himself, making predictions that always turned out flat-out wrong. Oh, you think that challenge will be upheld, Brian Billick? Wrong. You think the Vikings will/should take a shot down the field now? Wrong.
And if you’re going to be critical, just be critical. It’s OK. You don’t have to qualify it with the opening statement, “OK, I’m going to be a little bit critical here…,” every single time. It’s OK. Man up.
What boggles my mind more than anything is the difference between Billick and another recent fired coach who landed in the booth, John Gruden. Gruden’s on Monday Night Football and is energetic, smart, fair in both his praise and criticism (if maybe a bit more flowing with praise), and constantly pointing out the nuances of the game the viewer might not notice upon first viewing. Billick is none of those.
For the love of all this is football, please, don’t ever let Billick commentate one of our games. Place the metal tip on the side of my head, pull the trigger, apply pressure, and drill through my temporal lobe, but please don’t ever, ever make me suffer through Brian Billick, ever again.
The Browns present a challenge on defense, a threat on special teams and untapped potential on offense. Tire out their defense with the running game, continue the creativity on defense, and eliminate the special teams X-Factor and the Broncos won’t need to rely on their passing game; they’ll be 2-0 Sunday night.