April 13, 2024

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 18: Kareem Hunt #27 of the Cleveland Browns carries the ball during the second half against the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

The plan for the Broncos to extend their streak to five games

Nov 25, 2023, 8:07 PM | Updated: 9:52 pm

 

Kareem Hunt…

(Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

 

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The Denver Broncos have the playoffs in their sights. On Sunday, they play at home against a team also vying for a playoff spot; the Cleveland Browns.

 

The Broncos can further increase their chances of making the postseason with a hard-fought win against a tougher-than-some-think Browns team. It’s not going to be easy, and I imagine it will be a low-scoring game on Sunday.

How will the Broncos attack the Browns on both sides of the ball? Let’s take a look.

 

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When the Broncos Run the Ball

Teams have not yet started to stack the box against the Broncos’ rushing attack. Overall, in the 2023 season, starting RB Javonte Williams has only seen a stacked box (eight or more defenders) on roughly 23 percent of his carries. That’s a mark that’s good for no.12 in the NFL. However, WIlliams ranks no.3 in the league when it comes to running against normal (seven man) fronts with 51.6 percent of his carries coming against a regular defense.

 

I give Williams a ton of credit for miraculously making it back from his multi-ligament knee injury to begin the 2023 season. We are now over a year from his surgery in 2022, but Williams still doesn’t look like himself. That’s why he’s carried the ball at a 3.5 yards per carry clip so far this season. It’s a difference from the 4.4 and 4.3 yards per carry he sustained over the first two seasons of his career. So, with Williams not looking like himself I think the team should use veteran RB Samaje Perine more as a runner.

 

Perine is used as the team’s “closer” late in games, but he’s primarily used as a receiver out of the backfield. During the Broncos’ four-game winning streak, Perine has carried the ball only five times while he’s caught 15 passes during that time. That’s an average of five touches per game, and that’s simply not enough. Perine can still be an important piece of what they do late in games, but he could likely be more productive as a runner than Williams is early in games. He’s certainly more trusted in pass protection than rookie RB Jaleel McLaughlin. Against the Browns’ incredible pass rush, the Broncos need to run right at them and if they do pass then having a guy like Perine on the field more often only makes sense.

 

Will the Broncos have the wherewithal to stick with the rushing attack? Teams have not been stacking the line against them, but that trend should be changing. It’s going to be tough sledding against the Browns, so keeping it on the ground is their best plan

CLEVELAND, OH – SEPTEMBER 18: Kareem Hunt #27 of the Cleveland Browns carries the ball during the second half against the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

When the Broncos Pass the Ball

Broncos QB Russell Wilson will be meeting Browns DL Myles Garrett on Sunday. Wilson is playing good football, although the offense is being somewhat limited during this winning streak. I’m okay with that because things are working, and against Garrett – simply the most dominant defensive player in the league – Denver is going to have to be extraordinarily careful when they drop back to pass.

 

Passes to the flat, slants, and screen passes are the best way to beat the Browns. They will be without Pro Bowl CB Denzel Ward who is out of action due to a shoulder injury. That’s an advantage for Wilson and WR Courtland Sutton. While time to throw may be limited, most throws should be short-to-intermediate and likely to players like running backs out of the backfield or WR Jerry Jeudy on quick slants. However, if Wilson can get the time, then Sutton down the field should work just like it has for more than a month.

 

In these four victories the Broncos have compiled in a row, Sutton has four receiving touchdowns on 20 receptions combined. That’s good for five catches per game and a touchdown per game. Sutton didn’t have a 100-yard game during that time, or for this entire season, but his play has been dominant. The Broncos are limiting Wilson as a thrower, but when he’s looking to make a play with his arm then Sutton is the player he’s looking for.

 

Wilson may not have much time to throw the ball against the Browns. I believe short passes to Perine can help supplement the rushing attack. Some quick slants to Jeudy makes sense, and hopefully there are a couple of deep shots for either Sutton or rookie WR Marvin Mims.

 

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When the Browns Run the Ball

The Broncos defense is playing much better during this four-game winning streak, but they still struggle to stop the run. Starting ILB Alex Singleton leads the team in tackles, but he also leads the NFL in missed tackles. While Singleton is a chase tackler, he’s being tasked with making direct reads as a take-on tackler and there is a lack of needed production. The Broncos might not have been able to maintain this winning streak if any of their opponents had chosen to run the ball more.

 

The bad news for the Broncos is the Browns run the ball more than any team in the league. They have two capable backs which they will use often to soften up their opponents. While they have a rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson who can also take off and run, the team will mostly lean on their backfield with guys like Jerome Ford and Kareem Hunt. Both backs bring a different skill set to the field, and either one could be the featured starter for some teams out there. Instead, they use almost a 50-50 split to share the workload.

 

Ford is an instinctive runner with an efficient style. He doesn’t waste motion as a runner, and his footwork keeps him ahead of the pursuit. Ford is the type of back who can set up defenders and has the patience to be effective in zone-blocking concepts. Hunt is a seasoned veteran with a slashing style. In addition to his ability as an athletic runner, Hunt can also be dangerous in space when asked to catch the ball.

 

In what could be a tough battle, I fully expect the Browns to try and break the Broncos on the ground. This limits their young quarterback, and it attacks the weakest part of Denver’s defense, so that plan makes a ton of sense.

 

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When the Browns Pass the Ball

Thompson-Robinson is better than many think. Yes, he’s a rookie. Yes, his skill are raw. However, DTR is the type of quarterback who finds a way to make plays. Not only can he make plays, but the Browns are setting things up for the rookie to be successful. In a similar manner to the Broncos, the Browns aren’t running the most complex system, but they can be effective when passing the ball.

 

The rookie is going to look for two targets as his primary weapons; TE David Njoku and WR Amari Cooper. We’ll see plenty of screen passes to the running backs, and the Browns use every variation off the screen including backside flat throws to Njoku. Most everything Thompson-Robinson does is in the short-to-intermediate range, and he gets the ball out of his hand quickly and precisely. They’ll fake a screen to one side of the field, only to find Njoku sneaking out opposite of play side for a big gain. The Browns will also use rollouts where DTR runs to his right with Njoku blocking briefly in front of him only to abandon his block and go out for an easy pitch-and-catch with the young quarterback.

 

Cooper is a slant king. Again, expect a ton of short passes and if coverage is off Cooper, then Thompson-Robinson will quickly find him on a slant. They’ll run the ball a ton, and this leans the defense towards stacking the line. Cooper is there to be the security blanket for his quarterback on short throws. Add in the explosive WR Elijah Moore, and you can see how the Browns want to set you up with short stuff and screens hoping for run-after-the-catch gains.

 

The Browns may not have much success going through the air against the Broncos. Look for short passing to be the order of the day for the Browns. Perhaps there are some deep shots, but I’m mainly concerned with slants/outs from Cooper and slip screens/wheel routes from Njoku, and of course screens for both running backs.

 

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